Meaning of YEAR IN REVIEW 1997: LITERATURE: ENGLISH in English


ENGLISH: Canada. One of literature's enduring metaphors was that of the journey, and there were many journeys undertaken in collections of Canadian poetry in 1996. Some were symbolic, as in Janis Rapoport's After Paradise, in which the intrepid explorer encountered the physical and spiritual in all their splendid confusion, and others actual, as in Stephen Scobie's Taking the Gate: A Journey Through Scotland. More familiar departures from reality were exemplified in The Cheat of Words by Steve McCaffery, who exposed the truth of politics through the lies politicians tell. In Nightwatch: New and Selected Poems, 1968-1996, while scanning the sidereal skies for invisible allies, Dennis Lee suggested that one must stand guard and be ever-vigilant. Exiles Among You was the title of Kristjana Gunnars's dark but lively meditations. In Search Procedures Erin Mour investigated the investigators, while the crisscross contradictions of the different ways people take formed the texture of Marilyn Bowering's autobiography. Weather was used as an extended metaphor in both Crispin Elsted's Climate and the Affections: Poems: 1970-1995 and Charles Lillard's Shadow Weather: Poems Selected and New, while Al Purdy, in Rooms for Rent in the Outer Planets: Selected Poems 1962-1994, created his own strangely homely atmosphere. A different kind of domestic note was struck by Kaushalya Bannerji in The Faces of Five O'Clock, which echoed across the wild terrains of war, politics, and love. In her first collection of poetry, A Really Good Brown Girl, Marilyn Dumont brought the past into the present, playing one against the other to the elucidation of both. The past was the destination of many Canadian prose writers in 1996, as in The Ancestral Suitcase by Sylvia Fraser, in which a backward traveler through time stumbled across an ancient murder mystery while uncovering answers to questions she had yet to ask. Murder was also the focus of Alias Grace, Margaret Atwood's trenchant retelling of the story of an infamous 19th-century murderer, Grace Marks, a servant girl clever enough to outwit her doctor. Death by natural causes and the resurrection of both body and spirit enlivened Last Seen, Matt Cohen's deftly comic dissection of despair and grief. It seemed that the past most frequented by novelists in 1996 was World War II and its era, and a wide variety of characters were to be encountered there. They ranged from the octogenarian photographer in Katherine Govier's Angel Walk, flipping through the pictures that informed her life, and the 15-year-old girl in The Cure for Death by Lightning by Gail Anderson-Dargatz, living on a farm in the British Columbia hinterland and facing the sometimes brutal realities of her personal situation amid the chaos of global confrontations, to the Holocaust survivor, and the son of other survivors who studied his life, in Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels. Not all of the action took place abroad. In You Went Away, Timothy Findley explored the intricacies of love and deception on the home front, and the fate of displaced people in Canada after the war formed a large part of Janice Kulyk Keefer's The Green Library. Later history was rewritten by West Coast writer Des Kennedy in The Garden Club and the Kumquat Campaign: A Novel, which spoofed the struggle over logging in Clayoquot Sound. In poet Dionne Brand's first novel, In Another Place, Not Here, two women from the Caribbean encountered Toronto in the 1970s and '80s. Guy Vanderhaeghe's The Englishman's Boy juxtaposed 1920s Hollywood and a 19th-century massacre in the Cypress Hills, and Shauna Singh Baldwin's English Lessons and Other Stories began in 1919 but swept forward to the present. Lessons in art and love were taught and received by both apprentice and master in Ann Ireland's The Instructor. Cordelia Strube traced the spiraling path of dementia through the bleak streets of modern urban existence in Teaching Pigs to Sing, while Elisabeth Harvor's collection of short stories Let Me Be the One grappled with existence in a myriad of forms. (ELIZABETH WOODS) ENGLISH: Other Literature in English. Established as well as emerging writers from Australia, New Zealand, and sub-Saharan Africa provided noteworthy works in 1996. In Australia author Colleen McCullough brought out Caesar's Women, the fourth installment in her epic Masters of Rome series. Morris West released his 26th novel, Vanishing Point, simultaneously in the U.S., the U.K., and Australia. The novel created a compelling story of one man's willful disappearance and another's reluctant pursuit. Rod Jones issued the strikingly original Billy Sunday, set in the American frontier and working as both murder mystery and historical fiction. David Malouf (see BIOGRAPHIES), who published his novel The Conversations at Curlow Creek, also won the inaugural International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, at $160,000 the world's richest literary prize for a work of fiction. He was nominated for Remembering Babylon (1993), the story of a white man who returned to a pioneer community after living for 16 years among Aborigines. Titles by other important Australian writers included Janette Turner Hospital's novel Oyster, Barry Humphries's autobiographical novel Women in the Background, and Les Murray's verse collection Subhuman Redneck Poems. New Zealand poet Allen Curnow published New and Collected Poems 1941-1995, and Maurice Gee released his latest verse collection, Loving Ways. The poet, short-story writer, novelist, and scriptwriter Stephanie Johnson brought out The Heart's Wild Surf, a novel set in Fiji after World War I, and 26-year-old Emily Perkins caused much excitement with her collection Not Her Real Name: And Other Stories, which won the Montana New Zealand Book Award for a first work of fiction. South Africa produced two important and provocative essay collections, J.M. Coetzee's Giving Offense: Essays on Censorship and Breyten Breytenbach's The Memory of Birds in Times of Revolution. Andr Brink published the novel Imaginings of Sand. David Lambkin's thriller The Hanging Tree became a best-seller in South Africa before its release in the U.S., and new fiction from Christopher Hope (Darkest England) and Steve Jacobs (The Enemy Within) also attracted attention. In nonfiction Mike Nicol examined the events leading up to the election of Nelson Mandela in The Waiting Country: A South African Witness. There was a spate of Nigerian fiction dealing with issues of individual, social, and national identity, including Festus Iyayi's Awaiting Court Martial, Femi Olugbile's Batolica!, and Chukwuemeka Ike's To My Husband from Iowa. The problems experienced by Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, who issued his personal examination of the Nigerian crisis, The Open Sore of a Continent, continued when a production of his play The Trials of Brother Jero was suspended in February. Tanzanian author Abdulrazak Gurnah published his fifth book, Admiring Silence, which portrayed the despair of being torn from one's roots. Ghanaian-born actress Akosua Busia welcomed the publication of her first novel, The Seasons of Beento Blackbird, to much fanfare in the U.S. The equally precocious J. Nozipo Maraire, a multilingual author, neurosurgeon, and art gallery owner born and raised in Zimbabwe, made her own literary debut with Zenzele: A Letter for My Daughter, in which a cultural, maternal legacy was passed on to a woman's daughter as the latter entered a new world in leaving Zimbabwe to study in the U.S. at Harvard University. Ngugi wa Thiong'o of Kenya received the 1996 Fonlon-Nichols Award, given annually to honour excellence in African creative writing and contributions to the struggle for human rights and freedom of expression. (DAVID D. CLARK) ENGLISH: United Kingdom. Retrospection was a dominant theme of all aspects of British literature in 1996 and most notably in the novel. Ian Jack, editor of Granta magazine, observed at the year's end, "As one of the judges of the 1996 Booker Prize, I was struck by how many new English novels were preoccupied with the past. . . . This is the Literature of Farewell." He was arguing that Britain as a cohesive concept was no more, that the country had divided itself into its constituent parts (England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland), and that a fin de sicle trend of looking backward, often without nostalgia or romance, to the vanished days of empire and influence had taken over cultural life in general and works of literature in particular. The best of the latter he described as "valedictory realism." All six finalists for the Booker Prize tackled historical times in their works. Beryl Bainbridge's Every Man for Himself re-created the doomed maiden voyage of the Titanic with a cast of characters from above and below deck. Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace was based on the true 19th-century story of a 16-year-old ax-murdering servant. Shena Mackay's The Orchard on Fire depicted the rural England of the 1950s, and Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance was set in the 1970s in India. The judges were divided, however, between Ulster poet Seamus Deane's first novel, Reading in the Dark, a semiautobiographical story set in Derry in mid-century, and Graham Swift's reflective Last Orders, about four Londoners traveling to the south coast of England to scatter a friend's ashes into the sea. The shortlist, which the Sunday Times applauded as "strikingly successful," was less controversial than in past years, as was the October 29 announcement of the winner, Last Orders, which defeated Deane's work by three votes to two. Last Orders, of which only three copies had been sold in the U.K. the week before, leaped to number five on the best-seller list soon afterward. The book, written in a demotic London English, was, according to the Times Literary Supplement, "emotionally charged and technically superb" in its tackling of "how we live and how we die and our struggle to make abiding connections between the two." The other major literary award, the Whitbread, aroused more controversy. Kate Atkinson's first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, was named Book of the Year, beating Salman Rushdie's The Moor's Last Sigh and Roy Jenkins's biography Gladstone. Atkinson, a single mother of two, had once called the family a pernicious and tyrannical institution, and her book, charting three generations of a Yorkshire family, underscored this outlook. The Daily Mail called the decision "a victory for political correctness," and Julian Critchley, one of the judges, said that the women on the panel had voted for Atkinson out of a sense of "sisterhood." A new fiction award, the Orange Prize, offering 30,000 for the best English-language novel of the year written by a woman (10,000 more than the Booker and 9,000 more than the Whitbread), was launched in January to a mixed reception. A.S. Byatt, the Booker Prize-winning author of Possession, was among the skeptical. "I am against anything which ghettoizes women," she told The Independent. "My opinion is for the last 10 years or so it is observable that there have not been as many good women writers as men." The first awardee, announced in May, was Helen Dunmore, a lyrical writer whose novel A Spell of Winter had won high praise. Other notable fiction published during the year included Julian Barnes's Cross Channel, a collection of stories about France and the English people's relation to it. The Literary Review acclaimed the book for its central story, "Evermore," about a sister's annual pilgrimage to the grave of her brother, killed 50 years earlier in France in World War I. The Lady with the Laptop by Clive Sinclair was admired for its whimsical stories. Among the many new offerings from established authors were Doris Lessing's Love, Again, Margaret Drabble's The Witch of Exmoor, Ben Okri's Dangerous Love, Roddy Doyle's The Woman Who Walked into Doors, and John le Carr's The Tailor of Panama. The latter, a spy story about a half-Jewish, half-Irish tailor, Harry Pendel, who is recruited as a British agent, caused irritation among Panamanians whom le Carr had befriended while collecting material for the work. Patrick O'Brian, at age 82, published The Yellow Admiral, his 18th novel in the Aubrey-Maturin seafaring series set during the Napoleonic Wars. The Financial Times declared it one of the finest, despite its lack of a major naval battle. Edwina Currie, in an attempt to replicate the huge commercial success of that other politician-turned-novelist, Jeffrey Archer, brought out a second novel, A Woman's Place, about the escapades of a woman junior minister. The book was, however, received without enthusiasm. Scotland drew attention for its production of new and exciting fiction, much of it not in the retrospective tone of the literature south of the border. Many books were written in local dialect, such as Irvine Welsh's Ecstasy. Janice Galloway's story collection Where You Find It contained a wry tale entitled "Tourists from the South Arrive in the Independent State" that spoke to the mood of cultural autonomy. Rushdie entered his eighth year of living under an Iranian death threat, and negotiations between the European Union and the Iranian government to have the edict rescinded came to nought. The author, however, made several public appearances, most strikingly as an honoured guest at the British Book Awards dinner in March, where he received an Author of the Year award. The Committee for the Defense of Salman Rushdie continued to lobby on his behalf, while Rushdie himself declared that he wished to resume as normal a life as possible. The year was extraordinarily rich in biography. The long-awaited authorized biography of Samuel Beckett by James Knowlson was a much-praised work that combined biography with literary criticism and featured a hitherto unknown but extensive correspondence between Beckett and an American woman with whom he had had an affair in the 1950s. Carl Rollyson's Rebecca West: A Saga of the Century was declared "excellent" by the Literary Review. Michael Billington's The Life and Work of Harold Pinter drew interesting links between the playwright's often obscure texts and his life. A more mixed reception attended Ben Pimlott's biography The Queen, a 651-page supposedly "serious" biography of Queen Elizabeth II undertaken, however, without the aid of interviews with its subject. Another book that sparked intense controversy was Before the Dawn, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams's autobiography. A scheduled book launch in the House of Commons was canceled because of the author's political affiliations. Appearing at a time when the peace process had become mired down and the cease-fire had been violated, the book was, nonetheless, for most a valuable insight into the continuing conflict in Ulster. Although a Times editorial found it disingenuous, Lord Merlyn Rees in The Guardian declared the book "compulsory reading," and Time magazine praised Adams's style as "graceful." The book enjoyed less commercial success in Britain than in Ireland, where it was a best-seller for months. Another political biography was Robert Shepherd's on Enoch Powell, an idiosyncratic conservative whose intolerant views on immigration and race relations had contributed to his dismissal from the front bench in the late 1960s but had also won him a popular following. Eminent literary figures of the Victorian age continued to attract biographers. Rosemary Ashton's George Eliot: A Life was deemed by The Guardian somewhat insubstantial in its literary criticism but valuable in that it "irradiates the fiction with a new luminosity of context." Lewis Carroll attracted two new biographies that laid varying degrees of stress on the author's habit of photographing naked young girls and of constructing elaborate mathematical problems during insomniac nights. Nicholas Murray's A Life of Matthew Arnold was an accessible study of a poet and essayist who in his day could attract an audience of more than a thousand to his lectures. Poets from Ireland remained prominent in 1996. Seamus Heaney's The Spirit Level, his first poetry collection since winning the Nobel Prize in 1995, drew accolades from most commentators. Another Irish poet, Bernard O'Donoghue, now living in England, won the poetry section of the Whitbread awards. The author's Gunpowder collection was strongly rooted in his memory of an Irish childhood. A new translation of Charles Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du mal, published under the title Poems of the Damned by Irishman Ulick O'Connor, successfully preserved much of the rhyming and cadence of the originals. A collection of never-before-published poems by T.S. Eliot, which he had requested never see the light of day, provoked intense debate. They appeared under the title Inventions of the March Hare: Poems 1909-1917, edited by Christopher Ricks. The Guardian critic Eric Griffiths hailed them as "a long-lost map to a treasure-trove" where readers would find that "the iron-filings of Eliot's imagination lie all around in heaps but without the magnet needed to spring them into pattern." Others saw a racist and an anti-Semitic sensibility in them, as in the poem describing a ribald encounter between Christopher Columbus and King Bolo, a black monarch. Eliot, who observed that "while the mind of man has altered, verse has stood still," came across as a poet trying, as Griffiths put it, "to jog the lyrical needle out of the groove." David Jones, a contemporary of Eliot's, enjoyed a renaissance during the year. A war poet, painter, and polymath, Jones was the subject of two exhibitions, a series of conferences, and two books. In David Jones, a Fusilier at the Front, Anthony Hyne brought together selected pencil drawings and verse, and David Jones: The Maker Unmade by Jonathan Miles and Derek Shiel was a highly regarded illustrated biography. The long-awaited, exhaustively researched The Dictionary of Art was published by Macmillan to warm notices. Twenty years in the making, the book retailed at 4,900, and the Times Literary Supplement hailed it as a reference work that would soon prove indispensable. Another reference work, The New Fowler's Modern English Usage, edited by R.W. Burchfield, was criticized by The Observer for being no true successor to Fowler's tradition of prescriptive advice to writers. The writer and politician Roy Hattersley, however, praised it for making the "crucial point that what is important in writing is respecting not arbitrary rules but the resonance of the English language." Sir Laurens Jan van der Post (see OBITUARIES), author of The Heart of the Hunter and A Mantis Carol and more than a dozen other titles, died at age 90. He was known for his books and films on the people of the Kalahari and was an outspoken critic of apartheid. At the year's end, Frederick Forsyth, author of The Day of the Jackal, and Kenneth Rose, a Daily Telegraph diarist and biographer of George V, were made CBE. (SIOBHAN DOWD) FRENCH With some 500 novels published in France in the autumn alone, 1996 was marked by a proliferation of fiction. Confronted with this abundance, many readers had recourse to the familiar, such as Patrick Modiano, who reprised his customary themes in Du plus loin de l'oubli, in which a man reminisces over inexplicable chance encounters that have shaped his life. Pierre Michon wrote two short novels also revolving around formative chance encounters, this time with women. In La Grande Beune a young schoolteacher, assigned to a tiny rural town, comes to desire local women, whose bodies poetically coalesce with the countryside to form a geography of desire, while in Le Roi du bois, a peasant's life is forever changed when he sees a noblewoman in a compromising position and then develops the desire to become a prince himself in order to win her. Besides these literary veterans, several newcomers also made their mark. They included 27-year-old Marie Darrieussecq, whose first novel, Truismes, the story of a woman transformed into a sow strangely purer than swinish modern society, was one of the year's two literary sensations. The other was Lila dit a, written by Chimo, an obvious pseudonym for an author whose true identity sparked wild speculation in light of the book's feigned literary navet. The novel was the story of a powerful but doomed teenage love between a French Arab and a blond girl, set against the despair of ghetto life. In 23-year-old Mehdi Belhaj Kecem's Vies et morts d'Irne Lepic, the voice of youth is expressed by the virulent protest of a young woman, isolated by her own intelligence, against the cattlelike conformity of society in general and of her nonconformist group of friends in particular. Protest was transformed into political parody in Jean Jouet's La Montagne R., in which bureaucratic clichs abound in the absurdity of a corrupt government project to combat unemployment and unrest by mobilizing the workforce to build a useless mountain. In Claude Pujade-Renaud's La Nuit la neige, a political occurrence--the dismissal in 1714 of a longtime favourite, 72-year-old Marie-Anne de la Trmoille, princesse des Ursins, from the court of Spain's King Philip V by the king's new young wife--offered the chance to examine years of political intrigue through a polyphony of women's voices, from the most humble to the most illustrious. Politics mixed with metaphysics in Bernard Nol's Le Roman d'Adam et Eve, an examination of how easily the desire to return to original perfection can enslave man, here through Joseph Stalin's attempt to re-create a Soviet Garden of Eden. The metaphysical was expressed as a journey in Sylvie Germain's clats de sel, in which metaphors of salt surround a Czech returning home to overcome the "flavourlessness" of his spiritual bankruptcy through the learnings of a 16th-century rabbi. The fantastic completely took over the everyday life of an abandoned housewife in Maric Ndayic's La Sorcire; the familial traditions of the witch, passed on from mother to daughter through the centuries, prove too weak to combat the 20th-century disintegration of the family. In poetry simplicity was a major theme. Jol Vernet's Totems de sable celebrated the simplicity of gardens and childhood, and Dominique Pagnier's La Faveur de l'obscurit, that of the country's humble nobility. In boulements et Taillis, Bertrand Degott used old forms, such as the poem of circumstance, complete with verse and rhyme, to describe small, everyday occurrences. The novelist Michel Butor also published a collection of poems, A la frontire, an examination of spatiality and geography, not only of the world but also of the beholder's view, in which the mixture of poetic prose and prose poetry itself raised the question of literary frontiers. In the realm of essays, Jacques Derrida published Apories, in which, from his deconstructionist point of view, he argued that in the questions that are concerned with time and death a person must maintain the aporia (a logical problem with no solution). In La Haine de la musique, Pascal Quignard, best known for his novel celebrating music, All the Mornings of the World, wrote of his newfound hatred of music and of the invasive, noisy suffering it causes in the hearer who seeks only silence and solitude. Christian Prigent wrote Une Erreur de la nature, a defense of "unreadable" or difficult writers, such as himself, who maintain the ungraspable chaos of reality in their works rather than falsely reassuring readers with illusions of a stable, understandable universe. The Prix Femina was awarded to Genevive Brisac for her Week-end de chasse la mre, the story of a single mother whose son has become her last source of stability and joy in the world. The Prix Mdicis went to two authors: Jacqueline Harpman for her psychoanalytic tale of androgyny, Orlanda, in which a woman possesses the mind and body of a man; and Jean Rolin for his L'Organisation, the fictionalized autobiography of his misadventures in the Maoist revolutionary movement of 1968 France. The Prix Renaudot also went to a fictionalized autobiography, Boris Schreiber's Un Silence d'environ une demi-heure, the story of the flight of the author's family across Europe to escape the Nazis. The Prix Goncourt was awarded to Pascale Roze's first novel, Le Chasseur Zro, which recounted a woman's obsession for her long-dead father and the Japanese kamikaze pilot who killed him in World War II. (VINCENT AURORA)

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