Contemporary Long Fiction Summary

Introduction (Survey of Novels and Novellas)

It is generally agreed that the postmodern period of world literature begins immediately following the end of World War II and extends at least through the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) and the dissolution of the Soviet Union (1991). Perhaps this period of the novel’s development is identified most of all with experimentation. Worldwide, postmodern novels have flown in the face of much that preceded them, yet the novel remains an evolving, thriving genre. Testimony to its vitality is the fact that this formerly Eurocentric, male-dominated genre of literature now counts among its preeminent practitioners women from countries not traditionally identified with the novel at its best.

To appreciate such a turn of events in the novel’s development, one must know something about the history of the novel and its traditions. The novel is the only genre today that cannot also be found among the classical literatures of Rome and Greece, although these societies had their own forms of long fiction. The novel emerged as a budding literary form while philosophical thought and everyday life were undergoing changes of staggering breadth during the Age of Enlightenment in the seventeenth century. The Enlightenment championed human reason at a time when God and the Church had begun to recede from the forefront of European consciousness as the defining elements of human existence, as evidenced by philosopher René Descartes’s dictum, “I think, therefore I am.” A new formulation of value and worth was in the offing as well, one imposed by humanity rather than by the heavens. Rising in tandem with the gold standard, international trade, and modern economics, the novel found its initial audience and practitioners amid a flowering, newly educated, secular middle class of people who had begun to appear on the horizons of mercantile Europe....

(The entire section is 752 words.)

Contemporary Long Fiction The novel after the Cold War (Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The post-Cold War novel, which includes much of what is called postcolonial literature, comprises the work of novelists such as Paul Scott (The Raj Quartet, 1979) and Salman Rushdie (The Satanic Verses, 1988), who explore the cultures of developing nations as they emerge from domination by declining world empires. The term has also been used more loosely, however, to categorize Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain (1997), an American Civil War epic that chronicles with methodical detail the realities of nineteenth century battle, and David Guterson’s popular Snow Falling on Cedars (1994), which blends a World War II-era history of the American Northwest with an oddly lyrical murder mystery.

The novel after the Cold War changed from its earlier modernist and postmodernist manifestations. Postmodernism has been identified with a period of history during which the fate of the world was defined by the tensions between two new superpowers, the Soviet Union and the United States. This brings up questions of whether the collapse of the Soviet Union has caused the world, and its literature, to change diametrically and whether a new era, a “post-postmodern” era, has begun. What is certain is that novels are changing, and they will continue to be much richer than the categories that have been employed in attempts to appreciate them.

By privileging gender and ethnicity, critics may well have created categories that...

(The entire section is 570 words.)