Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

As many reviewers and readers have indicated, Caliban’s Filibuster represents West at his most experimental. With its emphasis on consciousness and interior states, it is hardly atypical of his early fiction; the distinct difference, however, rests with the remarkably complex linguistic patterns. The novel is furthermore important for provoking West to write such other experimental novels as Colonel Mint (1972) and Gala (1976). In these novels, West tries to inspect “man in his complete environment.... It will be all to the good when the novel bleeds over into a whole range of fields—cybernetics, anthropology, possibly psychiatry.”

Caliban’s Filibuster also inaugurated West’s practice of finding some external structuring pattern for his seemingly aimless narratives. In this case he relies upon both the International Date Line and the color spectrum to give some objective pattern to Cal’s thoughts. For example, the first narrative is dominated by the color blue, the second by yellow, and the third by red, and West has stated that originally he wanted these sections of the novel coded with their respective colors on the pages’ edges.

As a result of this novel and the experiments that succeeded it, West is often labeled an inaccessible writer, but this is simply not true. While the reader may not always follow every event or be able to make sense of all the novel’s elements, there are numerous delights and some genuinely comic moments. What West’s fiction does demand is an active engagement on the reader’s part, and there are indeed rewards for that engagement.