Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Mrs. Caliban is at the center of one of the most improbable literary success stories of the 1980’s. First published in Great Britain, it was issued in the United States by a small press in 1983. Receiving little notice (a notable exception was a favorable review by John Updike), the book and its author remained virtually unknown until 1986, when the British Book Marketing Council, in a heavily advertised promotional campaign, selected a list of twenty “great American post-war novels.” Mrs. Caliban, the most surprising choice on the controversial list, was reissued in 1986 to great acclaim, and as a result of the attendant publicity, other books by Ingalls are being made available to American readers.

American-born, Rachel Ingalls moved to England in 1964 and has continued to reside there. It is not only the individual angle of her vision that has, until now, kept her work in obscurity: There is also the problem that most of her fictions could loosely be classified as novellas—“a very odd unsalable length,” as she has said. Among her collections of such short fictions are Theft and the Man Who Was Left Behind (1970), Mediterranean Cruise (1973), I See a Long Journey (published in Great Britain as Three of a Kind, 1985), and The Pearlkillers (1986). All of them feature the unsettling images and the subversive intelligence that have made Mrs. Caliban a contemporary classic.