Keith Roberts is a native of southern England, a region that is featured in much of his fiction. His style is allusive rather than descriptive. An electronic component central to the plot of “The White Boat,” for example, is never identified directly but is referred to only as a “tiny map of heresy.” Much of Pavane’s effectiveness comes from the evocative power of Roberts’ prose, which is full of discontinuities that force the reader to struggle for meaning.
Pavane follows a trajectory of ever-increasing resistance to authority. The story cycle traces a series of rebellions by individuals that seem doomed to futility but that take on significance when viewed in the broader historical context of the book.
The sudden intrusion of actual tragic history into the coda is disturbing. The explicit contrast between actual history and that of Pavane temporarily reverses the relationship between the oppressive world of the novel and the true, supposedly enlightened, age. Although the coda, with its hovercraft and power stations, endorses the principle of progress as firmly as the other sections, Falconer’s reminder of recent history’s darkest episodes, framed within the utopian context of the coda, subverts the reader’s assumption that the present world is superior to that of Pavane.