Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

In its treatment of its subject matter, A Room on the Hill is definitely influenced by existentialism. The idea that the world outside the self is sometimes only an illusion and that the self is all that remains or matters (and therefore must be protected from the influence of other people) is most clearly seen in the character of John. There is also the existentialist notion of suicide as protest and a radical insistence on living for today despite societal pressures and the hazards of one’s own existence—a life-style chosen with full awareness and carried out to its logical extreme by Anne-Marie in her relationship with Dennys.

The strength of A Room on the Hill lies in its discussion of a global idea in a specific locale and among specific people, people to whom the author is close because he was born among them. The novel also mirrors the overwhelming feeling of displacement suffered by post-World War II Commonwealth writers as an entire colonial system disintegrated, and the struggle for a new order (and new forms of writing and philosophy) commenced. At one point, John Lestrade visits an English military cemetery andglimpse[s] the futility of human effort. It was here, after all, that it ended always.... [The British soldiers’] predecessors, having killed off the original inhabitants, had fought men from other countries for his black ancestors and for the island. Their followers were to unite not once but several times with men from those same countries to fight against others. Expediency, utility and, ultimately, self-interest, national or individual, was the only criterion.