(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Staring at the Sun is divided into three main sections, preceded by a very short preface. Section 1 is concerned with the life of Jean Serjeant from early childhood to her wartime marriage, ending with her appallingly unsuccessful honeymoon and loss of virginity. Section 2 appears to be directly consecutive but in fact skips over the twenty years of Jean’s marriage in a few pages, beginning once more to be detailed when, in quick succession, Jean becomes pregnant late in life, makes up her mind to leave her husband, does so, has her baby, and then concentrates for a while on bringing up her son, Gregory. The most striking scenes of this section, however, are those in which Jean—by this time in late middle age—encounters a radical feminist named Rachel, who tries to enlighten or awaken Jean’s deep-buried political sense and even to convert her to lesbianism. The section closes with the death of Uncle Leslie, whose strange and eccentric behavior has been a topic in the novel from the first few pages. Section 3 then very surprisingly moves on to the year 2020, by which time Jean is almost one hundred years old. In this section, the author, without losing sight of his previous concerns, naturally has to spend much time in imagining the future society of the next century, writing, in fact, a form of science fiction.

It will be seen that this novel takes great liberties with the handling of time. Other works have followed characters almost as long-lived or...

(The entire section is 606 words.)