The Portrait of a Lady can rightfully claim to be the novel that began to edge fiction out of a Victorian concern with spectacle and plot and to introduce us to what became, in the early twentieth century, in the hands of Joyce, Woolf, Faulkner, and others, fiction that is concerned with the ebb and flow of individual consciousness as it ranges across the mundane events of daily life. James frequently pauses the action and allows us to eavesdrop on Isabel Archer’s most intimate thoughts, feelings, and fears, in a manner that readers in 1881 would have found both startling and thrilling. John Banville’s seventeenth novel, Mrs. Osmond, seizes the narrative baton from James.
The first novel of South African writer Zakes Mda, Ways of Dying (1995), told the story of Toloki, a down-at-the-heels loner who witnesses the mindless violence that convulses a black community in the final days of apartheid. He becomes a professional mourner and wanders from funeral to funeral, varying the …
Derek Walcott had many New Yorks, and all of them played a part in his life and in his evolution as a writer. But perhaps the most important of all his New York sojourns was the one from the Fifties, a nine-month period between 1958 and 1959 when Walcott lived in the city as a young man. Walcott also tried to write during his time in New York, but it would be some years before he achieved the detachment necessary for him to be able to coherently set down his complex, troubled feelings about the city. In New York, by learning what he wasn’t, Walcott quickly absorbed the lesson of what he was: a West Indian.
Peter Rachman belonged to a world that polite society did not approve of, though it pruriently enjoyed reading about it. But the coinage “Rachmanism” is now inscribed in the English language as shorthand for rapacious, unscrupulous landlordism. Today, in an age when both the Labour and Conservative parties have been roiled by credible charges of anti-Semitism among their members, we might reflect on how a Holocaust survivor, Polish patriot, and ex-serviceman was transformed by Britain’s popular press of the 1960s into a veritable Bond villain, a fantastical schemer and exploiter. Rachman was hardly a Rothschild, yet his name is still invoked as a byword for sordid capitalist exploitation. How much has changed?