Éadaoín Lynch at Dublin Review of Books:
Gill Plain’s first line, “There are many ‘1940s’”, is an illustration of not only the complexities of the decade, but of the difficulty of dividing history into arbitrary digestible ten-year periods. Despite this difficulty, Plain’s study offers an accessible, engaging overview of the decade’s literature. By placing texts parallel to historical settings, she allows for a greater understanding of the ways in which they overlap, and offers succinct insights that could be subjects for further studies in their own right. Take for example this observation: “The horror of 1945 is both anticipated and avoided by literature.” This paradoxical viewpoint, which many authors of the 1940s adopted, is a useful starting point in understanding the tensions apparent in the literature of this decade, when combatants and non-combatants were facing a Second World War within the great shadow of the First.
The general preface to the book, written by series editor Randall Stevenson, advises that, “history in the twentieth-century perhaps pressed harder and more variously on literary imagination than ever before, requiring a literary history correspondingly meticulous, flexible and multifocal”. It was because of this felt need that Edinburgh University Press began its History of Twentieth-Century Literature in Britain.