Michael Caines at the TLS:
While some have struggled to define “literary fiction” as a marketable genre of its own, or as writing that calls attention to form, today is apparently a time of a revived appetite for avant-garde writing – writing that, if it does nothing else, calls all assumptions about form into question. And with this renewed focus comes a renewed sense of the importance of 1960s attempts to do something not entirely dissimilar – whether that was the typographical devices of Brooke-Rose, a book in a box (The Unfortunates by Johnson) or the “increasing daring”, as Julia Jordan has called it, of Quin’s novels. The publication of a new volume of Quin’s “stories and fragments”, The Unmapped Country, edited by Jennifer Hodgson, has coincided with a conference held at the University of East Anglia, “In Search of a New Fiction?: British avant-garde writing of the 1960s”. The conference anticipates the publication by Edinburgh University Press, later in the year, of a collection of essays under the same title, but minus the question mark. Nonia Williams and Kaye Mitchell, the conference’s organizers, are also that volume’s co-editors; and they have further raised the idea of setting up a new network for those who are interested in the field. Gathering forty-odd people at UEA, for a “discursive” day of well-informed and engaging conversation, seems like a good start.
The first session about Johnson and Christine Brooke-Rose immediately raised the kind of questions that academics must ask. To what extent is it helpful to consider Brooke-Rose (who spent much of her life in France, under French literary influences) as a “British” writer? What about politics – did “progressive” tendencies as a writer go hand in hand with “progressive” politics?