I’ve made every attempt to assiduously proof-read every sentence for readability, spelling and grammar.
You can now donate to lowly student who posts infrequently and in of varying degrees of evident quality. Appreciate anything for the time that goes into writing. Still have plenty of words left passing through me, I hope. Neo-Thatcherite, Feudo-Capitalism is biting hard.
The end of history is, alas, also the end of the dustbins of history. There are no longer any dustbins for disposing of old ideologies, old regimes, old values. Where are we going to throw Marxism, which actually invented the dustbins of history? (Yet there is some justice here since the very people who invented them have fallen in.) Conclusion: if there are no more dustbins of history, this is because History itself has become a dustbin. It has become its own dustbin, just as the planet itself is becoming its own dustbin.
Jean Baudrillard, The Illusion of the End
‘The past has left images of itself in literary texts images comparable to those which are imprinted by light on a photosensitive plate. The future alone possesses developers active enough to scan such surfaces perfectly.’
André Monglond, (French Historian)
Paradoxes and Post-modernity: An exploration through three contemporary British texts in time
On the face of it, these three chosen texts share little correlation with one another. They are: Ian McEwan’s 2005 novel ‘Saturday’, William Boyd’s 2006 ‘Ordinary Thunderstorms’ and Simon Armitage’s 2006 poetry anthology ‘Tyrannosaurus Rex versus the Corduroy Kid’. The bleakest unfulfilled promises of modernity and neoliberalism are manifested inall three texts in what can crudely be attributed to a Post-1989 collective unconscious, shaped in part but not exclusively symptomatic of 9/11 literature. As will be explained via interlinking form, structure, content along the fault lines of Darwinism and the secular disenchantment of Postmodernity. In addition to, an unsustainable global economic and environmental paradigm, addressed implicitly or explicitly in these texts. For 1400 years the over-arching meta-narrative hanging over Britain was that of the many denominations of the Christianity and the plant that invariably grew from this seed of thought, until sufficient resistance grew via Newton, Marx and so on. The past 200 years of human existence (a comparatively fleeting period in cosmic and geographic change) has yielded the greatest tumult in shifts of thought, modes of living and so on with Freidrich Nietzsche (most notably, for his resistance to the egalitarian, Judeo-Christian tradition) providing the impetus for ideologies and causes as incongruous as Socialism, the heterogonous work of the French post-structuralists, Anarchism and even Ayn Rand’s compassionate-sparse ‘Objectivism’ which there is considerable overlap with Darwinian thought.
In addition, decades of neoliberal policies have given way to a free-for-all economic Darwinism that promotes a politics of emotional incoherence at best, and at worst, negligence and cruelty. In ‘Ordinary Thunderstorms’, Alfredo Rilke and Burton Keegan work hard to suppress the deaths (mostly children) caused by the Zembla-4 drug, just one of innumerable reflections on the morality of big business. Neo-Liberalism in all three texts is reflected as purely the sophism of acquiring material commodities. This Darwinism is reflected with striking ubiquity across all three texts structurally, in the central protagonists as well as in particular primitive, animalistic motifs. These are used as a means of satirising the zeitgeist before and after 9/11 in decades (principally the nineties) now seemingly acquiring ‘a fake of gleam of innocence’ (Saturday). To some extent, a riposte to the naïve optimism of Millenarianism ‘and a general euphoria untainted by cynicism’ (Page 142 of Saturday) reflected in the New Labour manifesto of 1997. This emphasised faith in the ability of government, faith in politics (faith is used three times) and Tony Blair’s confidence (‘even optimistic’) about the symbolic prosperity of the new Britain, absent from 2005 and 2009 manifestos of all political parties; a technophillic optimism that gave way to despair. The usual historicist perspective of understanding an event or events within its context or genesis does not suffice here. By this I mean origins, embodied in the three texts can only be viewed through the lens of the future. For instance, the global neoliberal markets, hailed as the only economic option, crashed to their greatest nadir since the 1930’s in 2008 with devastating and far reaching consequences. To an extent they are anticipated in all three texts with the late historian Eric Hobsbawm described the crash of 2008 as a “sort of right-wing equivalent to the fall of the Berlin wall” yet many were blind to the symptoms as will be explored.
Boyd’s 1998 novel ‘Armadillo’ is uncannily similar too in its concern for the transience of human life and the emotional incoherence of relations in an age of communication that attempts to disembody it. The interrogation or satirical treatment of the Darwinian themes is to some extent a reaction to age of supposed civility and abundance when the same pernicious qualities of animals remain in all of us.
‘Your dad passed away last night.’
‘Oh God. Jesus.’ He began to brake.
‘Yes. Very quiet, very peaceful. It’s a blessing, Milo.’
‘Yes, Mum. You all right?’
‘Oh, I’m fine, me. Everyone’s here. Well, the girls are.’
‘Should… Ah, should I come round?’
‘No point. He’s not here anymore. They took him.’
He felt his face tighten. ‘I’ll call later, Mum. I’m in traffic.’
Emotional incoherence and the erosion of the family unit cannot be entirely attributed to mass communications; McEwan’s own narrative voice and ‘hand’ is affected by the dilemmas of postmodernity and mass communications oscillating between a ‘return to realism’ and meta-fictional writing. Notable in the hybridity of McEwan’s and to a lesser extent of Boyd’s oeuvre, is the use of literary realism and the inclusion of the postmodern era’s issues in terms of their novels’ content, notably television. It can also be claimed that McEwan reveals a nostalgia for modernism in a distinctly postmodernist wrapping that, to an extent exposes the artificiality of narrative or in the words of McEwan himself: ‘I prefer a work of fiction to be self-contained, supported by its own internal struts and beams, resembling the world and somehow and immune from it.’ This purely theoretical approach means that ‘Saturday’ becomes almost a calculated, self-contained experiment. This will be discussed later in further detail with reference to a meta-fictional commentary.
In a sense, it resembles a hyper-real ‘effacement of reality’ as French post-structuralist cultural philosopher Jean Baudrillard posits. Baudrillard argued that the excess of signs and of meaning in late 20th century “global” society had paradoxically caused this world in which ‘neither liberal nor Marxist utopias are any longer believed in. We live, he argued, not in a “global village,” to use Marshall McLuhan‘s phrase, but rather in a world that is ever more easily petrified by even the smallest event.’ The ‘“global” world operates at the level of the exchange of signs and commodities’, dictated by the speculation of the markets and a decidedly ‘materialist’ means of living that exemplifies both protagonists. In their perhaps overreaching attempts at more powerful shifts beyond the reach of the individual, in neurosurgeon Henry Perowne (Saturday) and Boyd’s Adam Kindred, a climatologist and cloud expert both at the peak of their professions.
My aim with this paper is to explore to what extent ‘Saturday’ and indeed all three texts are postmodern texts, and with that follows the question how much they adhere to the aesthetics of the realist genre in both structure and form. I will ask how the two different views of reality – realism and postmodernism -are dramatised thematically in the novel and how they bisect to represent 21st century ideological struggle as prophetic texts in time.
To illustrate, let us first examine the century that preceded it and determined the supposed post-ideological vacuum that first began in 1991. The extended epigraph from Saul Bellow’s 1964 ‘Herzog’ in ‘Saturday’ is invaluable to our analytical purposes, underlying the optimism in a decade of baby-boomers with seemingly upwardly-spiralling standards of living. In an age of ‘beautiful supermachinery’ is the ‘failure of radical hopes’ : from utopian ideals, principally manifested by the Soviet Union and the USA, to mechanisation and the devaluing of individual labour, the former forgotten as neo-liberal triumphalism swept the world in the nineteen-nineties:
‘For instance? Well, for instance, what it means to be a man. In a city. In a century.In transition. In a mass.Transformed by science. Under organised power. Subject to tremendous controls.In a condition caused by mechanisation. After the late failure of radical hopes. In a society that was no community and devalued the person.Owing to the multiplied power of numbers which made the self negligible. Which spent military billions against foreign enemies but would not pay for order at home. Which permitted savagery and barbarism in its own great cities. At the same time, the pressure of human millions who have discovered what concerted efforts and thoughts can do. As megatons of water shape organisms on the ocean floor. As tides polish stones. As winds hollow cliffs.The beautiful supermachinery opening a new life for innumerable mankind. Would you deny them the right to exist? Would you ask them to labour and go hungry while you yourself enjoyed old-fashioned Values? You- you yourself are a child of this mass and a brother to the all the rest. Or else an ingrate, dilettante, idiot. There, Herzog, thought Herzog since you ask for the instance, is the way it runs.’
Here the titular protagonist Herzog shares much in common with the pseudo-ideology of Henry Perowne’s ‘philosophical materialism’ echoed with considerable thematic overlap throughout ‘Saturday’. Foreign enemies’ blindly addresses the parallels between the America’s bombardment and destruction of Vietnam and the looming prospect of the Iraq. However, unlike Henry who does not consider himself a ‘child of this mass and a brother to all the rest’ but rather almost diametrically opposed to it: ‘For a vertiginous moment Henry feels himself bound to the other man [a humble street cleaner], as though on a seesaw with him, pinned to an axis that could tip them into each other’s life. (74)’
The first words in sentence one feel very typical of the novel, as they are indicative of passing time. Time is central to the novel’s thematic backbone (it shall be returned to in the conclusions of this essay) and the very fact that it deals with just one day also points to this. The fact that this is an actual day (15 February 2003) and that the novel is referring to actual events on that day – the anti-war march – does in a quite postmodern way blur the demarcations between fiction and reality. The fact that the pending war in Iraq is dealt with in the novel can be compared with critical theorist Peter Barry’s view that it could be dangerous to lose the distinction between real and unreal altogether. He asserts that ‘without a belief in some of the concepts which postmodernism undercuts’ these include ‘history, reality and truth, for instance – we may well find ourselves in pretty repulsive company’ A Darwinian nihilism in which, not the fittest survived per se but the most abundantly resourced and educated. For instance, when Henry perceives Baxter’s Huntington’s disease, much to Baxter’s humiliation.
However, in a particularly ‘postmodern’ way, Perowne refuses to adopt a standpoint on the world at large (at least not a fixed consistent one): ‘Perowne has had ambivalent or confused and shifting ideas about this coming invasion (62)’. Yet simultaneously ‘Perowne knows that when a powerful imperium – Assyrian, Roman, American – makes war and claims just cause, history will not be impressed. (73).’
Subsequently this means that the truth is always contingent on who wins; whose story becomes history. In the heated discussion with Daisy, Perowne alleges that ‘this is all speculation about the future.’ Why should ‘I’ feel any certainty about it when as Henry says himself earlier in the novel: ‘But if the present dispensation is wiped out now, the future will look back on us as gods, certainly in this city, lucky gods blessed by supermarkets cornucopias, torrents of accessible information, warm clothes that weigh nothing, extended life spans, wondrous machines. This is an age of wondrous machines.’Moreover, ‘It’s all about outcomes, and no one knows what they’ll be. That’s why I can’t imagine marching in the streets.” (187).’ Yet paradoxically Henry’s tendency to suppose an “objective” truth, his relentless rationalizing the reality and to provide a unified account of it (much like his ‘remote passiveness of a god’ when describing the ‘human biological machine’), is questioned by McEwan’s authorial hand, along with the related postmodernist interest in deconstructing notions of truth and rationality in a world of 24 hour news. Two passages coupled with inference from a third illustrate this:
On page five we are presented this triumphant celebration of the status quo and modern consumer culture as channelled through Henry values: ‘The overfull litter basket suggest great abundance rather than squalor’. Dissimilarly, page 123 ‘So much commerce in a narrow space makes regular space makes regular hillocks of bagged garbage on the pavements. A stray dog is worrying the sacks – gnawing filth whitens his teeth.’
Could the meta-fictional comment that underlies is that an author is the authority; the controller of a text? In other McEwan texts such as Atonement, Briony’s want for dramatization is seen as destructive and the ‘remote passiveness’ of ordering the ‘excess of the subjective’ as Henry berates is satirised, as he himself exemplifies in his overarching Darwinian narrative of the world and its discontents, at best ambivalent to new ideas. This can be glimpsed in two ways. As we have assessed, in a world of 24 rolling-news, ‘a world that is ever more easily petrified by even the smallest event’, a world in which to illustrate, when Henry glimpses the flaming tail of the airplane outside his bedroom window, a breathless spiral of the envisaged scenarios play in his mind: ‘His crime was to stand in the safety of his bedroom, wrapped in a woollen dressing gown, without moving or making a sound, half dreaming as he watched people die.’ As Zoe Heller’s review of ‘Saturday’ in the ‘New York Times’ echoes: ‘Here, though, the contemporary setting lends the questions a new moral urgency. ”The times are strange enough. Why make things up?” Perowne asks. Which is to say, in a world that can present us with the phantasmagorical spectacle of 9/11, what has fiction to offer? Like Adorno, famously announcing that ”after Auschwitz writing poetry is barbaric,” or the many writers who, in the wake of 9/11, expressed anxiety about the relevance of their work, Perowne suspects that making up stories — fretting about mots justes while buildings burn — is not just an unnecessary occupation but a frivolous one. The paradox, of course, is that even as Perowne denies the fundamental usefulness of fiction, his daylong preoccupations supply the matter for the novel we are reading. He is surely right: literature cannot give absolute answers, or furnish watertight explanations.’
However, the brutal irony as Heller continues: ‘In the novel’s climactic scene, McEwan arranges for his protagonist to be given an explicit example of literature’s power.’ As well as ‘And then, at the very moment of crisis, the recitation of a poem effects a miraculous transformation. Disaster is averted by the unlikely deus ex machina of a Victorian poet.’ ‘Dover Beach’, Matthew Arnold’s poem transcends all – and like London, as a neat and schematic plot device or ‘ghost in the machine’ (ironic considering Henry’s materialist lean in philosophy of mind) in sufficiently eroding all stratifying demarcations of age, class, profession and intelligence as Victorian poem addressing the comparative eternality of nature. All human life is giving to the melancholy fact as ‘waves hollow cliffs’ as Bellow asserts and the human conflict is ultimately a fragmentary will of the events on Earth (as will be explored in Armitage’s ‘Horses, M62’)
Only facts, rational thought procedural techniques (the intricacy of neurosurgery for instance) are accepted. In Simon Armitage’s Hand-Washing Technique we are presented with the instructional: ‘right palm over left dorsum’. An entire opening poem of the anthology (or non-poem) dedicated to the zeitgeist of a world fearful of disorder, avian ‘H1N1’ flu and so on (see: manifestos) or evidenced in ‘Ordinary Thunderstorms’: ‘Even the cleaners took more pride in their work, thanks to their acid-green overalls, as they fought the good fight, the unending battle, against MRSA, C. difficle and other bacterial infections.’ (289)
As Peter McDonald’s review for Tower Poetry suggests: ‘The poem carries the dedication ‘i.m. Dr David Kelly’, occupying a prominent position in the volume, in many ways this poem sets the tone for what is to come’. ‘What is to come’ can be viewed in a literal and metaphorical sense as ‘very good collection, containing poems of real – and I think quite important – public resonance.’ Armitage’s anthology feels distinctly unpoetic, a public service announcement or work of pure criticism, rather than a work of ‘art’, for the times are ‘strange enough’:
‘it knows the strength in keeping clear of the explicitly ‘political’ (imagine what would happen to the poem if Tony Blair were to be compared directly here with Lady Macbeth), and also keys in, powerfully, with our modern receptiveness to instruction in times of public danger, our willingness to put up with (as it were) six-point plans for everything from hand washing to surviving the War on Terror.’
‘Saturday’ too shares the use of precise, scientific vernacular: ‘runs the sagittal sanus. He extends along the fold – flax – where the two hemispheres meet.’ In addition, in a moment of food preparation with fresh fish, the striking emotional absence is present: ‘As he pushes it back down with a wooden spatula, the vertebral column breaks, right below T3. Last summer he operated on a teenage girl who had broken C5 and T2 falling… (178).’ This demonstrates the closing gulf between the mere matter of human and living entities echoed innumerably throughout the novel. They are simply expendable, organic and infinite to Henry and literature has no place.
Simon Armitage’s ‘Landfall’ too displays the characteristic absence of quintessentially poetic emotional commentary, focussing instead purely on the physical, on ‘actual goods’ and commodities just like another Armitage poem ‘The Stake-Out’. However these too are the limbs of a creature: ‘This day/ a brown, four-limbed beast face-down in the waves. / A good sign. / Short-haired. Leather, upturned palms. Five-toed. / It broke apart when spiked with the long hook’.
Both Adam Kindred and Henry Perowne are unable to transcend rational parameters, despite their ability and both are irreligious with the latter protagonist’s biblical namesake corresponding with his fall, aptly from the carnal urges presented atop the observation deck of what we are told is the world’s largest cloud chamber in Yuma, Arizona. Adam could artificially replicate night and day, real clouds and so on. Similarly Perowne’s messianic parallel from ‘when he comes down from the operating room like a god, an angel with glad tidings – life, not death .There is the even more explicit line from Fairfield in ‘Ordinary Thunderstorms’, Adam’s one-time sexual mate: ‘It’s so fucking beautiful’ Fairfeild whispered. ‘It’s like you’re playing god Adam’ in addition to: ‘Adam caught glimpse of his reflection in the scratched stainless steel of the lift-door surround, noting the ceiling lights bouncing off his bald pate, creating the effect of a refulgent skullcap on top of his head – like some kind of incipient halo.’ (245)
However, Adam’s primal atavism comes to dominate his ‘higher intellectual thought processes’ to survive a cut-throat world of instinct; whilst Perowne has ‘proved to himself something essential in his own nature, something he’s forgotten lately.’ A moment in ‘Ordinary Thunderstorms’, displays this: ‘Adam knew it was all over then and he felt a kind of shrinking in him, a withering of his spirit. One stupid mistake – one lapse, one near-unconscious answering of an atavistic sexual instinct – that was all it took to put a perfectly secure life, a fairly happy and prosperous, in free fall. Tell Adam and Eve about it, he thought, with some bitterness, some self-reproach’ (193).
The philosophies of the two central protagonists are founded on a total hegemony of apparently objective ‘faith’ in their professions and specifically the frontiers of their market: ‘materialism and consumerism will save us’in Saturday. Both careers depend on this synthesis of skill and belief almost akin to a secular priest. However, the spiritual or eternal mysticism of the two remain absent despite Daisy’s attempt to cure Perowne’s perceived philistinism and lack of narrative with Flaubert and Tolstoy amongst a Darwin Biography which Perowne reads from the comfort from his bath. This too is echoed by Ingram Fryzer in ‘Ordinary Thunderstorms’: ‘The bath was ideally hot and full enough so that the bubbles came up to his chin. Ingram wallowed, ran his hands over his naked body and felt himself both relax and anticipate.’ (127)
Moreover, it is the common postmodernist belief that the totalizing impulse in narratives is to be contested. As previously discussed of Henry’s ambivalence. Namely, Perowne contemplates that science has ceased to employ narratives in its enterprise ‘And it interests him less to have the world reinvented; he wants it explained’(66), which is an assumption formerly held, but lately abandoned by Jean-Francois Lyotard: ‘I wanted to write about the death of anecdote and narrative in science, my idea being that Darwin’s generation was the last to permit itself the luxury of storytelling in published articles’. In disagreement with the poststructuralist notion, Henry Perowne’s, still believes in the validity of science until the brutal irony of ‘Dover Beach’ and the merits of literature save himself and his extended family and the ‘professional reductionist’ Perowne perceives himself as comes crashing down. Lyotard argues that scientific knowledge never legitimated itself because it always relied on what he terms ‘narrative knowledge’ to support it’. As Tim Adam’s review of ‘Saturday’ in the ‘The Observer’ observes that ‘one strand of the book’s many arguments explores the debate between rationality and imagination…it is not clear which side comes out of top.’
Here Henry and Adam’s inability to extend their imaginations to something beyond science, everything must abide to the universe’s rational laws, ‘it isn’t an article of faith with him, he knows it for a quotidian fact, the mind is what brain, mere matter, performs.’ In addition, Adam’s journey to work, it is abundantly clear however impressive Adam’s powers of recall are bereft of the human in his own arboretum: ‘Plane, Oak, Chestnut, Ginko – Adam noted the trees on his way to work as if he were strolling through his own arboretum.’
Any everyday act of domesticity be this driving, shopping, or lying in bed can be channelled through a Darwinian prism and a ‘grandeur in this view of life’ (Page 55 and a reoccurring leitmotif). This grandeur buffers Henry away from the formerly savage fight-or-flight. More precisely, Henry has the luxury of such ponderings from his privileged perspective of a well-protected London townhouse. Explicitly we are presented with the primal: ‘The bedroom air is fresh in his nostrils, he’s half-aroused sexually as he moves closer to Rosalind. He can hear the first stirring of steady traffic on the Euston Road, like a breeze moving through a forest of firs. People who have to be at work by six on a Saturday. The thought of them doesn’t make him feel sleepy, as it often does. He thinks of sex. If life were configured precisely to his needs, he would be making love to Rosalind now, without preliminaries, to a very-willing Rosalind, and afterwards falling into a clear-headed swoon towards sleep.’
Here the gulf between a primal existence and modern civilisation is super-imposed over one another by McEwan demonstrating not the fragility of an unsustainable paradigm the privileged Western status quo in which some enjoy as well as Perowne’s own primal atavism; only the primacy of sex and his profession.
Instead too, everyday objects are exalted with materialist significance on page 68, life before the crash: ‘what simple accretions have brought the humble kettle to the peak of refinement: jug-shaped for efficiency, plastic for safety, wide spout for ease of filling, and clunky little platform to pick up the power. He never complained about the old style—the sticking tin lid, the thick black feminine socket waiting to electrocute wet hands seemed in the nature of things. But someone had thought about this carefully, and now there’s no going back. The world should take note: not everything is getting worse.’
Here, If financial cataclysm should ensue, ‘art’ would collapse with it too as well as the liberal devotion to the myth of human progress, a collapse barely adverted (in fact, side-stepped) in 2008, as evidenced by this candid account from Andrew Rawnsley’s ‘End of the Party’ (a “double coding,” to contain at least two meanings simultaneously for the rise of the BRIC economies to a declining Britain and New Labour’s reign): ‘That would be a cataclysm without precedent. Cheques would be valueless. Credit cards would be useless. With the cash machines shut down, families would not be able to buy food. ‘Literally you wouldn’t have any cash. The money would disappear. Most of those things regarded as the essentials of human society would cease to function. The public order implications were nightmarish. A hedge funder who lives in Sussex later told me that he went a local sheep farmer that weekend and bought a flock of sheep out of fear that this would be the only way to feed his family.’
Indeed, real wages had been stagnant and in decline since the beginning of the decade before the global financial tumult that had emerged with the popping of what is now attributed in part to the sub-prime mortgage bubble. ‘Saturday’ to some prophetic extent states of the stock market dominated by the algorithmic simulacrum of high-frequency trading and in particular Air travel as a ‘trick of mirrored perceptions, a fragile alliance of pooled beliefs’. Here too, is the concern with screens and simulated reality by McEwan’s hand, screens that correspond with the disenfranchisement and destitution of billions the world over beyond Perowne’s own bubble of pooled beliefs.
In addition, the future may prove far more recalcitrant than Henry envisages: ‘How foolishly apocalyptic those apprehensions seem by daylight, when the self-evident fact of the streets and the people on them are their own justification, their own insurance. The world has not fundamentally changed [yet Perowne contradicts himself on the very same page]. Talk of a hundred years in indulgence. There are always crises, and Islamic terrorism will settle in place, alongside recent wars, climate change, the politics of international trade, land and fresh water shortages, hunger, poverty and the rest. (76)’ The global economy is facing a ‘triple crunch’: a combination of a credit-fuelled financial crisis, accelerating climate change and soaring energy prices underpinned by encroaching peak oil. It is increasingly clear that these three overlapping events threaten to develop into a perfect storm, the like of which has not been seen since the Great Depression, with potentially catastrophic consequences (i.e. the tragedy of the commons/ecological collapse).
In Armitage’s Horses, M62 , we are offered an erratic and indifferent natural word, specifically horses galloping against the traffic, aptly illustrated as a ‘rivers of fumes’: ‘one ghosts/ between vans/ traverses three lanes/ its chess piece head/fording the river of fumes/one jumps the barricades.’
The incongruous descriptions sufficiently blur the man-made, simulated material world of objects with the natural world from the whence the resources once came. Civilisation and industrialisation of ‘satanic mills’ displaced not only human activity but the activity of the animal kingdom, here presenting resistance or at the very least, ambivalence to human dominion and control. ‘The public life is more than just what we call ‘politics’, and Armitage’s poetry is keenly aware of this.’ as Peter McDonald asserts.
This viewed alongside how Perowne views the city from the material comfort of his idealized, abstracted, aestheticized and seen from a distant viewpoint: ‘He listens to Schubert sweetly fade and swell. The street is fine, and the city, grand achievement of the living and the dead who’ve ever lived here, is fine too, and robust. It won’t easily allow itself to be destroyed. It’s too good to let go. Life in it has steadily improved over the centuries for most people, despite the junkies and the beggars now. The air is better, and salmon are leaping from the Thames, and otters are returning. At every level, material, medical, intellectual, sensual, for most people it has improved.’ This emotional disinterred mood is echoed by Ingram Fryzer, the CEO of Calenture-Deutz in ‘Ordinary Thunderstorms’ who rides the London Underground merely out of ‘anthropological curiosity’ of his ‘species’. For both, society is pure spectacle to be viewed from a pedestal observing something akin Darwinian savannah scene of Cheetah mauling a zebra; a fearlessness that is both appealing but horrifying.
In Armitage’s ‘Sloth’ like the idle Perowne contemplating the ‘grandeur in this view of life’ and the Sloth’s owner and the Sloth himself who will not touch healthy trail mix but devours Toblerone bars instead. The writer describes his alter-ego sloth in a very Hughesian way in the following:
‘Upside down, he hangs from the / curtain pole / like a shot beast carried home from / the hunt, / but light burns in his eyes; he isn’t dead. / A contemplative soul, much like I am, / He’s thinking things through, atom / by atom, / and hasn’t touched the dried fruit and/ mixed nuts/I left on a plate on the windowsill, /although a mountain range of/ Toblerone / is thus far unaccounted for. My wife,/ the three-times Olympian pentathlete,/ wants to trigger his brains with/ smelling salts,/ clip jump-leads on to the lobes of/his ears,/stick a bomb up his arse.’
Here what appears to be a mere loafing sloth is in fact a creature not dissimilar from the human voice of ‘Sloth’ or Perowne in that he perpetuates genes that are no longer need for their lives of leisure. His preference for Toblerone bars rather than natural mix is telling as are the lines: ‘like the big Bang threw him out of /his bed, / like evolution took him by surprise. /Those eyes … He can stay another week, / till the weather turns. But now back / to work: / look, a giant tortoise goes past in a blur.’
Humans do, of course share half of known genetic materials with bananas and much more in common with Sloth and other mammals. The sloth too has been removed from the ‘banal’ concerns of basic survival to a deceptively timeless state of ennui, much like Henry’s BMW enclosed in a ‘dustless’, sterile garage.
These antique joys of liberal capitalist democracy (some would say this is oxymoronic) are thus threatened, if you will, the sum total, collective gains and losses of approximately 250 years of industrial capitalism manifest in the trans modernist pastiche of the city itself. A disparate city constructed centuries apart mimicking in part the human mind as an slow evolutionary construct, another sign which Henry can comb through with ease: ‘an eighteenth century dream bathed, and embraced by modernity, by street light from above, and from below by fibre-optic cables, and cool fresh water coursing down pipes, and sewage borne away in an instant of forgetting’ and the third-person omniscience of ‘Henry thinks the city is a success, a brilliant invention, a biological masterpiece – millions teeming around the accumulated and layered achievements of the centuries, as though around a coral reef, sleeping, working, entertaining themselves, harmonious for the most part, nearly everyone wanting it to work.’ The city itself is a metonymic to Henry’s own profession and the contentedness as a neurosurgeon, yet one he is oblivious to and furnishes as his very own hiding place, much like his city square of residence: ‘Of course the road is closed for the march. He should have known.’ As well as this on page 126: ‘The largest gathering of humanity in the history of the islands , less than two miles away, and Perowne himself is soothed as he dodges around the oncoming crowds and all the pushchairs with their serenely bundled infants. Such prosperity, whole emporia dedicated to cheeses, ribbons, and Shaker furniture is a protection of sort. This commercial wellbeing is robust and will defend itself to the last. It isn’t rationalism that will overcome the religious zealots, but ordinary shopping and that it all entails.’
As many observers have noted Postmodernity is not the overcoming of modernity but rather its fulfilment. Here an almost Nietzschean anticipation of the Judeo-Christian vacuum filled with the equal vacuity of consumerism and that Saturday, far from being a day renowned for iconic marches but equally a prime shopping day for retailers: ‘It was once convenient to think biblically’ (126). Pre-modern ‘leftovers’ are no longer experienced as obstacles to be overcome by the myth of progress towards a fully secularised modernisation, but as something to be unproblematically incorporated (or homogenised?) into the multicultural global universe – all traditions survive, albeit neutralised.
As it is stated later in the novel, ‘For certain days, even weeks on end, work can shape every hour; it’s the tide, the lunar cycle they set their lives by, and without it, it can seem, there’s nothing, Henry and Rosalind Perowne are nothing’ (23). It seems the working life and the identity as a professional has become a possible grand narrative on which the characters seek to stabilise their view of the world and as Perowne says himself ‘like the microcosm giving you the whole world’. In this sense, Henry as mere shorthand, stereotype and personification of ambivalence itself adds to the abundance of meaningless signs in the postmodern universe.
To what extent Perowne is loathsome or commendable, a hero or anti-hero is not my primary concern (we have firmly analysed ambivalence; ‘Saturday’ should be understood as work of multi-polar criticism, not literature. ‘Contradiction is not a sign of falsity, nor lack of contradiction a sign of truth’ as Blaise Pascal once noted. The thematically-dense prose of 250+ page is not only the crux of the novel’s thematic backbone, it is intrinsic to it with Henry the personification of the vacuity of our times. As Daisy warns Perowne of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary satirising ‘people just you like’ (68), in ‘Saturday’ where inter-textuality is an institutionalised ‘given’ in the postmodern universe.
The novel does highlight the foregrounding of the media and dramatises the distrust of a ‘metanarrative’ of our times that Perowne experiences as walks downstairs to his kitchen at 3:55am. A writer whose every word satisfies a remarkably self-conscious fiction but simultaneously subtly parried the media that saturated (in 2003) and still saturates. However, this also illustrates what postmodernism is criticised for; it is crippled due to its relativism. If nothing can be defined as being right and wrong, there is certainly no reason to take part in a protest march for anything. In that way, postmodernism actually defends what it says it tries to expose: the status quo and as such lies on the fault lines of a modern guilt, inhibiting Perowne’s ‘brothers of the rest’. Would say, to exude altruism be to exacerbate the suffering of the relative poverty of fellow Londoners and beyond? No, seems the sensible answer. Clearly, these citizenry are not compatible with Henry’s vision nor are they present at the May 2000 opening of the Tate Modern of ‘the great and the good’. The Turbine Hall a former space of ‘industrial vastness’ that would’ve been operated by unionised workers now filled with, the wry description of conceptual art presented like ‘earnest displays of pupils work at a school open day’.
Thus, the realist ‘well-made’ novel glimpsed in the scientific and mathematical lexicon of neuro-surgery is used as both a deft meta- and microcosmic tool against a further dimension of allegory with relation to Baxter (clearly described with pejorative ‘simian air’ and muzzle-like qualities) whom when finally confronted with the final telling ‘Contact at last’ for a complete multi-faceted exploration. So too, Theo’s aphorism ‘the bigger you think, the crappier it
looks’ is reinforced and the motto ‘think small’ is accompanied by a wry, knowing irony by McEwan, inversed at the end of the novel.
This is furthered explored in Henry’s impatience ‘to be indoors’ (Page 175) and isolate himself as he exhibits a quarantine-zeal of Darwinian proportions: ‘The double front doors loom before him with their accretions–three stout Banham locks, two black iron bolts as old as the house, two tempered steel security chains, a spyhole with a brass cover, the box of electronics that works the Entryphone system, the red panic button, the alarm pad with its softly gleaming digits. Such defences, such mundane embattlement: beware of the city’s poor, the drug-addicted, the downright bad.’ The sense of an end of historical progress and returning to a Darwinian state of a Malthusian free-for-all (‘In a spirit of aggressive celebration of the times’; page 78) where a war-hungry Leviathan which spends ‘military billions against foreign enemies but would not pay for order at home’. Moreover, this sense of combat is satirically imparted by McEwan: ‘Perowne, dressed for combat on court, imagines himself as Saddam, surveying the crowd with satisfaction from some Baghdad ministry balcony.’
Armitage’s ‘The Stake Out’ also highlights this trend, its paranoia maximised for a scabrous satire on the individual’s suspicion on the shift of wider society and perhaps the folly of the state: ‘They’re watching the house from the woods – They’re staring through leaves, hanging back – in dark alcoves between trees./They think I can’t see them. I can’t.’ Every ‘exceptional’ (here meaning a professional, almost pre-eminent person) instinctively seeks out their own fortress, where they are delivered from the crowd and the multitude, where Henry and Adam’s secluded ‘Triangle’ wasteland are allowed to forgot the rule of ‘humanity’ being the exception to it, but only momentarily.
Simon Armtiage’s KX highlights this sense of heightened fear an engaging explicitly in response to the ‘7/7 London underground bombings’ superimposed over age of hyper-reality executed via personification of the camera as an autonomous human agent: ‘the camera can barely look’ in addition to ‘Or maybe,/just maybe, you live. Here’s you on the News, / shirtless, minus a limb, exiting smoke/to a backdrop of red melt, onto streets/paved with gilt, begging a junkie for help.’ The telling word-play of ‘gilt’ and ‘Here’s you’ in response to crises is that, in age of instantaneous communication that is largely self-perpetuating: a copy-and-paste hall of mirrors reliant on the theatre of simulacra to a desperate, distressed world: ‘Postmodern communication technologies, principally television’ asserted by P Brooker of ‘Modernism/Postmodernism’ are said ‘to flood the world with self-generating, self-mirroring images; and experience, now thoroughly eclectic and superficial, to achieve its final, ‘utopian’ form in the instantaneous abundance and banality of a ‘cultureless’ North America.’ As Saturday concurs, with the news story as an organic creature: ‘the fading life-chances of disappointing news story – no villains, no deaths, no suspended outcomes.’ Here, the invention of enemies to sustain news ‘stories’ is clearly being lamented to the critique of the Iraq war and its legitimacy or otherwise. A particularly exposing exchange between Ingram and Rilke on page 11 in ‘Ordinary Thunderstorms’ highlights the lengths to which the hungry mouth of manufactured opinion is sustained, first from the original mouthpiece of the elite, until it is dispersed and is replicated:
‘What do you think?’
‘I, ah, I really don’t have an opinion.’
‘A dangerous state of mind, Ingram. If you don’t have an opinion, you can’t function.’ Rilke smiled.
Ingram smiled back: safer to say nothing at these moments.
‘Here’s what’s going to happen,’ Rilke said, standing, and hoiking his trouser waist up to his gut. ‘We submit Zembla-4 to the licensing authorities in the US and then the UK. The advertorials will begin to appear, first in learned medical journals, then in selected high-class outlets of the global media – New Yorker, Time, Economist, El Pais, Wall Street Journal, Le Figaro, etcetra.’
The city as an allegorical construction is at a quite literal height after Henry is brought back to earth from the space-race glassy facades of his childhood (corresponding with the publication date of Bellow’s Herzog) on the ‘White City Flyover’ and even the optimism of the new millennium exemplified in the Tate Modern mini-story. Red-bricked houses signify a shift to a humble Britain of yesteryear: ‘A rectilinear curve sweeps him past recent office buildings of glass and steel where the lights are already on in the February early afternoon. He glimpses people as neat as architectural models, at their desks, before their screens, even on a Saturday. This is the tidy future of his childhood. Science-fiction comics, of men and women with tight-fitting collarless jumpsuits – no pockets, trailing laces or untucked shirts – living a life beyond litter and confusion, free of clutter to fight evil.
But from a vantage point of the White City flyover, just before the road comes down to earth among rows of red-brick housing, he sees the tail lights massing ahead and begins to brake.’
Here, the community appears to be a depersonalised mass fragmented by the porous frontiers on the synecdoche city, through which Perowne cruises through like a perversion of a Nietzschean overman (tellingly there is halting traffic on his return journey home into Central London): ‘the massed crowds appear as a smear of brown like a lichen or a rock.’ Similarly, in ‘Roadshow’‘the crowd dopples past, The crowd pushes on.’
Indeed, this notion of a utopia forgotten is one of the questions Italian cultural theorist Franco Beradi seeks to answer. Berardi asserts that the 1970s witnessed the final crisis of faith in the modernist promise of a better future. While it enjoyed a brief resurgence around the turn of the millennium (reflecting the rise of the Internet), the optimistic ambitions of the future that emanated from this encounter were soon fatally marginalised by the dotcom crash, military interventions following September 11th, and the global economic downturn after 2008. The prevailing mood of technophillic optimism gave way to despair as mentioned in the introduction as such the relationship between individuals and the familial unit eroded as demonstrated via Boyd’s Armadillo and Adam’s own estrangement from his father, the unambiguously longest possible distance of the Australian continent. The nineties it seems, are ‘beginning to look like an innocent decade’ (32). Despite his exaltation of a ‘materialist utopia’, that is to say the sophism of pure commodities/matter: ‘Radical Islamists aren’t really nihilists – they want the perfect society on earth, which is Islam. They belong in a doomed tradition about which Perowne takes the conventional view – the pursuit of Utopia ends up licensing every form of excess, all ruthless means of its realisation. If everyone is sure to end up happy for ever, what crime can it be to slaughter a million or two now?’
Several interesting things are present in the quote on page 33. Henry’s view is described as a ‘conventional view’ overtly hinting that such social ambitions once shared at the beginning of the 20th Century are cynically non-existent to a populace knowingly aware of the systemic corruption in the higher echelons of the global elite, yet invested (both emotionally and literally into it) anyway; things function even if people don’t believe in them.Moreover, Henry’s subscription to a view is flawed: He has adopted a position (an anti-postmodern action to do) yet paradoxically this value of any utopia (of course, an inherently satirical word meaning ‘no place’) been unattainable at the expense on encroaching on citizen’s liberty echoes Stalin’s purges, Mao’s China and so on. Henry perceives this an apologia for the excesses of totalitarianism, rather than the excesses and perhaps overproduction of neoliberalism and thus deviates from Beradi. Henry would rather blindly appreciate, his kettle or his BMW automobile and the ‘gentle, swooping joy of possession’ that accompanies his ‘ad man’s vision’.
The post-war social democracy which now seems rose-tinted for its introductions of the National Health Service (NHS) and attributed to a ‘simpler time’ of welfare reform and too, the beginnings of a post-colonial future. Ordinary Thunderstorms (Page 99) too highlights today that the future is a thing of the past, in a manner of speaking: ‘The light over the western sector of the Shaftsbury Estate was a milky blue, the early morning sun brightening the brickwork of the topmost storey – the sixth – and beginning its slow creep down the facades of the remaining five, casting sharp geometric shadows as it moved, making the apartment blocks look stark, but at the same time austerely sculptural – exactly the aim and purpose that the architect, Gerald Golupin (1898-1969), had in mind as he drawn up his visionary design for this complex of social housing units in the 1950s, until someone else, to his abiding chagrin , had named it the Shaftsbury Estate (Golupin has proposed something more Bauhausian– MODULAR 9, in reference to its nine apartment blocks and three wide quadrangles – in vain). The Shaft in certain lights could still appear severely impressive: hard-edged, volumetrically imposing, a triumphant melding of form and function – as long as you didn’t look too closely.’
A nostalgic sense of a utopia forgotten is between structured with abrupt juxtapositions. Four pages prior to the above extract of the Shaftsbury Estate’s brutalist aesthetics: ‘Adam followed the signs to the reception atrium and stepped into spaces that remind him more of huge convention hotel in Miami or an airport terminal. Great primary-coloured abstract banners hung from the cantilevered glass ceiling sixty feet above his head and fully grown trees – bamboo, weeping fig, palms – grew from small, walled islands here and there. He could hear the sound of plashing water (piped or genuine? – he couldn’t tell).
People wandered to and fro in this vast transit lounge – in transit from health to ill health, Adam supposed, or vice versa – some in dressing gowns, were clearly patients, others in multi-zipped overalls in differing pastel shades, with name-badges on their breast and dangling ID photos hung around their necks, were orderlies or administrators of various kinds. There were also people like him in civilian clothes that must have been either visitors or else putative patients seeking entry into this self-contained, health-city.’
The verb cantilevered bears more than a passing significance to Armitage’s ‘A Vision’ a poem itself unequivocally challenging the social test tube of town planning and more importantly their fruition at the mercy of markets on the temporal horizon of a forgotten future. Contextually, British cities under New Labour came amidst rhetoric of ‘regenerating’ inner cities left directionless under successive Conservative governments. Where there were once misplaced, bloated budgets of plans, these have firmly been forgotten to an austere age that is unremittingly bleak. Over the course of the next decade (the first decade of what is known as the ‘noughties’), British cities became laboratories of the new enterprise of a de-industrialised (couple with ‘Saturday’s Tate mini-story and a quite literal hollowed-out Britain) economy: transparent monuments to finance (an allusion to their contradictory institutional lack of?), property speculation, and the service industry—until the crash: ‘The future was a beautiful place, once. – Remember the full-blown Balsa wood town/ on public display in the Civic Hall? – The ring bound sketches, artists’ impressions, – blueprints of smoked glass and tubular steel – board-game suburbs, modes of transportation – like fairground grounds or executive toys – Cities like dreams, cantilevered by light.’
As the cover jacket of ‘Tyrannosaurus Rex and the Corduroy Kid’ insists: ‘The poet’s [Armtiage’s] preoccupation with utopias and new republics, with visions and imitations, is the service of a sharpened focus upon his island – ‘here at the Empire’s end’ – just as his evolutionary concerns lock into a heightened sense of where we now stand, in the company of animals (birds, sloths, horses), or where we part company and give lamentable rein to the beast within.’
To some extent, Armitage synthesises these evolutionary motifs and concerns with the unsustainable ‘endgame’ of a largely self-interested, Hobbesian civilisation found in other two texts and alludes quietly to the ‘first steps to a new Jerusalem?’ in the final line of ‘On Marsden Moor’. As with other, overwhelmingly all of Armitage’s poems in this anthology no rhyme is present, only disjointedness and the conspicuous lack of conclusions and mild presence of perhaps legitimate cynicism. Here in ‘A Vision; we have 5 quatrains and the hauntingly unambiguous final line of ‘all unlived in and now fully extinct’.
However today it is well known that the future is a thing of the past: ‘I pulled that future out of the north wind at the landfill site, stamped with today’s date’. Historically, optimism always gives way to despair. T.S Eliot’s 1925 ‘The Hollow Men’ seems prescient for our times: ‘this is the way the world ends – not with a bang but with a whimper.’ Why is this so? More rhetorically, we should answer a question with a question:How many centuries have we waited to live in harmony?
As noted before postmodernity is not the overcoming of modernity but rather its fulfilment. In the so called ‘post-political age’ and as Beradi insists: ‘The rise of the myth of the future is rooted in modern capitalism, in the experience of expansion of the economy and knowledge. The idea that the future will be better than the present is not a natural idea, but the imaginary effect of the peculiarity of the bourgeois production model…In the second part of the nineteenth century, and in the first part of the twentieth, the myth of the future reached its peak,…based on the concept of “progress,” the ideological translation of the reality of economic growth. Political action was reframed in the light of this faith in the progressive future. Liberalism and social democracy, nationalism and communism, and anarchism itself…share a common certainty: notwithstanding the darkness of the present, the future will be bright.’
Amidst attempts to summarise the addressed in this essay, the social trends of today may be traced to their downward nadir, but this again, is the totalising impulse to provide conclusions which all three texts resolutely resist. Perhaps the only meta-narrative we should accept is that all actions, regardless, encroach on the mortal, fleeting lives of others in unprecedented ways as we stand of the threshold for a century of greater tumult and destruction. The signs of the future are already rooted in the present if politicians and industry should choose to be indifferent. In ‘Ordinary Thunderstorms’ each opening chapter (1,2 and 3) has respectively concentrated on Adam, Rita and Ingram in isolation. This is forgotten as the novel reaches its crescendo and the mosaic inter-weaving consequences bisect these disparate individuals together.
And thus, perhaps in the ultimate sense, the books themselves become meta-fictional celebrations of themselves if the past pages of analysis communicate any lingering profundity. The sheer presence of literature and poetry with a public voice that is read, let alone analysed is a credit to any society, enlightened or otherwise, a ‘safety valve to civilisation’ as Ray Bradbury once observed. I conclude that Saturday in its themes and concerns to a large extent is a postmodern novel, but that it also cherishes a function of literature that is fundamentally realist, namely that the role of literature is to uphold the illusion of unity that we are losing in an atomised society. The only mode of correct living is ‘shut up shop’, that passivity and withdrawal from the system and 21st Century living is the active act of disintegration: ‘That’s how you disappear in the twenty-first century – you just refuse to take part in it.’ (Ordinary Thunderstorms, 173)
Although the pattern of eternal reoccurrence (life irrespective of its morality and civilisation, regardless of its finite resources may continue), Saturday will always invariably ‘give way to Sunday’ and as Empires fall as Armitage may posit, every day to an attempt to engage with the wider world however unbearably complicated the cacophony of billions of voices may be. Here’s Armitage’s poem ‘Poetry’ farcically observes a clockwork scene in Wells Cathedral: ‘Every fifteen minutes, knights on horseback – circle and joust, and for six hundred years – the same poor sucker riding counterways – has copped it full in the face with a lance.’ In a Britain carved up amongst big business (particularly the five largest supermarkets) and development, such scenes are seldom seen and documented in a secular (often conflated with nihilism in ‘Saturday’) As such this does not negate that activities (here, geological and earthy) occur without the need for a human eye.
Perhaps in the ultimate sense, the books themselves become meta-fictional celebrations of themselves if the past pages of analysis communicate any lingering profundity. The sheer presence of literature and poetry with a public voice that is read, let alone analysed is a credit to any society, enlightened or otherwise, a ‘safety valve to civilisation’ as Ray Bradbury once observed. I conclude that ‘Saturday’ in its thematic concerns produces a largely postmodern novel, but that it also cherishes a function of literature that is fundamentally realist, namely that the role of literature is to uphold the illusion of storytelling and unity that we are losing in an atomised society. The only mode of correct living is ‘shut up shop’, that passivity and withdrawal from the system and 21st Century living is the active act of disintegration: ‘That’s how you disappear in the twenty-first century – you just refuse to take part in it.’ (Ordinary Thunderstorms, 173)
The quiet redemptive optimism of the human relationships manifest with Perowne’s visit following Baxter’s surgery is in itself unnecessary. More so, the necessity to check his pulse: Henry ‘does it because he wants to’ as ‘a matter of primal contact’. Here, themes culminate with abrasive unsubtly as does the ‘contact of last’ in his homebound conflict. Baxter too, like the city, becomes another dimension of allegory. The topography of the city, despite the all-too-human attempts to order and control, the Iraq anti-war march are not closed loops. Neither is his city square, his possessions of the Earth or his biochemical, genetic connection ‘to the rest’. The former hubristic hiding place of his profession cannot protect him from the realities of his mother’s dementia or Baxter’s neurodegenerative Huntington’s disease. Nor could science protect Adam from the triple collusion of Jonjo case (a hired thug/hitman), global pharmaceutical giant Calenture-Deutz and the police.
However, after the altercation with Baxter, Henry realises that there is redemption in human relationships and that the only that the salvation lies is love: ‘Ah, love let us be true to one another’ Not science or religion and the ‘sea of faith’ as Dover Beach espouses, which no longer provides the necessary support (‘but now, hears its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar retreating’). Unlike the preliminary -less intimacy as established earlier in the novel, the last chapter showcases a renewed Perowne, one more ‘timid, vulnerable (277)’ and embracing preliminaries as well as Rosalind. The world turns on its axis and he must turn with it rather than pinned to the axis of supposedly lesser human beings, ‘there’s always this’ as he ‘kisses her [Rosalind’s] nape’. Echoing Eliot’s ‘The Hollow Men’, ‘We are the stuffed’, ‘Leaning together for dependence’ and Boyd’s: ‘it had proved to him what he had always suspected: that the myriad connections between two discrete lives – close, distant, overlapping, tangential – lie there almost entirely unknown, unobserved, a great unseen network of the nearly, the almost, the might-have-been. From time to time, in everybody’s life, the network is glimpsed for a moment or two and the occasion acknowledged with a gasp of happy astonishment or shiver of supernatural discomfort. The complex interrelatedness of human existence could reassure or disturb in equal measure.’ (399)
Science may be the driving engine of prosperity, it problems evidenced throughout this essay and its solutions which remains open-ended. However, without not so much an overarching ethical imperative but ‘humanity’ signs (a crudely broad but solely appropriate word) and a relationships and networks beyond mere exchange of commodities. Without it, science is a blunt tool and blind to an ever tauter, stratified world.
It is the power his family give him that allows Perowne to operate selflessly on Baxter; despite both his and Baxter’s actions. All is disrupted, yet familiar in the light of Sunday ‘free of the weight of the past or any anxieties about the future’, a shift away from the ‘unencumbered’ quiddity of a creature present from nowhere in the first pages; Henry possesses the history and experience outside of a narrow band of atomised bubbles. Zoe Heller’s review in the New York Times states: ‘The truest sanctuary we see Perowne find in the course of his 24 hours is not in the sumptuous refugees themselves but in the human relationships that they house.’
Much like Boyd addressing the river Thames as comparable signifiers of our morality, we are, for the moment alive but hurtling like ‘flotsam and jetsam’ towards the estuary and the eternal beyond. The final image of ‘Ordinary Thunderstorms’ of Adam, Rita and Ly-on by the Sea evokes imagery akin to the end of Armitage’s ‘Causeway’ and its biblical significance, ‘And woman, man and only child, the three with trousers rolled who strolled across the bay, were cast in bronze – the barefoot, blameless set to stand above the millions who drowned’.
Adam can stand above the millions precisely because he has adopted the personas of perhaps not millions of course but profoundly the devaluation of the individual’s supremacy to some extent with Adam’s adoption of multiple personas across the duration of the novel. First in the collective anonymity of John 1603 to Primo Belem: ‘The future really did belong to Primo Belem’ (251) ‘Ordinary Thunderstorms’ also showcases the redemptive power of love and of the collective in both the contrarian church of John Christ headed by the maverick leadership of Bishop Yemi, where Adam attends a soup kitchen, to Mhouse and finally Rita: ‘at least he had Rita, and that was all that really mattered; he had Rita now’
If the present fall and subsequent recovery of both Adam and Perowne is a reflection of a prevailing mood in British contemporary literature, then ‘when all material goods are obsolete, it’s the humans that matter’ we are released to world around us is alive and intrinsically valuable in ways that the trappings of day-to-day life lead us to forget, and allows us to re-connect with a network of something more authentic, more immediate, more profound.
http://smile.solent.ac.uk/digidocs/live/Hines/Baudrillard.pdf/ ISBN: 9780582063570
- Armadillo (Hamish Hamilton, 1998)
- Ordinary Thunderstorms (Bloomsbury, 2009)
- Saturday (First published in 2005 Jonathan Cape later 2006 by Vintage)
- Ian McEwan Author Statement (British Council)
- Tyrannosaurus Rex and the Corduroy Kid (2006, Faber and Faber)
- Matthew Arnold’s ‘Dover Beach’
- T.S Eliot’s ‘The Hollow Men’