'Fictive Inscaping': the 1990s fiction of Will Self

Katy Shaw

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNChapterpeer-review


Towards the end of the twentieth century, the critical claim that the novel has had its day began to shift. During the 1990s, a tide of mainstream realist novels began to turn in favour of a new wave of experimental British fiction. Making a play for the vitality of the novel at the end of the twentieth century and at the dawn of the twenty-first, they defined themselves against that which they sought to subvert. Employing fragmentation, discontinuity, metafiction and generic instability, experimental British novels of the 1990s attempt to expose the mechanisms of the novel form to move nearer to truth and reality. Moving on from its Modernist origins, the experimental fiction of the 1990s occupied a seemingly marginal category of literature. Through a process of blending – of fact and fiction, poetry and prose – experimental novels of the 1990s began to grapple with fiction itself as a medium and to question contemporary expectations about narrative. Motivated by a history of Joyce, Woolf and Faulkner, the legacies of later writers including Beckett and Pyncheon and a resounding will to innovate, contemporary authors such as David Mitchell, Will Self, Martin Amis and Julian Barnes used the novel form to explore an obsession with the shifting boundaries between fiction and reality. Marked by a self-consciousness of its own form, style and use of conventions, their work deliberately manipulating generic conventions to disrupt reader expectations, using parody, pastiche and intertextuality as ways of coping with a long tradition of the novel and a perceived exhaustion of the medium. Characterized by a profound skeptical about realism as a dated and naïve mode and a rejection of art as mimesis, these texts instead suggest the impossibility of authenticity. A highly self-reflexive approach produces an alienating and disquietening effect, as texts within texts and a knowing narrative voice conspire to distance and disorientate the reader. Questioning the centrality of ‘the story’, this chapter will explore they ways in which experimental British fictions of the 1990s tear apart narrative form re-imagine language and reconfigure form to foreground the original meaning of the word novel: new.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDecades Series: 1990s
EditorsPhil Tew, Nick Hubble
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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