Contemporary English novels, as a rule, are modest things—modest in their themes, their manner, their physical dimensions. If many an American, Continental, or Latin American novelist attempts, in each new book, to embody a startlingly original vision, to be formally innovative, to stage a linguistic fireworks display, and to make major statements about love, death, history, the nature of reality, man’s life in society, and the function of art, the typical postwar English novelist seeks rather to relate a relatively unambitious story about the subtle pains and pleasures of a single unremarkable life. The characteristic virtues of the postwar English novel, accordingly, have been its exquisite restraint and delicacy of nuance, its ability to convey the significance of everyday reality, the simple beauty of even the most prosaic human soul.

For the past quarter century or so, the major exception to this rule has been John...

 
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