(Candy Amsden’s cover for the 1978 edition of The Crack (variant of: The Time of the Crack) (1973), Emma Tennant)
As I recently procured a copy of Emma Tennant’s The Crack (variant title: The Time of the Crack) (1973) in which a fault line appears under London destroying half the city, I decided to research her work.
William Grimes describes Emma Tennant’s fiction—in a New York Times retrospective on her life and works—as blending “fantasy, science fiction and social satire” that “explored the borderland between daylight and dreams, anatomized contemporary Britain.” Grimes quotes Gary Indiana’s 1990 The Village Voice article: “a startling procession of novels unlike anything else being written in England: wildly imaginative, risk-taking books inspired by dreams, fairy tales, fables, science fiction and detective stories, informed by a wicked Swiftian vision of the U.K. in decline.”
I thought I’d share her reflections on the profound influence of the 70s SF scene, and other verboten (according to the UK literary establishment) magical realist authors, on her fiction. Here she describes a transformative moment in the early 70s:
“It became gradually clear to me, after meeting British science-fiction writers — J. G. Ballard amongst them — that a way to the center for me lay in the fantastic; and despite the very deep loathing of the British literary establishment for any writing that could be so described, I set out to read as many Latin American and Central European writers as possible, finding confirmation in such works as Bulgakov’s ‘The Master and Margarita’ and the writing of Bruno Schulz that there was nothing inherently ‘silly,’ as the English would have it, in showing the world through lenses both fantastic and real: that the English were indeed limited by a creative feebleness and love of irony which left them out of the most interesting writing, all going on in other parts of the world.”
Soon after meeting the UK SF crowd, she published her novelette “The Crack” (a 31 page version of her later novel) in New Worlds Quarterly 5 (1973), ed. Michael Moorcock. Often we grasp onto the notion that genre, like some human sponge, mops up in some ham-fisted less articulate way the shreds of the mainstream. Here, Emma Tennant’s comments suggest a more porous boundary of genre and non-genre and how they influenced each other (hardly surprising!).
Her editorial work highlights this porousness: “In 1975 she founded the influential literary journal Bananas, which published new work by Mr. Ballard, Beryl Bainbridge, Angela Carter and the science-fiction writer Michael Moorcock.”
Here are a few more words on Tennant’s relationship with SF from Susanne Schmid’s article “Fantasy and Realism in Emma Tennant’s Wild Nights and Queen of Stones” (2001) in Engendering Realism and Postmodernism: Contemporary Women Writers, ed. Beate Neumeier, Postmodern Studies 32:
As readers can surmise from my reviews, I am rarely interested in debating genre and tend to advocate an expansive definition encompassing many speculative directions. For very obvious reasons, we can’t ignore the New Wave in creating our grand narratives… And I too, am a postmodernist through and through.
As always, thoughts/comments are welcome!
(Keith Roberts’ cover for the 1973 edition of New Worlds Quarterly 5 (1973), ed. Michael Moorcock)
Note: “Fragment(s)” is a new category of post. Short articles, quotations, slight ruminations… I’ll archive them in the article INDEX.