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This article is taken from PN Review 200, Volume 37 Number 6, June - July 2011.

'I don't know what sort of a genre this is' David Herman
Some of the best books of the past year were curiously hard to categorise, a puzzling mix of genres. Edmund de Waal's huge critical hit, The Hare with Amber Eyes, is part memoir/part family history/part cultural criticism, all anchored in the fascinating history of a European banking dynasty. In Heffers in Cambridge they put it in the Biography section; in Blackwell's in Oxford it was in History and Classics. Daniel Swift's first book, Bomber County, was one of the best books of literary criticism in recent years. It starts out as a fascinating polemic, arguing that Second World War poetry has been unfairly marginalised, but then turns out to be, like de Waal's book, part family memoir, part criticism and part history. Tony Judt's last book of essays, The Memory Chalet, was very different from the history books that made his reputation. It is also a hybrid - a mix of the personal, the historical and intellectual history - and begins with a fascinating moment in the Introduction about what kind of writing this is and what kind of writer he could have been.

These books are just part of a larger cultural move away from conventional history, autobiography or literary criticism towards a new and rich mix of genres. This new hybrid genre is more interested in the personal voice, in crossing boundaries rather than policing them, and seems to be finding a very receptive audience. One might be tempted to call this 'postmodern'. But, oddly, poststructuralism and ...


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