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This review is taken from PN Review 51, Volume 13 Number 1, September - October 1986.

BETTER METAFICTION Patricia Waugh, Metafiction: The Theory and Practice of Self-Conscious Fiction (Methuen New Accents) £8.95, £3.95 pb.

Patricia Waugh's book is both a provisional mapping of metafiction and a cheerful polemic in its favour. She defines metafiction as 'fictional writing which self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its status as an artefact in order to pose questions about the relationship between fiction and reality.' It is the opposition between the construction and deconstruction of illusion that distinguishes metafictional from aleatory texts, which turn their readers into 'frenetic human word-processors'. Metafiction both employs and challenges the conventions of realism and/or popular forms; it provides familiarity and innovation.

Thanks to metafiction, the novel is not dying but blooming. The paranoia of 1960s metafiction - in which the breakdown of illusion is feared to be the breakdown of the novel itself - is 'slowly giving way to celebration, to the discovery of new forms of the fantastic, fabulatory extravaganzas, magic realism' - Salman Rushdie, Gabriel García Márquez, Clive Sinclair, Graham Swift, D. M. Thomas, John Irving. The moment of crisis has become a moment of renewal. But if in one sense metafiction is a new departure, in another it is a revival and development of tradition: metafiction is - see Don Quixote and Tristram Shandy - as old as, perhaps older than, the novel form itself. Indeed Waugh suggests that metafiction is inherent in all novels.

Today's metafictional turn is related in this book to a wider cultural change. It is 'both a response and a contribution' to a widespread sense that reality and history ...


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