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

WHEN THE PARTY'S OVER Raymond Williams, Loyalties (Chatto and Windus) £9.95

For the reader familiar with Williams the benign uncle, if not exactly the Godfather, of Left literary and cultural studies in Britain, it is hard to approach Williams the novelist except in a spirit of expectant enquiry. All the best material is there: Spain, before and after the 1945 landslide, Hungary and Suez, 1968, the recent miners' strike, those cathected moments of Left mythology so compulsively repeated under the trinity of 'defeat', 'lessons learned' and (loyalty's shadow) 'betrayal'. Not, I think, that Williams does engage in that particular and unattractive streak of left-wing masochism, but this novel needs to be read carefully in order to appreciate why not. The novel's complex plot traces the trajectories of a group of pre-war Party members, from an initial unstable unity via increasing political and social fragmentation to their various kinds of personal truth. The question then is: where in all this schism, recrimination and revision does Williams stand? Or: what position, out of the discursive conflicts of a half-century of Left politics, does the novel construct for the reader?

For closure there certainly is. Characters introduced and left in textual limbo reappear two hundred pages and thirty years later to secure it. The two dozen or so significant characters - a lot to contend with - are all supremely obedient to the superordinate requirement of textual closure, as if rehearsing their roles in the socialist republic whose absence the novel mourns.

Control in a sense is the problem. ...


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