'My idea of what a novelist should do is an old-fashioned one,' says a character in the title story in Isabel Colegate's collection A Glimpse of Sion's Glory. 'I think that each work should be a step forward from the last, that he should never repeat himself, that he should only produce a book when he is ready to add to his own knowledge - why write down what one knows already? - he should address himself to his generation, applying himself with pure heart and humble mind to their legitimate question What Then Must We Do? ... The novelist should write for his generation and his concern should be nothing less than How To Live, but I do not know my generation and I haven't the faintest idea how to live.' The character, you will surmise, is a failed novelist; Colegate herself can't exactly be the speaker (she is, after all, the author of The Shooting Party), but there seems to be some real angst. Of course there are plenty of other purposes, other tactics, behind fiction. But one can't exactly reject these criteria out of hand. And the words tend to haunt, as one turns the pages of Colegate's new book, and of new fiction by other writers.
LRB 18 July 1985 | PDF Download