Navigation – Plan du site
Comptes rendus/Reviews

Areti, Dragas, The Return of the Storyteller in Contemporary Fiction

London; New York: Bloomsbury, 2014, 314 pages, ISBN 978-0826439901
Cécile Cristofari
Référence(s) :

Areti, Dragas, The Return of the Storyteller in Contemporary Fiction, London; New York: Bloomsbury, 2014, 314 pages, ISBN 978-0826439901.

Texte intégral

1Since the modernist era, after the proclamation of the storyteller’s death by Benjamin, literature has focused on the figure of the author, as the sole individual responsible for the creation of a work. However, as Dragas argues in this comprehensive study, the interest of postmodern writers has extended past the more conventional definitions of literary authorship and brought back the figure of the storyteller in a renewed form. Through the study of several contemporary authors, Dragas examines the proteiform incarnations of the storyteller in fictional figures as well as in the writing processes themselves.

2The first two chapters of this study give an in-depth perspective on storytelling in history, examining the shift from storytellers (orally transmitting collectively created stories, engaging directly with their audiences) to authors (creating their own stories in writing, engaging with audiences through the processes of edition and publication) and the apparent abandonment of storytelling by literature in the 20th century. These chapters nonetheless question whether the storyteller vs. author binary still stands as an adequate reading in contemporary literature, or whether there is an increasing recognition that storytellers and authors are two sides of the same coin. Thus, contemporary appearances of the storyteller in literature are contextualised within the wider history of storytellers, their place and their functions (from popular culture to religion) across time and cultures. They are also framed within the postmodern context of fragmented discourses and multiplying narratives replacing unified, authoritative viewpoints in literature.

3The following six chapters are dedicated to analyses of the works of various contemporary authors, encompassing different countries, generations and genders, thus drawing attention to the multiple aspects of postmodernism in global literature. The first of these chapters focuses on Jim Crace’s The Gift of Stones. Crace’s novel mythologises the emergence of the first storyteller, but also questions the distinction between storyteller and author, insisting on the unifying importance of stories in both traditional storytelling and literature.

4The second examines Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Storyteller (El Hablador), a novel set in contemporary Peru and interrogating the seemingly opposed practices of a traditional aboriginal society and of urban Peru in the domain of stories and storytelling. The study emphasises that instead of naively opposing a traditional society with the modern world, Vargas Llosa shows their convergence in the figure of the storyteller, a man whose physical deformity set him apart from one society but did not prevent him from gaining a place in another, as hablador, teller of stories but also, etymologically, maker of fables (a function which ultimately unites him with the narrator, and the author, of the novel).

5In the following chapter, Dragas interrogates Salman Rushdie’s works, and how Indian culture and Rushdie’s own experience are interwoven to bring storytelling to the forefront of his writing. This time, storytelling is not materialised by a specific character, but rather pervades Rushdie’s style through the influence of traditional tales, and through a writing style that owes much to oral storytelling. Rushdie’s novel for children, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, is also analysed partly through a biographical lens: forced into hiding and separated from his family in the 1990’s, Rushdie eventually wrote the stories he had been unable to tell his son, thus bringing together traditional storytelling forms with the everyday rituals practised by parents across the world.

6The next chapter returns to a storyteller figure, the hero of John Barth’s The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor. Barth being counted among the pioneers of postmodernism, the storyteller in his works is considered, primarily, as a postmodern figure, “replenishing” contemporary literature through allusions to earlier stories, and the evocation of the archetypal storytelling figures of the Arabian Nights; this “story-reteller” is not merely nostalgic, but, according to the study, an integral part of Barth’s postmodernism.

7The following chapter moves on to examine the unspoken assumption that storytellers are, in fact, not neutral in gender but implicitly understood to be male. The analysis of A. S. Byatt’s “The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye” interrogates the role of a female storyteller, both in retelling stories and in creating them. Female speech, historically construed as malicious and untrustworthy, is re-appropriated through a Mother Goose-like figure, who moves away from literary realism in order to account for female experiences through retellings and appropriation of fairy-tales.

8Finally, the study of J. M. Coetzee's Elizabeth Costello brings us back to the relationships between novelist and storyteller: the novelist (both the fictional Elizabeth Costello and the real J. M. Coetzee, as stressed through the discussion of Coetzee’s whimsical Nobel acceptance speech-cum-reading) is explicitly framed as a teller of stories, underlining a new postmodern subjectivity that blurs the line between reality and fiction, the self’s stories and those of others.

9Through the study of those six important writers, Dragas challenges Benjamin’s pronouncement of the obsolescence of the storyteller, and shows that contemporary literature has brought it back in powerful new forms. The “return of the storyteller” is explored from different perspectives: the storyteller has not simply returned as a nostalgic character, but is acknowledged as a genuine influence on contemporary fiction, both through his ties to the modern figure of the novelist (which several authors frame as being a continuation of the traditional storyteller rather than his opposite), and in some cases, through the modes of writing themselves, and the use of orality and folk tales, directly inspired by the traditional art of storytelling. Fascinating as it is, however, this broad reading may lead to some confusion: one may regret, for instance, that the scope of the analysis is not more precisely defined, as “the storyteller” appears in turn to refer to characters, archetypes, or writing influences. This does not detract from the general interest of this erudite and readable study, which could be recommended to any scholar of literary history or contemporary literature.

Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Cécile Cristofari, « Areti, Dragas, The Return of the Storyteller in Contemporary Fiction », Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 48 | 2015, mis en ligne le 23 mars 2015, consulté le 23 octobre 2017. URL : http://ebc.revues.org/2326

Haut de page

Auteur

Cécile Cristofari

Centre de Recherches de l'Institut Universitaire en Santé Mentale de Québec, Laval University, Québec, QC, Canada

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur

Licence Creative Commons
Études britanniques contemporaines est mise à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

Haut de page
  • Logo Presses universitaires de la Méditerranée
  • Logo ERIH +
  • Revues.org