Mainstream British society and post-9/11 fiction borrow from the discourse of American exceptionalism (including the fall from innocence to experience, the desire to create or preserve a better world, a “Messianic consciousness” reflecting the arrogance of virtue, the development of narratives of heroism and goodness tied to nation-building, and the use of the above to justify “exemptionalism”) to expose and query the entitlement of those within the narrative home of Britishness and the outsider status of those used to define its borders. This article discusses Ian McEwan’s Saturday and Sunjeev Sahota’s Ours Are the Streets, arguing that they illustrate a turning point in Britain’s imagination of itself as a nation in a struggle over Britishness which is predicated on notions of violence and innocence. Since 9/11 the debate about Britishness has used innocence as a constitutive inside of the nation and direct violence as an exclusionary characteristic. McEwan satirizes this rhetoric of innocence whereas Sahota challenges it. Both novels illustrate how post-9/11 British fiction deals with politics as war, placing violence at the heart of society. McEwan parodies the point of view of British normative society by allowing his main character to justify his privileged position under the guise of arguing for the current social and international status quo. Sahota charts the journey of those who are caught between the rejection of unjust social structures and the desire to fit within them, depicting his protagonist’s misguided attempt to redefine the British nation through terrorism. Violence and exceptionalism are central to both novels, which portray a turn in the imagining of Britain. The events of 9/11 can therefore be seen not just as a historical turning point but as a turn in Britain’s imagination of itself.
The Journal of Commonwealth Literature – SAGE
Published: Jun 1, 2018
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