Fragmentation(s) and Realism(s): Has the Fragment Gone Mainstream?
This article tackles what seems to be a revival of fragmentary fiction in English in the 21st century. It briefly traces the lineage of critical interest in the fragment from German Romanticism through Bertolt Brecht and Modernism to postmodern film studies, in an attempt to highlight not only the temporal, but also the spatial and visual dimension of discontinuity evinced by recent fragmentary fiction. Six novels published between 2005 and 2017 are discussed sequentially, in a manner redolent of cinematic movement: Tom McCarthy’s Remainder 2005, Anne Enright’s The Gathering 2007, Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing 2016, Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West 2017, Ali Smith’s Autumn 2016, and George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo 2017. The formal fragmentariness of these novels is read in connection to their recurrent themes: trauma, loss, death, grief, exile, displacement, memory and violence. In the process, the opposition between fragmentariness on the one hand and realism on the other is challenged; the argument draws on William Burroughs, Tom McCarthy and Fernand Léger. Although they are fragmentary in very different ways, all of the novels under scrutiny are what one may term “mainstream” novels, most of them boasting large readerships and having either won or been shortlisted for literary prizes such as the Booker Prize, thus seemingly confirming Ted Gioia’s contention that “mainstream literary fiction is falling to pieces”.