Ed Dodson
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Empire, war and class in Graham Swift’s Last Orders (1996)
in British culture after empire
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Postcolonial literary analysis – that is, analysis directed towards the questions of race, empire and decolonisation that form the purview of this book – is applied typically to Black and Asian writers. Resisting such racial categorisation, this chapter focuses on Graham Swift’s Booker Prize-winning Last Orders (1996) and in particular the novel’s figuration of the Second World War and its aftermath in global and imperial terms. Swift uses this historical framing to examine the effects of decolonisation – the Fall of Aden/Eden – on the dynamics of race and class in postwar England. In this way, Swift takes his readers inside the lived experience of demythologisation, or the difficulties of ‘working through’ (in Paul Gilroy’s well-known formulation) tenacious imperial mythologies. By conveying the power of myth, alongside its painful contradictions and false promises, Swift’s fiction does not offer postcolonial subversion or critique but examines the breaking from and clinging to imperial ideas and desires in postwar England. As this analysis begins to demonstrate, postcolonial questions of race, empire and decolonisation cannot be ‘bracketed’ by authorial ethnicity; these questions are at stake whenever we are reading, teaching and writing about contemporary English literature.

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