England, England

related topics
{theory, work, human}
{son, year, death}
{film, series, show}
{company, market, business}
{water, park, boat}
{island, water, area}
{work, book, publish}
{rate, high, increase}
{country, population, people}
{day, year, event}
{woman, child, man}
{food, make, wine}

England, England (1998) is a satirical science fiction novel by Julian Barnes which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. The novel is set in the Britain of the not-too-distant future, and chronicles the creation of a giant England themed amusement park, called "England, England", which also operates as an independent state.

Plot summary

On the one hand, the novel is the fictional biography of Martha Cochrane, a clever and ambitious Englishwoman with a rural lower middle-class background who, after graduating from university, attempts to climb the ladder of success within corporate Britain. At the age of about 40, she reaches the zenith of her career when she is employed by the eminent British entrepreneur Sir Jack Pitman whose final project — a miniature re-creation on the Isle of Wight of all that is essentially English, something more than, and superior to, a theme park — she helps to realize. After she has dethroned the ageing Pitman by threatening to expose to the world his monthly visits to a high-class brothel, she holds the post of Chief Executive Officer for a few years. But then she breaks up with her lover and accomplice, Paul Harrison, is dismissed as a result and, as persona non grata, leaves for the Continent. After some years of aimlessly travelling the world she re-enters the real Britain, which by now has regressed to an unimportant, insular and almost pre-industrial existence. It is there, somewhere in Wessex, that she spends her final days, solitary, thoughtful and not altogether unhappy.

On the other hand, England, England is the story of Sir Jack Pitman's gigantic project of draining England of everything that is essentially English (including the royals), reassembling it on the Isle of Wight and turning that island into an independent member state of the European Union — a project which quite soon develops its own momentum and which survives its founding fathers and mothers. At the end of the novel, which reaches well into the 21st century, "Old England", which has adopted its old name, Anglia, is a depopulated country (there is talk of "boat people") reduced in size (after a blitzkrieg, it only consists of the old Anglo-Saxon heptarchy) and characterized by atavism (cf. "Deep England"), while England, England (the former Isle of Wight) is still going strong both as a major tourist attraction and a sovereign state in its own right. In the course of the novel, Pitman becomes "Island Governor", but in reality he wants to turn the island into a quasi-dictatorship run solely on the principles of the free market.

On yet another level, England, England is a novel of ideas — mainly ideas that correspond to the criticism of society voiced by French philosophers of the second half of the 20th century. The seminal work in this respect is Jean Baudrillard's (b.1929) L'échange symbolique et la mort (1976), in which Baudrillard claims that in the course of the 20th century reality has been superseded by "simulacra", by representations of the original which — in a world where technology has developed the means to replicate each and everything, including works of art (cf. Walter Benjamin's 1936 essay "Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit") and humans (by means of cloning) — acquire an independent and increasingly higher status than the original: because they are safer, easier to handle, more cost-effective, ubiquitous and thus more easily accessible, renewable, and predictable. (Cf. "postmodernism" and also U.S. sociologist George Ritzer's "McDonaldization" thesis of the 1990s, in particular his discussion of tourism).

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