Tom Paulin tells us in his introduction to Crusoe’s Secret that the book had its genesis in a desire to write about Defoe, but many of the essays he reprints here began as reviews of other writers. This is a louring prospect for reviewers, not least because it involves them in the postmodern cliché of reviewing a book of reviews which are themselves about reviewers reviewing reviews ad infinitum. Fortunately, a germ of the Defoe book survives in the theme linking these essays, which explore dissent in English and Anglo-Irish culture. This is a fascinating, wide-ranging brief which takes Paulin from seventeenth-century religion to twenty-first-century politics.
The subtitle derives from the author’s attempt – half-hearted, it must be said – to formulate a general theory of art as dissent, not a simple task when you are dealing with figures as disparate as Emily Dickinson and David Trimble (who isn’t often mentioned in the same sentence as