The first part of England, England belongs to a novel that never gets written. We meet Martha and are encouraged to believe that we will know her better in time. Barnes promises to be fastidious about the psyche and its tricks. Memory, he reasons, is seldom dependable and first memories are most suspect of all. Martha's early recollections of childhood are elegantly contrived (a novelist cannot help but suffer from a form of false-memory syndrome). They include the image of prize-winning beans, displayed on black velvet at an agricultural fair. And then there's the jigsaw puzzle of England that Martha used to work at as a little girl; she used to lose pieces – corners of counties would escape her grasp – but her father would find them, until she lost her father, too, and was doomed to a childhood with a mother whose only wisdom was to warn her against men. This is a sinuously written, conventional opening. It efficiently awakens curiosity.
Then, with a jolt, one finds oneself in Part Two and in an entirely different fictional universe. We are about to leave England behind and replace it with a mock-heroic counterfeit: England England. It is not that Martha is no longer part of the novel, but she will never be