The modern English provincial novel is a many-headed beast of a literary category. It is a genre that subsumes, among others, the knowing, satirical denunciations of Kingsley Amis; the sardonic ennui of Alan Sillitoe and David Storey; the tender social complexities of Penelope Fitzgerald; and the historically incisive fictions of Graham Swift. Sometimes it seems as if these novelists are writing about different countries. There is little common ground between Amis’s caricature of provincial life in his 1960 novel Take a Girl Like You – one filled with ‘the inevitable debris of obligation and deceit and money and boredom and jobs and egotism and disappointment’ – and the acute seriousness of Swift’s investigations into what he has called the ‘failing English world’.
James Scudamore’s ambitious third novel, Wreaking, is closest to the Swiftian vision of provincial life. It is defiantly realist and resolutely unelegiac in its portrayal of England’s decrepit south coast. Scudamore’s Albion is a ‘small, sour island’ held together by ‘dismal obligations’, but while the obligations are ostensibly similar to