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De Loughry Treasa, The Global Novel and Capitalism in Crisis–Contemporary Narratives

London: Palgrave McMillan, 2020
Cécile Girardin
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De Loughry Treasa, The Global Novel and Capitalism in Crisis–Contemporary Narratives. London: Palgrave McMillan, 2020 (222 pages).

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1‘Capitalism is going through a crisis whose gravity has not revealed itself yet’: the opening warning borrowed from Arundhati Roy sets the tone for the entire volume, which never falls short of sibylline auguries calling for urgent deciphering of ongoing and upcoming catastrophes. The Global Novel and Capitalism in Crisis by Treasa De Loughry is an intellectual tour de force which addresses two colossal issues upfront, by presenting a close analysis of a dozen books of fiction representative of a crisis both in capitalism and in novel writing.

2The dense introduction, ‘Global, Postcolonial and World Literature,’ along with the first chapter devoted to ‘Global Literature, Realism and the World System in Crisis,’ engages with the so-called turn in postcolonial studies, when anti-imperialist and anticolonial energies got lost in the whirlwind of neoliberalism. Reassessing a now well-known materialist standpoint, postcolonialism is dubbed as a field of study so marketable it has lost its political edge to the point of innocuity. Registering its inability and unwillingness to account for the ‘uneven and diverse reality of postcolonial conditions and politics,’ De Loughry claims that colonialism is still alive and well, and that the period following independences is one of continued asset stripping. The book thus purports to teach us how to read ‘for global fiction’s registration of compound and terminal crises of capitalism’: in other words, if readers can feel that fiction witnesses the alienating effects of capitalist modernity, especially in the peripheries of the world system, where violent appropriation is at its worst, then they can start seeing through the agency that drives their lives and engage in a liberating path, committed as they should be to ‘a global politics of solidarity.’

3To achieve that goal, the author takes us on a painstaking and thorough reading of a selection of books by Salman Rushdie, David Mitchell, Rana Dasgupta and Rachel Kushner, deemed as representatives of the global novel. This category is defined as an offshoot of the postcolonial novel after its massification: it refers to transnational and deterritorialized narratives, world-hopping fictions about disenchantment following various kinds of injustices (social, environmental, political), yet containing seeds for an oppositional force. De Loughry’s method consists in drawing on literary, Marxist and world-ecological theories by Giovanni Arrighi, Fredric Jameson, Georg Lukacs, and Jason Moore in order to examine how the crisis of capitalism has also coproduced disciplinary and representational crisis in literary studies.

4The first author taken to task, interestingly enough, is Salman Rushdie, over whom a mass of critical work has already been produced, especially with a postcolonial edge. De Loughry is interested in defining the moment when Rushdie’s writing shifted from postcolonial to global. The Moor’s Last Sigh (1995), The Ground Beneath her Feet (1999) and Fury (2000) all register a strict departure from a postcolonial perspective, because they account for political pessimism (Bombay’s neoliberal capitalism, transnationalism, and the decline of the West), away from the optimistic and comedic postcolonial debuts. Each of these novels picture crisis in their own stylistic and aesthetic way: the first is a ‘capitalist realist’ epic (borrowing from David Cunningham), grounded as it is in its depiction of corporate criminality; the second mythologizes history and distances it from reality; the third on the contrary marks a shift back toward hyperrealism, as Baudrillard would have it, in a stylistic mode designed to mimic the decline of the American empire.

5With David Mitchell, the study more or less treads the same time period of publication, around that pivotal year of 2000. But the corpus in question deals more frontally with the issues of historical teleology and eco-apocalypse, which prove to be particularly fit for a materialist reading. Ghostwritten (1999), which weaves the supernatural into its narrative and condemns technological increased autonomy and agency, is read as an allegory of anxiety about ecological degradation. Capitalism is an unending source of metaphors for Mitchell, whose other books under scrutiny (Cloud Atlas, 2004 and The Bone Clocks, 2014) abound with images of exhaustion, predacity, consumption, scarcity, and figures of cannibals and vampires, standing for transnational capital and financial accumulation. According to De Loughry, Mitchell’s fiction naturalizes capitalist modes of competitive individualism, yet amid the dystopian worldview that recalls Orwell and Huxley, she detects utopian seeds in the depiction of resistance, narrated as glimpses and prophetic visions.

6Similarly, by taking to task Rana Dasgupa’s works Tokyo Cancelled (2005) and Solo (2009), the author shows how fictions that narrate experiences from peripheral regions best capture moments of capitalism in crisis. Dasgupta calls for more vibrant ideas and aesthetic forms (juxtapositions, associative logic, cacophony, allegory, fractured short fiction) to illustrate the accelerated pace of capitalist modernization and its false promises. Thanks to this ‘new realism’ (Jameson), De Loughry argues, Dasgupta incorporates modernism’s emphasis on violent renewal of perception and exposes the commodity system of late capitalism.

7The novels of Rachel Kushner, Telex from Cuba (2008) and The Flamethrowers (2013) put a particular emphasis on resources and sources of energy (food, fuel), by telling experiences located at the peripheries of capital accumulation (plantations in Cuba, automobile factories in Turin). She does so by crafting conventional historical novels through the eyes of peripheral observers, whose national hegemonic framework is that of the United States. The distanced narrators, removed as they are from actual manual labor yet distant beneficiaries of the system, are not capable of total understanding and are caught between complicity and critique.

8The book’s conclusion then engages with a survey of various novels, a ‘literary internationale,’ which have thrived in the recent years (Murakami, Ferrante, Kunzru, Ishiguro, to name just a few), confirming the intuition that the global novel is the literary correlative to capitalist globalization. But one is never quite sure if De Loughry lauds or disapproves of those global novelists that pocket their hefty prize money over bestsellers that are at bottom the very products of the capitalist economy, leaving a question mark over their literary value.

9At the end of this overall compelling journey, the interpretive thread linking those diverse works of fiction is delineated quite convincingly, if only the reader accepts to go along with De Loughry’s style and lexicon, which is uselessly burdened by jargon and an end-of-the-world tone: capitalism is not only in crisis, but in its ‘terminal’ crisis, and globalization processes are ‘worsening,’ calling for an ‘urgent’ deciphering of various injustices. Those ubiquitous adjectives are literally hammered into rationales that are sometimes so abstruse that they verge on a parody of bombastic, convoluted academic writing. What to make indeed of ‘the petro-modern affect of automotive freedom’ in Kushner’s works, or of characters who are ‘predacious,’ ‘salvific,’ ‘prescient,’ ‘resistive,’ when they are not ‘disconsolate’?

  • 1 Combined and Uneven Development: Towards a New Theory of World-Literature. Warwick Research Collect (...)

10That said, readers interested in new formal developments in the global novel and how they can fruitfully channel political interpretation will benefit from De Loughry’s acute interest in details—especially when she lingers on Kushner’s protagonists caught in the system, yet remain outsiders, or on Dasgupta’s narratives that undermine realism by crafting stereotypical characters. The book is an interesting counterpart to the 2015 study by the Warwick Research Collective,1 which, in a similar endeavor, resituated world literature by pursuing the cultural implication of the Trotskyite theory of combined and uneven development. Yet, the former engaged with a denser corpus and relied on concepts (irrealism, semi-periphery) rather than upon the fictional texts themselves, making for a more convincing theoretical argument. This comparison highlights what is somewhat lacking in De Loughry’s analyses: Marxist concepts and canonic texts by Jameson, Lucaks, or Arrighi, are often mentioned but seldom engaged with at length. Paradoxically, by constantly striving to come full circle with the issues of justice and solidarity, the author closes off interpretations, leaving no room for wondering, not to say dreaming, about an open-ended fiction, or assigning literary value to texts. On the long run, De Loughry’s method is problematic because it tends to flatten texts: at no point does she deal with humor or double entendre, a feature that is unmissable in Rushdie’s texts for instance. One is left with the impression that a materialistic reading forbids the emergence of the metaphorical, the ironical, and other linguistic techniques that convey a rich layer of complexity to fictional texts–only the allegorical wins the bet. Focusing on material conditions is probably necessary when one needs to act, but all too often it misses the point of literature.

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1 Combined and Uneven Development: Towards a New Theory of World-Literature. Warwick Research Collective (Sharae Deckard, Nicolas Lawrence, Neil Lazarus, Graeme Mac Donald, Upamanyu Pablo Mukherjee, Stephen Shapiro, and Benita Parry). Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2015.

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Cécile Girardin, « De Loughry Treasa, The Global Novel and Capitalism in Crisis–Contemporary Narratives »Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 62 | 2022, mis en ligne le 01 janvier 2022, consulté le 01 décembre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Cécile Girardin

Université Paris Nord

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Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.

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