Bunty chops up the blood-glazed kidney, the idea of testicles never far from her mind. She hates cooking, it’s too much like being nice to people. Here she goes again – I spend my entire life cooking, I’m a slave to housework – chained to the cooker … all those meals, day after day, and what happens to them? They get eaten, that’s what, without a word of thanks! Sometimes when Bunty’s standing at the cooker her heart starts knocking inside her chest and she feels as if the top of her head is going to come off and a cyclone is going to rip out of her brain and tear up everything around her. (Just as well she didn’t go to Kansas.) She doesn’t understand why she feels like this (Go ask Alice – see Footnote (i) again) but it’s beginning to happen now, which is why when George wanders back into the kitchen, takes another fairy cake, and announces that he has to go out and ‘see a man about a dog’ (even tapping his nose as he does so – more and more I’m beginning to feel that we’re all trapped in some dire black-and-white film here), Bunty turns a contorted, murderous face on him and lifts the knife as if she’s considering stabbing him. Is a torch being put to the great city of Atlanta?
‘I have some business to do,’ George says hurriedly, and Bunty thinks the better of things and stabs the steak instead.
Kate Atkinson Behind the Scenes at the Museum (1995)
What is Historiographic Metafiction?
The relationship between history and fiction, whereby history was assumed to report the facts about certain events and fiction was purported to deal with the imaginary and the unreal, was significantly redefined in the 20th century with the purpose of highlighting discursive principles common to both genres. The term ‘historiographic metafiction’ was coined by literary theorist Linda Hutcheon in her book The Poetics of Postmodernism and it refers to ‘those well-known and popular novels which are both intensely self-reflexive and yet paradoxically also lay claim to historical events and personages’. Such novels examine the absolute knowability of the past, contest the assumptions of the ‘realist’ novel, and, simultaneously, scrutinise and specify the ideological implications of historical representation. In other words, works of historiographic metafiction problematise the very possibility of precise historical knowledge and seek to rewrite the past in order to liberate historical figures (often women and other commonly dismissed groups) from the constraints of the recorded history and into the relative freedom of fiction. Such works cast light onto some of the more marginalised experiences and provide different views of certain events and personages, thus making their readers respond to historical material with a double awareness of both its fictionality and its foundation in the real events. Some of the popular contemporary representatives of the genre most definitely include Kate Atkinson and Emma Donoghue, who employ history in their writing as a convenient backdrop as well as a space for subversion of social norms and conventions.