Before the War by Fay Weldon

The act of writing historical irony: Before The War by Fay Weldon


Before The War is a historical novel set in the early twentieth century with an ironic tone and a self conscious narrator. It tells the story of Vivien Ripple, the daughter of a publisher, Sherwyn Sexton, a writer and an editor at Ripple & Co, and the events that occur after Vivien makes the unlikely suggestion that they get married. Europe tries to recover from one war and hurtles headlong into another whilst the characters find themselves entangled more messily than they imagined and the world they live in shown to be ridiculous.

Weldon writes in a humorous and metafictional style, with a narrator who skirts between exposing the act of making up details on the spot and claiming that the events are true. The narrative of the novel is farcical and not particularly original, reading like something from Waugh or Burgess perhaps, but the narratorial style provides a driving force, exposing the act of looking back at fake history from the twenty first century through direct comments to the reader and references to modern things such as Gone Girl mixed into asides. The use of hindsight and historical irony makes this a novel more about the act of writing a novel set between the world wars than one focused on a narrative in the period.

Before The War is not quite the historical novel it seems to be, but this makes it suited to readers looking for irony, self consciousness, and something akin to Evelyn Waugh writing his novels from the vantage point of the twenty first century.