What does it mean to be a man in 2016? All the talk of men being “in crisis” is overblown—as a group they still earn more than women, and still dominate parliament, the judiciary and journalism. Male writers still dominate literary prizes.
Nevertheless, the rise of female equality and less constricted gender identities has meant old-fashioned ideas of masculinity are increasingly under challenge. Men are now being invited to contribute more to the traditional female sphere of home life, just as women are now a normalised part of workplaces. Something has undoubtedly changed in society’s perception of men and how men perceive themselves.
How are writers—both male and female—responding to this new social situation? In his essay, “What does it mean to be a man?“, literary critic Anthony Cummins looks at some recent fictional portrayals of masculinity and asks what we can learn from them. He finds that while novelists such as Martin Amis and Michel Houellebecq usually present men as comically and cynically pursuing women, others such as Karl Ove Knausgaard and Sarah Moss engage with the stay-at-home dad doing the child care, whether happily or unhappily.
This is the third essay in our series of fiction supplements that examine the way we live now. The previous subjects covered were fiction about family life, and about migration. You can find both articles on our website.
As always we also offer a short story from a leading writer to keep you company on your summer holidays. Philip Hensher’s “Under the Canopy” is, in his own words, about “the astonishing secret world the sick inhabit,” and follows a carer who isn’t very caring.
Finally, we offer reviews of eight new works of fiction, from Anne Tyler’s modern reboot of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew to Rose Tremain’s intense and erotic novel The Gustav Sonata. As it happens, seven of the eight are by women.
Below, find all of the pieces from this supplement:
Books in Brief:
“Blind Water Pass” by Anna Metcalfe