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Terry Eagleton (1988) has suggested that the ‘striking number of contemporary novels written in England but set in some non-English locale’ suggests ‘a sense that from the viewpoint of “creative” writing there is something peculiarly unpropitious about the typical social experience of an industrially declining, culturally parochial, post-imperial nation.’

This paper argues that anxieties about the dangers of parochialism and the challenges of a new cosmopolitan order are at the heart of the contemporary English travel novel, with reference to key novels by Julian Barnes, Zadie Smith, Buchi Emecheta and Geoff Dyer.  The same tension is evident in formal concerns of the novels themselves, which attempt to integrate cultural influences from the host countries they depict with various degrees of commitment, and success.

Through a reading of contemporary travel novels, this paper asks whether Eagleton’s comments are fair, or whether novels of the English elsewhere might depict a nation that is not, ‘culturally parochial’, but culturally curious.