The Ambiguities of Transitional Narrative in The Porcupine by Julian Barnes

Padraig McAuliffe

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    This article examines The Porcupine (1992) by Julian Barnes as a rare and early treatment of criminal trial in transitional states at a time when scholarship in the area of transitional justice was in its infancy. Its examination of the relationship between a deposed Communist dictator, a zealous prosecutor, and the public in a state based on Bulgaria foreshadowed many of the issues that would become apparent in later prosecutions by liberal regimes of their illiberal predecessors.
    In particular, it highlights the potency of fictional narrative to serve as a valuable corrective to the potentially hegemonic official, public narrative of trial or truth commission. It demonstrates that the novel or the play can give voice to the unacknowledged victim, to the vindications of the old regime transitional justice seeks to discredit, to the equivocacy and indeterminativeness of transition
    that the report or verdict cannot. The novel or play can “cut deeper” into the history of repression or violence, allowing more nuanced and even divergent understanding of the past, the process itself, and the future.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)349-379
    Number of pages31
    JournalLaw and Literature
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2012


    • Transitional justice
    • Julian Barnes
    • post-Communist
    • fair trial
    • historical justice


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