This essay observes that recent city novels set in the global South often depart from earlier postcolonial fiction, in which the sense of geopolitical possibility remained tethered to the promise and limitations of nation-states. To alter that habit, contemporary fiction updates the novel's centuries-long preoccupation with city life. Recent novels lend texture and detail to sublime statistics generated by the United Nations and other organizations of enormous and seemingly unmanageable urban growth. When they expand the novel's hoary catalog of urban forms, contemporary writings also urge reconsideration of the relationship between capital-L literature and genre fiction. Freed from an obligation to represent the nation, contemporary postcolonial genre novels can stand out in their eagerness to join commentary from across the disciplines in busily considering the shape that mega-urbanization takes. The essay concentrates on two recent novels suggestive of such engagement: Nnedi Okorafor's 2014 alien invasion thriller Lagoon and, in the essay's concluding section, Mũkoma wa Ngũgĩ's 2009 crime novel Nairobi Heat.
What Happened to the Postcolonial Novel: The Urban Longing for Form
john marx is professor and chair of English at the University of California, Davis. He serves as an associate editor at Novel. He has authored two books and has a book, Media U: A New History of the American University (coauthored with Mark Garrett Cooper), forthcoming in 2018. Work in progress from this project appears periodically online at <http://humanitiesafterhollywood.org/>.