Now and then there are readings that make the hairs on the neck, the non-existent pelt, stand on end and tremble, when every word burns and shines hard and clear and infinite and exact, like stones of fire, like points of stars in the dark…In these readings, a sense that the text appears to be wholly new, never before seen, is followed, almost immediately, by the sense that it was always there, that we the readers, knew it was always there, and have always known it was as it was, though we have now for the first time recognized, become fully cognizant of, our knowledge.
--A.S. Byatt, Possession (1990)
In this Mann Booker Prize-winning novel, Byatt describes a textual moment of being: points of reverberation where we encounter an idea that we have always known but has never before been illuminated in an epiphany. In this spirit, this course examines prize-winning and critically acclaimed British fiction since approximately 1985. We will focus in particular on these recent authors’ formulation of the Bildungsroman (novel of education), the representation of “Englishness” in a postcolonial age, the exploration of sexual identity, and the dynamics of power in marriage and intimate relationships. We will also explore how these artists craft the acts of writing and the interpretation of narrative. Authors may include Ian McEwan (Atonement and On Chesil Beach), A.S. Byatt (Possession), Jeanette Winterson (Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and Weight: The Myth of Atlas and Heracles), Janice Galloway (The Trick Is to Keep Breathing), Julian Barnes (Love, etc. and Arthur and George), Zadie Smith (On Beauty), Helen Fielding (Bridget Jones’s Diary), Kazuo Ishiguro (The Remains of the Day), Ali Smith (The Accidental), Nick Horby (High Fidelity), Anita Brookner (Hotel du Lac), John Banville (The Sea), as well as new voices such as Jhumpa Lahiri (Interpreter of Maladies) and Simon Van Booy (The Secret Lives of People in Love). Besides consistent active contributions to discussion, expectations include a class presentation, several short close reading essays or position papers, a midterm, and a final exam.