I write about the ways in which we imagine and narrate nature and climate crisis, about the stories we tell ourselves and each other about climate change and the nonhuman natural world around us (and ourselves in it). In my academic work, my fascination with narratives of nature focuses on ecocriticism, which studies the relationship between humans and nature in cultural expressions. This is a list of articles that I’ve published and am working on, with links and short summaries. For more information on my monograph Climate Crisis and the Twenty-First-Century British Novel, published in 2018, see this page.
Currently working on
I am currently focusing wholly on my new project on 21st-century flood fictions. This project will result in a series of articles and, eventually, a monograph. Over the next 6 months, I will complete the following articles:
- “Twenty-First-Century British Flood Novels and the Narrative Challenges of the Anthropocene”. Chapter for the Cambridge Companion to Literature and the Anthropocene. Ed. John Parham. Cambridge University Press.This chapter focuses on floods as particularly apt symbols for the Anthropocene. In twenty-first-century British novels such as Clare Morrall’s When the Floods Came (2015), Antonia Honeywell’s The Ship (2015) and Megan Hunter’s The End We Start From (2017), many of the narrative challenges that characterize our attempts to imagine the Anthropocene are played out. By engaging with the narratological categories of space, time and characterization, I discuss the means by which the novels’ initial readers gain access to a textual world in which climate crisis has worsened considerably. This transportation touches on many current debates on literature in a time of climate crisis, though these conversations rarely take an econarratological approach.
“Twenty-First-Century Flood Fictions and the Anthropocene”. Peer-reviewed article.
This article presents twenty-first-century flood fictions such as Megan Hunter’s The End We Start From, Clare Morall’s When the Floods Came and Sarah Hall’s The Carhullan Army as a major imaginative response to climate change. In this article I define flood fictions as characterised by two features: first, the depiction of floods as an effect of and synecdoche for climate crisis, making use in particular of the literal and symbolic power of floods; second, the depiction of climate crisis floods through the literal submersion of the narratives themselves, by means of language erosion and narrative fragmentation. As such, flood fictions go some way towards tackling the imaginative and representative challenges posed by the Anthropocene, and my reading of these novels provides an intervention in current debates on imagining and narrating climate crisis.
“Living to tell the story: Characterization, Narrative Perspective and Ethics in Climate Crisis Flood Novels”. New Directions in Philosophy and Literature. Edinburgh University Press. Under review.
In this essay I discuss a number of postmillennial British flood fictions that explore the ethical dilemmas of climate change. By bringing literary studies—especially ecocriticism and narratology—in conversation with climate ethics, I show how characterization and narrative perspective foreground problematic issues of privilege and inequality. The novels explored moreover test the limits of narrating climate crisis by challenging the significance of knowledge and the nature of narrative itself in the Anthropocene.
This chapter is part of my larger flood fictions project.
“Science and Climate Crisis”. The Cambridge Companion to Ian McEwan. Ed. Dominic Head. Cambridge University Press. Under review.
This chapter explores the depiction of science and climate crisis in The Child in Time and Solar, with particular emphasis on the relationship between science and art. It shows how the novels depict art and science in conversation, resisting resolution in favour of one or the other. Central to this depiction is the relationship between science and gender in The Child in Time and the much-critiqued representation of climate crisis science in Solar. The chapter reads the two novels in relation to each other and places them in the larger framework of McEwan’s interviews and writings on science, art and climate crisis.
“Worldmaking Environmental Crisis: Climate fiction, Econarratology and Genre”. Ecocriticism and Narrative Theory: Essays at a Critical Confluence. Eds. Erin James and Eric Morel. Under review.
Narratives are central to how we understand the world – including how we make sense of environmental crisis. This article is a contribution to a volume on econarratology (Erin James’ term) – the field that combines ecocriticism and narratology, the study of narratives. My article focuses on the role that genre plays in how nature is depicted. It focuses climate fiction (or cli-fi), a recently popular genre that deals explicitly with (changing) nature in the 21st century. The specific generic features of cli-fi, and especially how these features transport the reader into the world of the text, define the ways we interpret nature. My focus is on Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour and Nathaniel Rich’s Odds Against Tomorrow.
In press and published articles
“Ecocriticism and Jim Crace’s Early Novels”. Jim Crace: Into the Wilderness. Eds. Kate Aughterson and Katy Shaw. Palgrave. 2018
While many of Jim Crace’s novels explore narratives that are dominant in the environmental imagination, ecocriticism has been slow to engage with Crace’s work. This chapter traces the depiction of nature in Crace’s novels, focusing especially on his early works. It presents a reading of The Gift of Stones (1988), Signals of Distress (1994) and Being Dead (1999) that uses them to explore two developments in ecocriticism: a concern with the global, and the development of econarratology.
“‘Man is the story-telling animal’: Narratives of Place in Graham Swift’s Waterland and the Future of Ecocriticism”. Published by Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and the Environment (advance online 14 July 2018)
Graham Swift’s novel Waterland has been studied before by ecocritics, but they have avoided the ways in which the novel’s structure and combination of genres influences its representation of nature. This article presents an ecocritical approach that is influenced by narratology – the study of how narratives work. It emphasizes especially the use of the framework narrative and the fairy tale elements in Waterland to show an environmental dimension that has not yet been picked up on.
“Review: The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall”. Earthlines July 2015.
A review of Sarah Hall’s 2015 novel The Wolf Border.
“Woorden die niet mogen verdwijnen” (with Jaap Meijers). Trouw 3 June 2015.
In this article for the Dutch national newspaper Trouw, Jaap Meijers and I wrote about words for landscape features. We discuss Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks (2015) as a starting point for a discussion of Dutch landscape words. We suggest that there are perhaps fewer works for natural landscape features in Dutch, yet more for cultural, or man-made, landscapes.
Organic, authentic, “real” food is becoming increasingly popular. We discuss some of these (Dutch) words in relation to research from food studies, and suggest that the connection with nature they suggest is essentially artificial.
Introduction to a special issue of Image & Narrative that came out of a symposium on literature and the visual arts I co-organized in October 2012. The introduction – and issue as a whole – explore the intersections of literature and the visual arts. This relation generally takes three forms: the visual can support the text, as is the case in illustrations, the visual can challenge the text, and the visual and the literary can achieve cross-pollination.
For many people, including ecocritics, “nature” refers to mountains, the countryside, the sea, pastoral scenes and other “traditional” landscape. In this article I argue that much ecocriticism is consequently not yet equipped to explore less traditional landscapes, such as urban nature spaces. I draw on work done in urban studies to propose an ecocriticism that is better suited to the less traditional landscapes that are also nature – in cities or edgelands. I apply this approach to some new British nature writings: Kathleen Jamie’s Sightlines and Findings, Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts’ Edgelands, Robert Macfarlane’s The Wild Places, Adam Nicholson’s Sea Room and Esther Woolfson’s Field Notes from a Hidden City.
The aim of this article is to contribute to an expansion of ecocriticism, which has not explored a lot of contemporary (British) novels. Indeed, some ecocritics have argued that novels are too human-centred to be studied ecocritically. I provide a reading of 3 contemporary British novels, and show that these pose challenges to ecocriticism in terms of their experimental form, or critique of environmentalism. Reading them ecocritically is nonetheless possible and important: after all, if environmental crisis is indeed as pervasive in culture as ecocritics hold, the theory itself should be equipped to study representations of nature in all kinds of cultural artifacts. My focus is on Jon McGregor’s If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas and Ian McEwan’s Solar.
In this article I discuss John Burnside’s 2011 novel The Summer of Drowning and its place in his oeuvre. While all of his novels until then had had male protagonists, this novel has a female protagonist. Since masculinity is so important in Burnside’s work, I discuss the effect of this change to a female, rather than a male, solitary. I also look at how Burnside’s treatment of the boundaries between the everyday and the magical have changed. In earlier novels, doubles played a key role, but in The Summer of Drowning, the double has been replaced by a mythical creature – the huldra – that connects the everyday world to the supernatural.
Ecocriticism is traditionally skeptical of urban landscapes, and consequently, little work has been done on urban nature. In this article I explore ecocriticism’s problems with the city. I then present an interdisciplinary approach that combines ecocriticism with urban studies. This approach allows not only an ecocritical reading of the positive aspects of urban nature, but also the negative aspects that natural spaces can hold – many forests, for instance, are seen as dangerous places, both in and outside of the city. In the final section of the article I apply this approach to Jon McGregor’s novel Even the Dogs (2010) and Edgelands (2011), a non-fictional account of England’s “true wildernesses” by Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts.
Literatuur, Plaats en Plaatsverbondenheid: Graham Swifts Waterland”. (Literature, Place, and Belonging: Graham Swift’s Waterland) Filosofische Beschouwingen over Plaats. Verbondenheid met natuur en landschap. Zeist: KNNV Uitgeverij. 148-61. (PDF)
In this Dutch article I write about the role of place and belonging to place in literature in general, and Graham Swift’s novel Waterland (1983) in particular. I discuss that the postmodern elements of the novel (such as the combination of genres) don’t exclude an ecocritical reading – as early ecocritics thought – but instead contribute to a greater sense of belonging to place.
In 2010 I contributed to the “Ecocriticism and Theory” special forum of Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment. Rather than proposing a theoretical approach, I focused on practice and argued for a broadening of the corpus of ecocriticism. Typically, ecocritics focus on texts that take nature as their explicit topic. I suggested – and illustrated – that texts which are not explicitly concerned with nature can be also studied ecocritically, with interesting results.
This is the introduction to a special issue on ecocriticism of the journal English Studies that I co-edited in 2010. The issue brought together five articles on contemporary literature that all in some way explored apocalypse and climate change.