I write about the ways in which we imagine and narrate nature, about the stories we tell ourselves and each other about 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, with links and short summaries.
Currently I’m working on an article on the ethical dimensions of twenty-first-century flood novels. In 2017 and 2018 I will contribute a chapter on Ian McEwan and ecology and science to The Cambridge Companion to Ian McEwan, edited by Dominic Head and a chapter on Jim Crace’s early novels for Jim Crace: Into the Wilderness, edited by Kate Aughterson and Katy Shaw.
“Fire and Ice: Narrating the Anthropocene in Post-Millennial British Fiction”. Rethinking Environmental Consciousness. Eds. Anders Olsson, Reinhard Henning and Steven Hartman. Brill. Forthcoming.
Many stories about environmental crisis rely on the motif of apocalypse: a (often) sudden collapse of civilization, extinguishing most of human life on earth. While popular for disaster films, this is not the only way we can talk about environmental crisis. Indeed, it may not even be the most effective way. In this article I write about the narrative of climate change (‘fire’) and the narrative of polar exploration (‘ice’) as other examples in which environmental crisis is imagined in contemporary British fiction. The novels I discuss are Ian McEwan’s Solar, Sam Taylor’s The Island at the End of the World, Amy Sackville’s The Still Point, Jeremy Page’s The Collector of Lost Things and Rebecca Hunt’s Everland.
“Worldmaking Environmental Crisis: Climate fiction, Econarratology and Genre”. Ecocriticism and Narrative Theory: Essays at a Critical Confluence. Eds. Erin James and Eric Morel. Forthcoming.
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.
“‘Man is the story-telling animal’: Narratives of Place in Graham Swift’s Waterland and the Future of Ecocriticism”. Under review with Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and the Environment.
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.