Reading BrexLit: three novels

Course Dates: 14/05/24 - 18/06/24
Time: 18:00 - 19:30
Location: Online
The 2016 referendum result was one of the most significant events in recent British history. How can novels, written in that moment, shed light on the run-up to the vote and its immediate aftermath?
On this course we’ll study three fascinating and powerful novels, by Ali Smith, Anthony Cartwright and Adam Thorpe, exploring their stories and the backdrop they present of Britain’s divisions and connections.
This course will be delivered online. See the ‘What is the course about?’ section in course details for more information.
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Full fee £99.00 Senior fee £99.00 Concession £64.00

Reading BrexLit: three novels
  • Course Code: HLT287
  • Dates: 14/05/24 - 18/06/24
  • Time: 18:00 - 19:30
  • Taught: Tue, Evening
  • Duration: 6 sessions (over 6 weeks)
  • Location: Online
  • Tutor: Kate Wilkinson

Course Code: HLT287

Tue, eve, 14 May - 18 Jun '24

Duration: 6 sessions (over 6 weeks)

Please note: We offer a wide variety of financial support to make courses affordable. Just visit our online Help Center for more information on a range of topics including fees, online learning and FAQs.

What is the course about?

This online literature course focuses on the time of the 2016 Brexit referendum result, which was one of the most significant – and for some, surprising – events in recent British history.

How might fiction, written at that time, shed light on the run-up to the vote and its immediate aftermath? Whose stories do novelists tell, and how? What concerns them, and why? How do novels present ideas about local and national identities, for example, and what shapes them? What moods do writers work to create?

This course reads three novels, all published within a year of the UK’s dramatic vote to leave the EU, to investigate these questions. How can their representations of people and places add to our understanding of a historical event in our lifetime?

Ali Smith, Autumn (2016). Hailed as ‘the first great Brexit novel’, Autumn is set just after the referendum and casts an enquiring eye over that moment, with stories of friendships, displacements, borders and time itself. ‘Smith’s writing is light and playful, deceptively simple, skipping along like a stone on the surface of a lake, brimming with humanity and bending, despite everything, toward hope.’ (Sarah Lyall, New York Times)

Anthony Cartwright, The Cut (2017). Cairo Jukes is a boxer from Dudley who now makes ends meet by working on zero-hour contracts. He has grown up among the canals – the cuts – that mark the Black Country and its place in the old industrial order. Then he meets Grace, a documentary film-maker from London. ‘A writer with a wonderful ear … and an unblinking sense of Britain as it is today.’ (Jonathan Coe)

Adam Thorpe, Missing Fay (2017). Fourteen-year-old Fay goes missing from a Lincoln council estate. The story of her last few days, before she disappears, is intricately interwoven with the lives of six local people, each touched by her in life-changing ways. ‘A mysterious, lucent novel, compelling in its tautness, devastating in its wisdom.’ (Spectator).

This is a live online course. You will need:
- Internet connection. The classes work best with Chrome.
- A computer with microphone and camera is best (e.g. a PC/laptop/iMac/MacBook), or a tablet/iPad/smart phone/iPhone if you don't have a computer.
- Earphones/headphones/speakers.
We will contact you with joining instructions before your course starts.

What will we cover?

We’ll think in detail about these three novels’ stories and characters. We’ll consider how these writers bring people and places to life, the narrative techniques they use, how the novels are structured and how this shapes our experience as readers.

Paying attention to these novels’ historical context, we’ll examine how they represent and respond to a range of social and political issues, including national and regional identities, aspiration, class, wealth and migration.

We’ll also think more broadly about these novels as contemporary works. What makes a novel ‘a Brexit novel’, for example, and what is ‘Brexlit’? As writers respond to Brexit and its associated questions, are these novels also influencing how we read? How can a novel respond to political events? Or is it too soon to answer these questions?

What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...

• Discuss these three novels with confidence, including their structure and techniques
• Analyse how novelists bring characters and places to life
• Improve your knowledge of contemporary literary studies, including the topic of Brexit and literature
• Take away ideas and inspiration to enhance your reading in the future.

What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?

This course is for people who enjoy reading and discussing contemporary literature and are interested in sharing ideas and listening to the views of others. You don’t need to have studied literature before.

How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?

Work outside the class involves doing the reading for each week, with questions provided for you to think about in advance.

Teaching on the course includes: short presentations from the tutor, group discussion, small group activities, close reading and analysis, and working with additional materials such as audio clips. Guided by the tutor, the focus is on participation and interaction, with opportunities for sharing responses and ideas.

Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?

You’ll need to buy or borrow these books, available in paperback:

Ali Smith, Autumn (2016
Anthony Cartwright, The Cut (2017)
Adam Thorpe, Missing Fay (2017).
The tutor will provide links to all other texts and class materials.

When I've finished, what course can I do next?

Please have a look at other literature courses on our website under History, Culture and Writing/Literature at

Kate Wilkinson

Kate is a teacher and researcher in English literature. She holds a PhD in English from Queen Mary, University of London, where she has also taught on a range of literature courses. Kate’s specialist interest is twenty-first-century fiction, and she’s delighted to be teaching new City Lit courses about contemporary writing. Kate is an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Authority, and a member of the British Association for Contemporary Literary Studies. She has published articles in academic journals and is now working on a book about contemporary novels and letters. Kate is fascinated by new writing, and only gradually coming to terms with the fact that there will never be enough time to read everything she’d like to.

Please note: We reserve the right to change our tutors from those advertised. This happens rarely, but if it does, we are unable to refund fees due to this. Our tutors may have different teaching styles; however we guarantee a consistent quality of teaching in all our courses.