Unreliable and impossible storytellers: Hotel World, Elizabeth is Missing, Lincoln in the Bardo, Piranesi

Course Dates: 30/01/24 - 19/03/24
Time: 18:00 - 19:30
Location: Keeley Street
This course focuses on the intriguing and unlikely storytellers at work in recent fiction. How do we believe a story told by a woman who has dementia or a man who thinks that only fifteen people ever lived? What do we think when a dead person is telling the story, or a ghost? What are we to make of these improbable and sometimes unsettling stories? Can these unusual narrators open up new ways of thinking about the world?
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Full fee £149.00 Senior fee £149.00 Concession £97.00

This course has now started

Unreliable and impossible storytellers: Hotel World, Elizabeth is Missing, Lincoln in the Bardo, Piranesi
This course has started
  • Course Code: HLT35
  • Dates: 30/01/24 - 19/03/24
  • Time: 18:00 - 19:30
  • Taught: Tue, Evening
  • Duration: 8 sessions (over 8 weeks)
  • Location: Keeley Street
  • Tutor: Kate Wilkinson

Course Code: HLT35

Started Tue, eve, 30 Jan - 19 Mar '24

Duration: 8 sessions (over 8 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 literature course is about unusual storytellers in recent fiction.

Hotel World, by award-wining author Ali Smith, dips in and out of five people’s connected stories, one of which is told by a woman who has recently died. Emma Healey’s novel Elizabeth is Missing is narrated by ninety-year-old Maud, who is endeavouring to solve two mysteries. But Maud is hampered by advancing dementia: she has trouble remembering what happened even a few moments ago. And in Susannah Clark’s Piranesi (winner of the 2021 Women’s Prize), the narrator wanders alone through a labyrinthine House that is his whole world, interpreting what he finds. ‘Many things are unknown,’ he writes, enigmatically – to us as readers, too.

We’ll look at some other unusual storytellers too: a chorus of ghosts in George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo, a five year-old child in Emma Donoghue’s Room, even a desert boot and a bandage in Harry Parker’s Anatomy of a Soldier.

We’ll think about why writers might choose to tell stories from unlikely and even impossible perspectives like these, and why we read them. What do these narrators explore and imagine? What can they tell us that other narrators can’t? Reading these novels and extracts, we’ll think too about how fictional narrators shape our experience as readers: why do we believe some but not others? What makes us trust a story?

What will we cover?

We'll cover a range of topics as we delve into these fascinating novels. We’ll explore ideas about mysteries, detectives, memory and amnesia, and how remembering and forgetting both help to tell these novels’ stories. We’ll think about the different experiences of time these novels present and how these are created. We’ll also look at perspective, style and language to think about the narrators as characters, how they shape what we read and what makes us believe them – or not….

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

• Discuss these books confidently, with an extended knowledge of contemporary fiction
• Consider ideas about unlikely and ‘unreliable’ narrators in fiction and their effects
• Extend your understanding of literary form, narrative time and techniques.

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

All you need is curiosity, with an enthusiasm for reading contemporary fiction, listening to others and joining in discussions. You don’t need to have studied literature formally.

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

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

There will be a variety of teaching, including whole group and small group discussions, informal talks or mini-lectures, working with additional material including video clips, and close reading. Guided by the tutor, the focus is on participation and interaction, with opportunities each week for you to share responses and ideas.

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

You’ll need to buy or borrow copies of these novels, which are all available in paperback:
Ali Smith, Hotel World (Penguin, 2002)
Emma Healey, Elizabeth is Missing (Penguin, 2014)
Susannah Clark, Piranesi (Bloomsbury 2020)

The tutor will provide further extracts and learning materials for the course.

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

The tutor will also be teaching HLT183 Exploring literature: an introduction to prose and poetry; HLT250 Crime Fiction Past and Present; HLT291 Exploring London: the city in writing; HLT289 Historical Novels: re-imagining and rewriting; HLT287 Reading BrexLit: three novels; for these and other fiction courses please look on the web at www.citylit.ac.uk under History, Culture and Writing/Literature.

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.