What is the course about?
Building on the first part of Writing on the Walls while also functioning as a standalone course in its own right, part two focuses on two ‘big novels’: Martin Amis’s London Fields and Zadie Smith’s White Teeth. Combining close readings of these texts with interrogations of a selection of excerpts from Amis, Smith and other writers of the period, it will provide a space for nuanced consideration of London novel-writing at the end of the twentieth century.
David Anderson has studied and taught in the English Department at UCL, and is currently a research associate in the UCL Urban Lab. He received his PhD in 2018; a book based on it, entitled Landscape and Subjectivity in the Work of Patrick Keiller, W.G. Sebald and Iain Sinclair, is forthcoming with Oxford University Press. He is writer in residence at the Cob Gallery in Camden and an assistant editor at Review31.co.uk.
What will we cover?
Various key questions will structure our discussions and interrogations, such as:
• How these texts we study affect our relationship with and attitude towards London?
• If and how the idea of London as a quintessentially ‘literary’ city has been borne out in the prose of the last 40 years?
• Which texts have been more effective at capturing the ‘authentic’ experience of city life, and why?
The course plan is as follows:
Sessions 1, 2 & 3: Martin Amis, London Fields (1989). Focusing on Amis’s dazzling 1989 novel, these sessions will explore its relation with his other work in terms of both its representation of London and its approach to narrative, looking at extracts from texts including Money (1984) and Time’s Arrow (1991).
Sessions 3, 4 & 5: Zadie Smith, White Teeth (2000). Centring on Smith’s multiple prize-winning debut novel, these sessions will examine in particular her approach to characterisation and ‘social comedy’, placing her in a context of London writing extending through Dickens and Salman Rushdie and considering questions of ‘postmodernity’ and ‘realism’ in the late twentieth-century London novel.
What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...
Attest to a reasonably well-rounded critical knowledge of late twentieth century London prose, as well as having developed your skills in literary criticism and analysis.
What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?
The course aims to be accessible to all levels of reader. Some of the texts we look at are ‘difficult’, but the deliberate use of difficulty itself as a literary technique will be one of the things we discuss!
How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?
Sessions will generally commence with an introduction and general discussion of the set writers and texts, building up a sense of the group’s ideas as we begin. This will be followed by guided close readings and comparison of particular passages, exploring narrative technique, characterisation, etc. Particular attention will be paid to representations of place and to discussion of texts in terms of their urban social and political contexts, with photocopied excerpts from other relevant material provided during in the sessions.
Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?
It will be necessary to bring copies of the texts, as well as note paper and a pencil. All supplementary material (extracts and criticism) will be provided as photocopies.
The editions we will be using are as follows:
Martin Amis, London Fields (Vintage, 1999) ISBN 9780099748618
Zadie Smith, White Teeth (Penguin, 2001) ISBN 0140276335.
When I've finished, what course can I do next?
Look for other literature courses under History, Culture and Writing at www.citylit.ac.uk.