Detective reading: fictions, fakes and hoaxing

Course Dates: 09/05/23 - 13/06/23
Time: 18:00 - 19:30
Location: Keeley Street
Take a deep dive into two distinctive novels from accomplished contemporary writers – Siri Hustvedt’s The Blazing World and Graeme Macrae Burnet’s Case Study. Each tells a compelling story about impersonation and identity, weaving multiple voices together and asking readers to decide who to believe. As we read these two novels we’ll explore their stories and themes, their techniques for inspiring trust and for casting doubt, and the challenges and pleasures of becoming a ‘detective reader’.
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Full fee £99.00 Senior fee £99.00 Concession £64.00

Course Code: HLT215

Tue, eve, 09 May - 13 Jun '23

Duration: 6 sessions (over 6 weeks)

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What is the course about?

Read closely: what is the ‘true’ story and whose is it? This literature course takes a deep dive into two novels about impersonation and identity. Siri Hustvedt’s The Blazing World (2014) tells the story of the artist Harriet Burden, who adopts three different male identities to stage new exhibitions of her work: she wants to prove a point about gender and success. As the details of her experiment emerge through her own diaries and others’ testimonies, the mysteries multiply.

In the Booker-shortlisted Case Study (2021), Graeme Macrae Burnet presents the notebooks of a young woman who believes a psychotherapist drove her sister to suicide, and who then enrols herself as his client to confirm her suspicions. Interspersed with these notebooks is Burnet’s biographical research into the flawed Doctor Braithwaite and his theories of the self.

What will we cover?

We’ll cover a range of topics as we dig into these novels and their themes, including: literary impersonations; hoaxing theory; gender and perceptions of art; and doubles and the uncanny in psychiatry and literature. Reading these novels closely, we’ll consider how we assess clues and competing voices, and how literary devices suggest what evidence is credible. We’ll ask too what it means to be ‘detective readers’ in an age of fake news and misinformation: how do we decode and decide?

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

• Discuss these two novels confidently, with an enhanced knowledge of the authors in the context of contemporary fiction
• Develop your understanding of narrative form and voices
• Understand fictional techniques that work to shape what readers believe
• Consider questions that these novels raise about gender, hoaxes and psychiatry, and take away ideas to enhance your future reading.

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

This course is for everyone who is enthusiastic about reading and discussing contemporary fiction, particularly fiction that explores ideas about impersonation and hoaxes. You don’t need to have studied literature formally.

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

Teaching on the course includes: short presentations from the tutor, structured discussions, small group activities, close reading and analysis, and working with additional materials such as video clips. Guided by the tutor, the focus is on participation and interaction, with opportunities for sharing responses and ideas. Work outside the class involves doing the reading for each week, with questions provided for you to think about in advance.

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

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

Siri Hustvedt, The Blazing World (2014)
Graeme Macrae Burnet, Case Study (2021)
The tutor will provide links to all class materials and further reading.

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

Look for other Fiction courses at under history, culture & writing/literature/fiction.

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.