Title: A continuum of Fragmentation: from the short story cycle to the fragmented novel
Authors: D'hoker, Elke
Issue Date: Oct-2015
Conference: Constructing Coherence in the British Short Story Cycle location:Universität Mainz date:15-16 October 2015
Abstract: A continuum of fragmentation? Distinguishing the short story cycle from the composite novel.
Elke D’hoker, University of Leuven, Belgium
In this paper I would like to investigate the hazy borderline between the short story cycle – or the collection of linked stories – and the composite or fragmented novel. The starting point of this paper is the recent trend in contemporary British fiction of producing composite or fragmented texts in order to join together the perspectives, stories and lives of different, previously or ostensibly unrelated, individuals. Books of this kind are, for instance, David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas (2004), Rachel Cusk’s Arlington Park (2006) and Outline (2014), Ali Smith’s Hotel World (2001) and There but for the (2011), Zadie Smith’s NW (2012), Donal Ryan’s The Spinning Heart (2013), Simon Van Booij’s The Illusion of Separateness (2013), and Jon McGregor’s If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things (2002). I will look at the different ways these contemporary texts have been approached by critics and the different labels they have received (e.g. networked novel, composite novel, novel-in-stories, novella cycle). Using different theoretical approaches to the short story cycle (e.g.Nagel 2004, Mann 1989, Ingram 1971, D'hoker 2014, D'hoker 2013, Alderman 1985, Luscher 1989, Audet 2000), I will discuss whether these books can usefully be considered as short story cycles. I will argue that, although these contemporary fragmented novels differ from the paradigmatic short story cycle in a number of ways, they also borrow many elements from the cycle tradition, specifically the tension between a centrifugal and centripetal forces (Alderman 1985) or between processes of totalisation and fragmentation (Audet 2000). Finally, I will focus on the thematic import of these fragmented or composite novels, and, in particular, on the question of human connection and community which these texts raise. This contemporary concern will be traced back to the short story cycle’s particular aptitude for representing community, as witnessed by many late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century works (e.g. Jane Barlow’s Irish Idylls, Sarah Orne Jewett’s The Country of the Pointed Firs or Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford).

Alderman, Timothy C. 1985. "The Enigma of The Ebony Tower: A Genre Study." MFS Modern Fiction Studies 31 (1):134-147.
Audet, René. 2000. Des textes à l'oeuvre: la lecture du recueil de nouvelles. Québec: Éditions Nota bene.
D'hoker, Elke. 2013. "The short story cycle: Broadening the perspective." Short Fiction in Theory and Practice 3 (2):151-160. doi: 10.1386/fict.3.2.151_2
D'hoker, Elke and Van den Bossche, Bart. 2014. "Cycles, Recueils, Macrotexts. The Short Story Collection in a Comparative Perspective." Interférences littéraires/Literaire interferenties (12):7-17.
Ingram, Forrest L. 1971. Representative Short Story Cycles of the Twentieth Century: Studies in a Literary Genre. Paris: Mouton.
Luscher, Robert M. 1989. "The short story sequence: An open book." Short Story Theory at a Crossroads:148-67.
Mann, Susan Garland. 1989. The short story cycle: a genre companion and reference guide. Westport: Greenwood Press.
Nagel, James. 2004. "The American Short Story Cycle." In The Columbia Companion to the Twentieth-Century American Short Story, edited by Blanche Gelfant, 9-14. New York: Columbia University Press.
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: IMa
Appears in Collections:Text and Interpretation, Leuven (-)

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