Radical Realism, Autofictional Narratives and the Reinvention of the Novel

Radical Realism, Autofictional Narratives and the Reinvention of the Novel

By Fiona J. Doloughan

Anthem Frontiers of Global Political Economy and Development

This monograph treats modes of fictionality in contemporary auto/biography, memoir and autofiction. Adopting a case study approach, it demonstrates the extent to which contexts of production and reception are important in framing generic expectations with respect to the representation of lived experience and in helping to determine the status of the narrator as (fictional) persona or (implied) author.

PDF, 180 Pages


February 2023

£25.00, $35.00

EPUB, 180 Pages


February 2023

£25.00, $35.00

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About This Book

This monograph is concerned with what it sees as two complementary phenomena: that of contemporary writers of fiction who seem to have turned their backs on the traditional novel in favour of what might be termed a radical realism, alongside a more general movement towards and interest in auto/biography and memoir in the post-truth era. By reviewing the work of four authors whose trajectory to date represents engagement with novelistic as well as auto/biographical forms, it reconsiders differences between ‘fiction’ and ‘non-fiction’, as they pertain to both production and reception, including issues of generic categorization, the prevalence or exclusion of specific textual markers, and readerly expectations in navigating diverse and shifting literary cultures.

The Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard’s Min Kamp (My Struggle) series is considered in English translation in relation to its cross-cultural reception; it is also placed within the context of Knausgaard’s oeuvre as a whole. Some parallels between the work of Knausgaard and that of Rachel Cusk are drawn, though in the case of the latter the focus is not so much on the memoirs but on the Outline trilogy that followed the trilogy of memoirs and the extent to which it represents both a departure from and a continuation of some of the concerns expressed in previous non-fictional works with a specific focus on Aftermath

Comparison of Jeanette Winterson’s semi-autobiographical debut novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, with her memoir entitled Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? allows for close textual reading of scenes initially treated in novelistic form and revisited in the memoir permitting discussion of points of similarity and difference in their treatment in relation to the constraints and affordances of genre, where these apply. Discussion of Xiaolu Guo’s memoir, Once Upon A Time in the East, focusses both on its cross-cultural reception and on the place of the memoir within the Guo corpus.In some ways all four writers are less concerned with traditional aspects of story and more concerned to deploy a range of forms, including narrative, to serve their interest in broader questions of truth, agency and self-understanding. 


With Radical Realism, Autofictional Narratives and the Reinvention of the Novel,  Fiona Doloughan offers an insightful study that combines literary, historical, and cultural contexts in its analysis of the discussed works … It will be of interest to scholars interested in unconventional narrative forms and their literary as well as extratextual impact. KULT_online

Through its careful close reading of their works, the book makes a clear contribution to the scholarly understanding of the four writers in question. The book goes into extensive detail on the four authors and highlights the entanglements of nuance inherent in writing and reading autofiction, especially its open-endedness and ambiguity. - Life Writing

 “Fiona J. Doloughan’s timely and engaging book excites for its unique examination of the radical realism practiced by contemporary auto fictional writers. Doloughan’s detailed and sharp exploration into the practice and nature of this post-truth literary realism bears on questions of reality and self-representation, fact and fiction, and the novel form and its social value. A must-read for scholars of autofiction, fictionality, realism or the history of the novel” —Nancy Pedri, Professor and Head of English, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada.

“What is the autobiographical ‘real’? Doloughan’s illuminating studies on autofiction and the auto fictional demonstrate that borders between life and art are permanently shifting, as are our ideas about what is reality and realism. What remains constant is our search for meaning and the worldmaking power of literature language.” —Jens Brockmeier, Professor of Psychology, The American University of Paris. Author of Beyond the Archive: Memory, Narrative, and the Autobiographical Process (Oxford University Press 2015).

“Fiction and nonfiction, objectivity and subjectivity appear mutually exclusive, but autobiography as a literary genre challenges this notion. Reflecting on self, author and narrator, Mikhail Bakhtin used the metaphor of the mirror: in it, we can see the reflection, but not ourselves. What is this reflection like? Fiona J. Doloughan’s new monograph examines a few controversial literary cases of this ‘transgredience’ – the fluid genre of ‘autofiction’ bending linear dimensions.” —Natasha Lvovich, PhD, Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Literary Multilingualism, Professor Emerita of English, City University of New York.

Author Information

Fiona J. Doloughan is senior lecturer in English (literature and creative writing) at the Open University, Milton Keynes, UK. She is the author of two previous monographs and numerous book chapters and peer-reviewed articles on aspects of contemporary narrative.


Anthem Frontiers of Global Political Economy and Development

Table of Contents

Dedication; Preface; Acknowledgements; Introduction; Theoretical and Critical Concerns: Key Terms and Arguments; The Anatomy of a Writer: Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle; Companion Pieces: Jeanette Winterson’s Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? in Relation to Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit; A Cross-Cultural Memoir: Xiaolu Guo’s Once Upon a Time in the East; Rachel Cusk’s Search for New Forms: Self-Projection and Refraction in Fiction and Non-Fiction; Conclusion; References; Index


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