Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Doctor of Philosophy




Lee, Alison


My study of contemporary (post-2000) Anglophone novels combines themes of time and temporality with narratological analysis. I argue that nonlinear narrative structures (which originate in science fiction novels) challenge the supposed impossibility of simultaneity in the novel, undermine the literary construct of realism, and model new, more optimistic ways of imagining the future(s) beyond our present. I build upon Mathias Nilges’ argument that in the wake of the crisis of the “long now”—a societal belief that the future has been exhausted and we are trapped in an unchanging present—the contemporary time novel critiques historical forms of time and models new ones. In my analysis, I bring together theories of simultaneity and delay from phenomenology, theories of dialectical montage from film studies, and theories of implicit and explicit causality from narratology to demonstrate how nonlinear narrative structures create a paradox of delayed simultaneity despite the linearity of the written form. I also use an intersectional, feminist lens in my critique to show how nonlinear narrative structures can grant greater agency to narrators and force readers into the role of detective. My study primarily focuses on the following novels: Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time (2015), Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad (2011), Ariel Lawhon’s I Was Anastasia (2018), Kate Morton’s The Clockmaker’s Daughter (2018), Ali Smith’s How to Be Both (2015), and Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other (2019). I argue that contemporary novels, especially time novels, are not an opposition to the postmodern project but an expansion of it with a questioning of forms of time and temporality that parallels the questioning of myths, universal truths, and historiography by British postmodern writers as well as the postmodern belief that a multiplicity of ways exist by which to structure a narrative or tell a story.

Summary for Lay Audience

I study novels published after 2000 that emphasize the theme of time, which I call time novels. I consider how these novels tell their stories, specifically looking at stories that are told out of order, because these out-of-order story structures interrupt the typical way that we think about time as chronological or a progression of earlier to later events. These out-of-order, or achronological, stories also create a contradictory reading experience that works in two ways, both of which convey a delayed simultaneity. The first way is to present readers with events that are happening at the same time in the story but are read in a delayed fashion. The second way is to present readers with events that are not happening at the same time but are told to the reader as if they were simultaneous. Imagine a box of loose puzzle pieces, which must be reassembled without reference to an original picture. The contradiction of delayed simultaneity in time novels uses a story structure that is familiar from speculative and science fiction novels, in which characters may travel through time and experience events out of order. But in achronological time novels the reader time travels through the story instead of the characters. In some cases, these achronological story structures also empower characters as storytellers by enabling them to control the order in which the reader discovers key information. These storytellers can then manipulate readers, who must act as detectives to piece together the story’s plot. In film, editors create montages by splicing contradictory images or scenes together to change the interpretation of individual shots. Like a montage, the chapter and scene breaks in novels mash together events from different times and perspectives, conveying a causality distinct from chronological cause and effect. Overall, the out-of-order story structures in these time novels encourage readers to think critically about their experiences of time and to imagine more optimistic and hopeful futures that lay beyond the present.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.