Accessibility Skip to Global Navigation Skip to Local Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Site Map Menu

ENGL351 Special Topic: 21st Century Fiction: Reading Today's World

An exploration of twenty-first-century fiction, focusing on innovations in literary form with an emphasis on literature's engagement with major contemporary ethical and political issues.

Are clones human? Should animals be our best friends or our next meal? Can writing a book atone for a lie? What role, if any, does fiction still play in the twenty-first century? The aim of this paper is to respond to these difficult questions and many more. Focusing on literary innovations in twenty-first century fiction, we will explore how writers such as Ian McEwan, David Foster Wallace, Kazuo Ishiguro and Mohsin Hamid engage with the major ethical and political issues of our time. Three of the core texts we read have spawned successful films that have captured the public's imagination, highlighting the ability of fiction to tap into issues that are both topical and thought provoking.

However, be warned, in this paper we will encounter far from ordinary texts, whose innovative forms force us to rethink the very ways in which we engage with fiction!

We will be sampling graphic fiction, speculative fiction, the post-9/11 novel and even a short story modelled on tweets. Such samples will not only lead to encounters with clones, cavemen, animals and reluctant fundamentalists, but will also expose the equal measure of beauty and horror that attends the early years of the twenty-first century. ENGL 351 gives students the chance to put into practice the theoretical and analytical skills necessary to critically read the social, political and ethical issues of our cultural milieu, including the 'us and them' mentality of the post-9/11 era, the impact of new technology, and what it means to be human in the twenty-first century.

Paper title Special Topic: 21st Century Fiction: Reading Today's World
Paper code ENGL351
Subject English
EFTS 0.15
Points 18 points
Teaching period Not offered in 2021 (On campus)
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $913.95
International Tuition Fees (NZD) $4,073.40

^ Top of page

18 200-level ENGL points or 36 200-level points
Schedule C
Arts and Music
Students who have not passed the normal prerequisite may be admitted with approval from the Head of Department.

Teaching staff

Course co-ordinator: Dr Josie Carter
Dr Shef Rogers, Head of Department, will be the permanent staff member overseeing Summer School offerings.

Paper Structure

The paper consists of six modules

  • I: Post-Cynicism: David Foster Wallace's "Good Old Neon", George Saunder's "Pastoralia" and Jennifer Egan's "Black Box"
  • II: The Ethics of Storytelling: Ian McEwan's Atonement
  • III: Narrating the Self through Text and Image: Alison Bechdel's Fun Home
  • IV: The Politics of Self and Other: Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist
  • V: Human Encounters with Animals: J. M. Coetzee's "Tanner Lectures on Human Values: The Lives of Animals"
  • VI: Redefining the Human: Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go


  1. Close-Reading Test 10% - due end of week three
  2. Two Tutorial Response Papers (800 words each) 20% (10% each) - due in corresponding tutorial weekfour
  3. Research Essay (2,500 words) 30% - due end of week five
  4. Exam 40% - taken during exam period
Teaching Arrangements

Class will meet for two 2-hour lectures and two 1-hour tutorials each week.


Course Reader: David Foster Wallace "Good Old Neon," George Saunders "Pastoralia," Jennifer Egan "Black Box" and J. M. Coetzee's "Tanner Lectures on Human Values: The Lives of Animals"

Ian McEwan, Atonement
Alison Bechdel, Fun Home
Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go

Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Interdisciplinary perspective, Lifelong learning, Scholarship, Communication, Critical thinking, Cultural understanding, Ethics, Research
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes
Learning Outcomes

Upon successfully completing this paper students will

  1. Develop an awareness of a range of twenty-first century texts and contemporary interdisciplinary approaches to literary criticism, as well as expertise in the practice of close reading (In-depth Knowledge)
  2. Demonstrate an ability to communicate ideas effectively, construct convincing arguments and respond to the arguments of others (peers and scholars) in verbal and written form (Communication)
  3. Demonstrate an ability to analyse the relationship between literary techniques (form) and subject matter, as well as assessing texts' responses to contemporary modes of constructing subjectivity, responsibility and the point of view of those deemed other or non-human (Critical Thinking)
  4. Demonstrate an ability to analyse a range of genres, including those that use a visual component, as well as engaging with ethical and political modes of understanding subjectivity and responsibility; students will gain an appreciation of the interdisciplinary approaches that inform contemporary literary criticism (Interdisciplinary Perspective)
  5. Demonstrate an ability to undertake a research essay, to select and evaluate appropriate secondary sources, and to construct a balanced and convincing argument that confidently incorporates research alongside accurate referencing practices. (Research)
  6. Demonstrate an ability to examine the way in which a globally connected world is a necessary consideration in a critical analysis of the scope of ethical and political responsibility in the twenty-first century. (Global Perspective)

^ Top of page


Not offered in 2021

Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system