Gentrification and Alternative Spaces in Contemporary Fiction
We are proposing a panel which addresses different aspects of the conference’s specific interest in inequalities, including working-class literature and identities, and regional differences. The papers deal with a range of changing urban spaces and are connected by their engagement with processes of urban renewal, including gentrification.
Bentley’s paper, “‘It wasn’t always like this’: Gentrification and Displacement in Ross Raisin’s Waterline (2011) and Lisa Blower’s Sitting Ducks (2016),” examines narratives of gentrification with respect to post-industrial landscapes in contemporary Britain. As Tom Slater has argued, underneath the rhetoric of regeneration and renewal, gentrification often involves the economic and cultural displacement of established communities and individuals. This paper explores how fiction can offer a nuanced representation of the affective experience of this process of displacement, specifically the costs of gentrification as experienced by working-class communities. It examines two contemporary British novels: Ross Raisin’s Waterline (2011) and Lisa Blower’s Sitting Ducks (2016). Waterline details the experiences of the a redundant Glasgow shipbuilder after the closure of the shipyards in the late 1990s and presents a narrative of personal dissolution for the main character Mick Little that maps onto a more general sense of community decline. Sitting Ducks offers a narrative of post-industrial Stoke-on-Trent, with respect to the marginalized and precarious existence of its central characters, through a narrative that focuses on home ownership and belonging after the impact of Thatcherite policies.
Nick Bentley is Senior Lecturer in English at Keele University. He is author of Radical Fictions: The English Novel in the 1950s (2007) and Contemporary British Fiction (2008). He is currently working on a monograph on youth subcultures in postwar and contemporary fiction.
Morgan’s paper is called “Contemporary Youth Spaces in Guillaume Morissette’s New Tab (2014).” As its name suggests, Morissette’s novel is very much concerned with virtual spaces, specifically the spaces of social media and, to a lesser extent, gaming. Thomas, a 26-year-old games designer, lives in the gentrified hipster Montreal neighbourhood of Mile End. This is referenced occasionally in relation to physical meeting places, such as Sparrow—the name of a real-life cafe situated on boulevard Saint-Laurent. Much of the novel, however, is structured around interactions between the protagonist and his friends and acquaintances via Messenger and email. The focus is on the daily routines of a young individual living in a highly technologised world. Whilst we might anticipate themes of this kind in millennial fiction, the language politics within and around New Tab are what give the novel its distinctness, and have contributed to some of the significant attention it has received. Thomas is a francophone choosing to live and write in English. He studies creative writing at Concordia University—as did Morissette (the author describes the novel as “semi-autobiographical”). Although Morissette claims that “writing in English was never a political thing; it was more of a pragmatic thing,” New Tab poses questions around belonging, collectivity versus individualism, gentrification and linguistic expression in the contemporary social spaces of the internet.
Ceri Morgan is Senior Lecturer in English and Creative Writing at Keele University. Author of Mindscapes of Montreal (2012), she is currently working on geohumanities projects on collective walking, participatory creative practices, deindustrialisation, and chronic pain.
Peacock’s contribution, “Exposed Foundations and Endless Regeneration: Joseph Knox’s Aidan Waits Thrillers,” proceeds from the assumption that urban noir, so dedicated to uncovering the secrets of the past in rapidly changing cities, is particularly amenable to exploring urban renewal and gentrification. This paper focusses on Manchester, the setting for Knox’s three novels featuring troubled policeman Aidan Waits. In moving between gentrified spaces – bars, luxury apartment blocks, Media City – deprived working-class neighbourhoods, and abandoned spaces such as the Palace Hotel in the second novel, The Smiling Man, the detective reveals a cityscape striving to break free of an industrial past and yet consistently failing to do so. Manchester both reflects Waits’ struggles with his own past and shapes his consciousness, his interactions with different communities. Urban renewal is shown to perform a kind of melancholia, distinct from nostalgia (although gentrification also employs nostalgic effects), and to produce melancholic individuals like Waits.
James Peacock is Senior Lecturer in English and American Literatures at Keele University. He is currently researching contemporary gentrification stories, and is the author of Brooklyn Fictions: The Contemporary Urban Community in a Global Age (2015).