Novel geographies

By Matthew Rech

Writing in Geography Compass, Sheila Hones charts the development and evolution of literary geographies. From its origins in comparative studies of geographical description, the use of literature in the study of geography has challenged disciplinary boundaries and has influenced scholarly approaches to space and place.

In particular, Hones highlights new developments in the field of literary geography that consider fiction and poetry as explicitly spatial, with the “reading-writing nexus as a contextualised and always emerging event” (1302). The geographies of literature are always arguably twofold, Hones suggests, “the first being the geography of the initial text event, and the second being the geography of the context in which the reader’s experience of that event is later narrated” (1302).

Whilst then the possibilities (texts, events, readings, moments) are manifold in the geo-graphing of literature, it might be helpful to focus on particular examples.

Reviewing for the Guardian, Giles Foden celebrates the first English translation of JMG Le Clezio’s Desert (1980). Preoccupied with migrations and ‘separations from the natural world’ (“issues [that] have become critical globally”), Desert tells the tale of two North African Tuareg children who are variously dispossessed by war and imperialism. Told from “two viewpoints, and in a double time scheme”, Desert may provide a good starting point, replete with its “array of people, places, times, contexts, networks and communities” (Hones, 1301), from which to consider the possibilities of literary geography.

Read Hones, S (2008) Text as It Happens: Literary Geography. Geography Compass. 5. 1301-17

Read Giles Foden’s review of GMJ Le Clezio’s Desert

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