Writing water justice in the twenty-first century: Environmental novels, neoliberalism, and water politics

Cahillane, Ashley
This thesis poses drought as a literary problem. It analyses seven different twenty first-century novels which respond to drought events as a way of articulating culturally and historically specific anxieties surrounding human-created climate change and global ecological destruction. These novels are: Fabienne Bayet-Charlton’s Watershed (2005); Karen Jayes’s For the Mercy of Water (2012); Dominique Botha’s False River (2013); Claire Vaye Watkins’s Gold Fame Citrus (2015); Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife (2015); Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones (2016); and Mary Costello’s The River Capture (2019). Using ecocritical and ecofeminist approaches, I argue that these novels both require and provide a means of engaging critically with water and environmental politics. They show an emphasis on freshwater’s value to the human body, which can be connected to ecofeminist reckonings with the feminisation and subordination of the body, emotions, care work, the material world, and nature in Western culture. Moreover, these texts connect the body to larger scales of economy, ecology, and society; their representations of infrastructure failure, climate change, privatisation, dispossession, over-extraction, among a host of other water-related problems, prompt thinking about how water crises are manufactured by the historical and current disregard and exploitation of nature and people under global capitalism. Embracing the biological, sensory, political, and ecological value of freshwater, I also investigate how water-inspired formal experimentation in these novels challenges (or reinforces) the gendered human/nature and mind/body dualisms that so often dominates the novel form. The novel form has a history of privileging individual psychological development against inert environments, yet some of these texts construct narrative forms that convey human embodiment and subjectivity as collective, more-than-human, political, and contingent on environmental conditions. My contention is that freshwater itself pushes the novel form in more ecologically- and socially-just directions.
NUI Galway
Publisher DOI
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Ireland