Although it has a long history, the composite novel (also known as the short story cycle, among other labels) has only begun to receive critical attention in the last fifty years. Maggie Dunn and Ann Morris define the composite novel as “a literary work composed of shorter texts that—though individually complete and autonomous—are interrelated in a coherent whole according to one or more organizing principles” (1995:2). A proliferation of works corresponding to this, and other variations on the definition, has elevated the composite novel to a staple of contemporary literature, including Pulitzer Prize winners Interpreter of Maladies (Lahiri 1999), Olive Kitteridge (Strout 2009) and A Visit From the Goon Squad (Egan 2010). However, the composite novel’s innovative and anomalous form has not been explored from a writer’s perspective to illustrate how the genre subverts the traditional conventions of both the novel and short story collection and pushes familiar boundaries into new and uncertain literary territory. It is widely accepted that the composite novel requires the reader to make the connections necessary to conceive a sense of textual unity, yet limited scholarly consideration has been allocated to the act of reading as a process through which this gestalt is achieved. Wolfgang Iser asserts that as a literary text can only produce a response when it is read, it is “virtually impossible to describe this response without also analysing the reading process” (1978:ix). In the interests of expanding academic discourse on the composite novel and understanding its application to creative writing practice, this submission compiled under the candidature of a Doctor of Creative Arts (Creative Writing) uses its critical dissertation (exegesis) and creative narrative artefact (thesis) to explore three key research agendas: How does the act of reading as a phenomenological meaning-making activity interface with the composite novel’s previously identified conventions to deliver in a reader the effect of whole text cohesion? Then, analysing Tim Winton’s Australian composite novel The Turning (2004) as a representative text, I ask how such theoretical concepts might be illustrated by practical example; and finally, I explore what influence Iser’s notion of “aesthetic response” (1978:x) has on a composite novel author’s writing process through a reflection on the construction of my accompanying creative artefact, Wool Spin Burn.
Submitted in the fulfilment of the requirements of the degree of Doctor of Creative Arts, University of the Sunshine Coast, 2015.