Simpson, Peter (2022) A Voice in The Dark – [Re]Constructing Josey Knight: Narrative, Time, and Memory in This Hollow Vale. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

This Hollow Vale is an epic dementia fantasy that explores the nexus between time and narrative, music and memory, and identity and consciousness, in a creative attempt to represent the interior life of a protagonist with Alzheimer’s disease. The novel reflects a growing contemporary fascination with the narrativisation of dementia, fuelled by constant media interest and burgeoning individual and societal experience of the syndrome. Nevertheless, despite the fact that there are now many cultural texts featuring dementia – including successful fictional representations across a wide range of genres, the use of epic fantasy in This Hollow Vale makes it distinctive, perhaps even unique. The novel draws attention to the plight of those living with a dementia diagnosis by presenting a mature female protagonist (a former opera singer) seemingly silenced by Alzheimer’s. This Hollow Vale opens with 70-year-old Dame Josephine (Josey) Knight clinging to life in a nursing home, isolated by her dementia and largely forgotten by family and friends. When fire engulfs her room, death seems inevitable. Inexplicably, however, Josey sidesteps this fate and finds herself translated into a parallel world (the Vale of the title), a dystopia where music is outlawed, and singing is considered a dark art. On waking in The Vale, it seems Josey possesses strange powers linked to her voice that cause those she encounters to believe that she’s the reincarnation of a saint. Josey becomes a figurehead for The Vale’s rebel movement, and her adventures while trying to find her way back home form the greater part of the novel. In two sections, the accompanying exegesis considers how the fantasy novel has been employed to effect this representation. It focusses on a key aspect of the narrativisation process – the use of time – before going on to offer a comparison between the way characters with dementia are represented in This Hollow Vale, and in three other novels featuring protagonists with similar diagnoses: Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante, Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey, and Naomi Krüger’s May. Far from being an inappropriate vehicle for the exploration of radical or ethically complex issues (such as those faced by someone living with Alzheimer’s), the fantasy genre not only provides opportunity for the temporal experimentation which has been central to this interpretation of the subjectivity of dementia, but more importantly, it also offers an imaginative platform from which the stifling conventions of ageing and illness in our society can be challenged. In a time of mass upheaval and moral uncertainty, where the vital function of elderhood seems to have been lost, and when our response to diseases such as Alzheimer's often calls into question our understanding of what it means to be human, it has never been more important to actively engage in re-imagining dementia. This Hollow Vale sets out to show this process at work, and by exploring the intricate consciousness and undeniable humanity of a protagonist with dementia we are asked to pause and reflect on our own consciousness and humanity, a request that is as crucial as it is timely.

SIMPSON, P - THESIS.pdf - Accepted Version
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