This thesis explores the way the stylistic inventiveness of three contemporary novels is situated within a preoccupation with subjectivity. Diary of a Bad Year (2007) by J. M. Coetzee, Saturday (2005) by Ian McEwan, and In a Strange Room (2010) by Damon Galgut all contain autobiographical elements that encourage the identification of the writer with the protagonist, but these elements are also complicated by incongruities that deflect the authority usually granted to the writer. Each novel is narrowly focused on one protagonist, whose subjectivity is both questioned and constituted through its expression in the text: style is shown to be at the heart of their subjectivity. The ethical position of each novel arises from the originary problematic of the otherness discovered within the subject, and the question of relating to others from this starting point.
Diary of a Bad Year is concerned with how the act of writing affects the writer. The novel questions what it means to have and to articulate an opinion, depicting the constitution of the subject in the act of speaking. In Diary of a Bad Year alterity is revealed and created within subjectivity through articulation, but in Saturday alterity is described within the protagonist’s thoughts, without the mediation of writing and voice that Coetzee manipulates. This alterity in Saturday is what enables the text to transcend the limits of the concept of character to incorporate interesting textual effects. The narration of Saturday is irreducible to the provenance of a character or narrating subject, yet is tied in complex ways to the protagonist. In a Strange Room poses another problem of narration through its autobiographical premise. The protagonist’s focus on himself, even in his relation to the landscape, demonstrates a narcissism that is critiqued in all three novels. Galgut’s slippage between pronouns (I, you, he) to describe his protagonist exemplifies the convergence of style and subjectivity: this stylistic emphasis actually describes the strangeness of subjectivity. I conclude by asking what it means to read these novels that inscribe both reader and writer in them, and what kind of response to them is possible.