The Abnormal Mind
: Representations of Deviance and Madness in Contemporary Fiction

  • Charlotte Rose Allen

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis examines the role of the deviant individual in four twenty-first century novels - Sebastian Faulks’ Engleby (2007), Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin (2003), Zoe Heller’s Notes on a Scandal (2003) and Tom McCarthy’s Remainder (2005) - and uses a number of recent media figures – Anders Breivik, Jeremy Forrest and Joanna Dennehy – as cultural reference points. The thesis explores the narrative ways in which the deviant individual and their anti-social or transgressive acts are reconfigured in terms of madness and abnormality. Through this process of defining the individual as mad, the thesis examines how these four novels in particular draw attention to profound structures that underpin the way notions of normality and sanity are also defined in contrast. Through an examination of the socio-cultural representation of diagnostic categories such as personality disorder, and legal clauses such as the diminished responsibility clause of the Homicide Act, the thesis looks at the way contemporary society categorises the human subject in the aftermath of a violent or deviant act, as a means of restoring social order. The thesis goes on to explore the notion of the mad individual being positioned in the role of scapegoat, by being expelled from society through these discursive structures, resulting through this process, in the re-establishment of the contemporary social status quo. The novels examined in this thesis are integral in facilitating this critical analysis of contemporary culture. The thesis examines the metafictional tropes used by the authors to draw attention to these profound social inequalities, which has the effect of galvanising the reader into reconsidering their own role in the interpretation of and reflection on these events, and crucially, these human subjects.
Date of Award17 May 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aberystwyth University
SupervisorLuke Thurston (Supervisor) & Helena Grice (Supervisor)

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