Timely Tenses: Considering Present Tense Narration

Huber, Irmtraud (July 2014). Timely Tenses: Considering Present Tense Narration (Unpublished). In: What Happens Now? Literature in the 21st Century. Lincoln. 14.-17.07.2014.

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When the jury of the Man Booker Prize 2010 chose three novels for their short-list that were written in present tense they earned some harsh criticism. To some, like Philipp Pullman, present tense narration seemed to be no more than an annoying fad, “a silly affectation,” which he criticises as a limitation to narrative possibility.1 Nevertheless, present tense narration is spreading fast, not only among Booker Prize nominees and winners. Indeed, it has become so common that it hardly seems to draw much attention anymore. But what is the appeal of present tense narration to contemporary authors? What effect does the choice of present tense narration have on the ways stories are told and read? This paper will address and compare the use of present tense narration in recent British novels by authors such as Hilary Mantel (Wolf Hall, Bring up the Bodies), Ali Smith (Hotel World, The Accidental ), Tom McCarthy (C) and others, looking for similarities and differences in their respective narrative rationale. In view of the heterogeneous and complex use of present tense in contemporary fiction, I would like to suggest, merely pointing to the pace of contemporary life and the simultaneity of new communication media does not suffice to adequately address a phenomenon that has become a characteristic feature of 21st century narration. 1 Laura Roberts. “Philip Pullman and Philip Hensher criticise Booker Prize for including present tense novels.” The Telegraph. 11. Sept. 2010.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of Linguistics and Literary Studies > Institute of English Languages and Literatures

UniBE Contributor:

Huber, Irmtraud


800 Literature, rhetoric & criticism > 820 English & Old English literatures
400 Language > 420 English & Old English languages




Irmtraud Huber

Date Deposited:

08 Sep 2014 09:52

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2014 09:52



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