Ann Quin’s Passages

Cardiff BookTalk, in association with Cardiff University’s Modern and Contemporary PGR Group, is delighted to invite you to our April 2021 event, which will be considering Ann Quin’s Passages.

Not that I’ve dismissed the possibility my brother is dead. We have discussed what is possible what is not.

A woman and man search a nameless Mediterranean country for the woman’s missing brother, who appears to been caught up in the bloody aftermath of a failed revolution. Taking the form of diaries that alternate between the two characters’ perspectives, the pair confront the hard reality of totalitarian violence and the pervasive degradations of poverty, as well as their own messy dreams and fantasies. Dodging the secret police as they follow increasingly tenuous leads, where will their odyssey take them?

A dream-journal, radical travelogue and Burroughsian cut-up, Passages is a book consumed by a dark, repetitive eroticism. Excerpts, notes and fragments build into a fractured tale held together by the force of Quin’s voice – fearless, musical and determined.

Ann Quin’s first novel Berg was hailed as an instant classic on its publication in 1964. She was associated with the circle of British experimental writers that included B.S. Johnson and Eva Figes. Influenced by French writers of the nouveau roman, such as Alain Robbe-Grillet and Marguerite Duras, she wrote from a working-class viewpoint but rejected the era’s dominant tendency for social realism. She experienced mental ill-health throughout her life and her writing is noted for its perceptive exploration of dark, psychological themes.

Neglected since her death in 1973 at the age of just 37, Quin’s work is now coming back into print in the UK. Heralded as an innovative and forward-looking exponent of the intersectional underground, she has been claimed as an influence by contemporary writers such as Deborah Levy, Tom McCarthy, Juliet Jacques and China Miéville.

To guide us in our discussion of Passages, Cardiff University’s Arwa F. Al-Mubaddel and Josh Powell will be joined by guest chair Nonia Williams from the University of East Anglia.

Arwa F. Al-Mubaddel is working on her PhD at Cardiff University and specializes in metamodernism and female subjectivity in British women‘s writing. Arwa will be presenting ‘Shapes Suiting [Her] Fancy’: Visual Narrative and Cinematic Vision in Ann Quin’s Passages.

Arwa will explore Passages by considering its fragmented structure and kinetic qualities and encouraging a reading of it as an experimental ‘visual text’. She will touch upon the paintings The Birth of Venus by early Rennaissance artist Sandro Botticelli and Eurydice No. 2 by painter and psychoanalyst Bracha L. Ettinger, as well as Maya Deren’s experimental short film Meshes of the Afternoon (, which we recommend viewing before the talk.

Josh Powell is a lecturer in English Literature at Cardiff University and has written extensively on Samuel Beckett and experimental psychology. His talk, Ann Quin’s Passages and the Literature of Depersonalisation, will look at the text in relation to the psychiatric understanding of depersonalisation – an experience of unreality and detachment from one’s ‘mind’, ‘self’, ‘body’, or ‘surroundings’.

Josh will be looking at the way that the diaristic approach to the text not only articulates experiences that would fall under the contemporary clinical definition of depersonalisation but also recalls the literary work that inspired this psychiatric term in the nineteenth century: Henri-Frédéric Amiel’s Journal Intime.

Our guest host Nonia Williams is a lecturer in the School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. Her research interests include Modernist and experimental aesthetics, gender and sexuality, literature and madness, and the writing of Ann Quin, Doris Lessing and Muriel Spark.

Our speakers will present a 10-15 minute talk, followed by an opportunity for audience questions and discussion. To make the most of the session, you may like to read Passages. Further recommended texts include Quin’s novels Berg, Three and her short story collection The Unmapped Country, as well as Maya Deren’s short film Meshes of the Afternoon and Henri-Frédéric Amiel’s Journal Intime.

The event is free and open to all. Book your place via Eventbrite at the link:

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