Stories of energy in contemporary novels: reframing energy through narratives, genres and metaphors

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This article considers the role which literary representations play in challenging public perceptions of energy, and argues that literary critics have a particular contribution to make to the emerging field of ‘energy humanities’ by raising critical awareness of the framing of energy choices through narratives, generic conventions and metaphors. It examines three twenty-first-century novels, each of which is concerned with a different primary energy source. Andreas Eschbach’s 'Ausgebrannt' (Burned Out, 2007) explores the economic, political and social consequences of the exhaustion of oil supplies. Ian McEwan’s 'Solar' (2010) casts doubt on humanity’s ability to learn to live sustainably, despite presenting a technological breakthrough to unlimited renewable energy as within reach. Jonathan Franzen’s 'Freedom' (also 2010) critiques a way of thinking in mainstream American environmentalism by telling the story of a man who is paradoxically led to advocate coal mining in the particularly destructive form of Mountain Top Removal in order to preserve the habitat of an endangered species of bird. In each novel, the re-shaping of perceptions of energy sourcing and consumption through narratives, genres, metaphors and cultural references is discussed. The article argues that insights into this process can inform public debates on energy, the use of natural resources, and climate change.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)IV 1 - IV 15
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 3 Dec 2017


  • energy
  • narrative
  • contemporary novel
  • Andreas Eschbach
  • Jonathan Franzen
  • Ian McEwan


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