The first component of the thesis is a composite novel called Cult which falls into two parts with seven narratives in each. Part 1 tracks the protagonist, Ellen, from her first involvement with the cult through to her eventually leaving it. Although fiction,the first half of the book answers the kinds of questions the author is asked when people discover that she was once a sannyasin (a follower of the guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh). While the experiences of meditation, group therapy and communal living are all faithfully rendered within the stories, the need for strong characters, narrative drive and a lightness of touch takes precedence.

Part 2 picks up Ellen’s story some twenty or so years later and explores what becomes of her in middle age. It also looks at other groups in society, such as academia, the law and the internet dating community which each have their own jargon, hierarchies, rituals and rules but are not considered to be cults. The book examines the question raised in the Epigraph, ‘how do we be together when we feel so alone’ with a focus on relationships other than the familial and the romantic.

The second part of the thesis is both a critical and creative response to three contemporary American books: Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout; A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan; and Legend of a Suicide by David Vann. The critical element comprises a close reading of the three books; a chronological reconstruction of their overarching storylines; and a consideration of what their authors have said about writing the books. It concludes that, in the composite novel, the simultaneous presentation of multiple views and storylines operate much like a 3D image to give the impression of depth to the characters and situations rendered. The creative element of the essay is a playful and personal response to the texts.

from Joseph, Vinita (2014) Cult: A Composite Novel. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (KAR id:47604)

Direct link to redacted version (sans the composite novel): https://kar.kent.ac.uk/47604/1/post%20approval%20collation%202%20-%20redacted.pdf

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