Dementia in the Minds of Characters & Readers

Funded by the AHRC and led by at team at Queen’s University Belfast, this project investigates how the language of contemporary fiction represents the minds of characters with dementia. Have you ever read a novel and felt like you understood – maybe even shared – the character’s thoughts? How do authors use language to create a fictional mind that we can believe in, care about or even briefly share? Is it possible that when readers ‘try on’ fictional minds, they learn something about other people, real people, in the process?

There has been a ‘boom’ in fiction about dementia, reflecting the rise in the condition itself and society’s need to understand it. This research project looks specifically at contemporary fiction which gives interior access to the minds of characters with dementia. The three main stages of the project are:

  1. Mind style analysis: stylistic analyses of the fictional texts, revealing how the language represents the cognitive experience of these characters i.e. their mind styles (see Lugea 2022).
  2. Reading groups: Extracts from the fiction are then used in reading groups to investigate how real readers respond to these mind styles. The readers’ responses inform our understanding of how the fiction works, but also reveal the impact of fictional accounts of dementia on readers, culture and society (see Carney et al 2023).
  3. Outreach and impact activities: Our dedicated Outreach Officer, Jan Carson, curated a wonderful programme of events, from creative writing workshops informed by the project’s findings to a Dementia Fiction Festival in 2021. With the project’s PI, Jan co-edited an anthology of fiction inspired by dementia experiences, A Little Unsteadily into Light, which features a stellar line-up of diverse authors, including two emerging writers who attended our workshops.

In the blog section of this website, Jan Carson shares some reviews of the many books, films and graphic novels on dementia she has read. See her blogpost My Dementia Bookcase to get started.

Catch up with some of the talks delivered as part of our research project on our YouTube channel.