Definitions of the various labels that publishers and authors use with their work, together with their readers, have always been up for discussion. I recall one ‘argument’ I had with someone who told me point blank that if a book had magical elements with a realistic setting, but the author wasn’t Latinx, that it shouldn’t be called a magical realism novel. I’m afraid that while that might have been the origin of the genre, I still disagree that a non-Latinx author’s book can’t be magical realism. Still, I won’t use that label in those cases, in order not to offend. These types of things are always in the back of my mind, so now is time to wonder…
What is Literary Fiction?
These are my personal opinions. I do not expect anyone to agree with anything here, and in fact, I’m certain that many will disagree and/or even hate many of the things I’ve written below. Sorry about that, but you are always welcome to express your own opinions – be they contrary or comparable – in the comments section. So, with that out of the way… let the controversy begin!
What made me think about this topic?
Recently, my friend Roz Morris posted on her blog an article called “Can we reclaim the term ‘literary fiction’? A conversation with Imogen Clark.” I would suggest you jump on over and take a look at it, because it was fascinating, and it inspired this post.
I consider myself a reader of almost only literary fiction and I don’t see that as an insult, and in fact is very inclusive in that it can be both contemporary and historical. See, I believe that those two refinements as being settings and not genres. On the other hand, although futuristic novels are set in the future, almost all novels set in the future are either fantasy or science fiction. If there are futuristic novels that are neither of those (and I hope someone can point me in the direction of one of those), then I guess they could be literary as well.
As Roz mentioned in one of her podcasts “one definition of a literary fiction book is that it can go where it pleases without having to hit any expected tropes.” Obviously this means that mystery, romance, fantasy, science fiction, and the like, rely heavily on those familiar tropes in order to be included in any particular genre. That also doesn’t mean that literary fiction can’t have a murder or a romance in the story; it just means that the romance or the murder are not the essence of those literary works. By that I mean that if there’s a murder in the story, we won’t spend the whole book trying to solve the crime; if there’s a romantic interest, in a literary work, we might not find out if the couple lives happily ever after or not. That means that in literary fiction, it is the journey of the protagonists that is at the center of the story.
Obviously, one wonders about the age groups as well. Meaning, adult, new adult, young adult, etc. Well, it seems to me that yet again, all of these can be either literary or genre fiction. So the idea that literary fiction is always high-brow and hard to read is, if you ask me, totally inaccurate. If a children’s book is literary fiction, it is just written with a level of vocabulary and language sophistication that a younger person is able to understand. So, no, there’s nothing snobbish about literary fiction either.
In the end, it seems to me that we shouldn’t put any negative connotations on a book that’s been labeled as literary fiction, no more than we should put negative connotations on genre fiction. That’s why I think the answer to Roz’s question is yes, we really can reclaim the term, and I think that most of the definitions can be applied. Those being, a story that doesn’t follow any specific genre’s tropes, that centers around realistic, human issues and how the characters react/cope with them. I think that’s pretty respectable, and no one should be ashamed to say they read it or write it, if you ask me.
So… there you have it!
What do you think Literary Fiction is? Does the term put you off or turn you on?
This post is my 13th entry in the 2021 Discussion Challenge, hosted by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction and Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight!