I was kindly tagged by Rachel to do The Literary Fiction Book Tag, which was started over on booktube by Jasmine’s Reads. All books I mention are linked, in case you’d like to know more, but without further ado, let’s jump right into the questions!
1. How do you define literary fiction?
Ah, yes, the million-dollar question. Put very simply, if genre fiction’s primary focus is plot, then literary fiction favours language, form, and structure. Of course, this is a generalisation: genre fiction can be beautifully written, and literary fiction can tell a thrilling story. I suppose it comes down to nuance. Genre fiction is inherently tied to certain conventions (even if it explores them from unexpected angles), whilst literary fiction has a certain sense of freedom when it comes to the themes it explores, and the techniques it employs to do so; often with a focus on the human experience.
I also think it can simply serve as a handy umbrella term for well-crafted fiction that defies categorization.
2. Name a literary fiction novel with a brilliant character study
I’m going to go with a recent read for this, in the hope that more people will pick it up. What Red Was by Rosie Price is one of the most comprehensive looks at the impact of sexual assault, both physical and mental, that I’ve ever read. Kate’s reaction to her ordeal is heartbreaking in its honesty, and by placing such a heavy focus on the toll her experience takes on her most treasured friendship, Price is able to show us the ripple effect of trauma from one person to the next.
3. Name a literary fiction novel that has experimental or unique writing
In many ways, Max Porter’s Lanny reads like an extended prose poem. One of the book’s prominent forces, Dead Papa Toothwort (a mysterious, folkloric being tied to nature), looms over a small commuter village, knitting random snatches of mundane goings on into a symphony of everyday life that literally weaves its way across the page. In another section, we observe a series of vignettes, with the perspective shifting seamlessly from villager to villager. In another, we descend into a full-blown fever dream of magical realism. It’s a book that is constantly reinventing itself stylistically; the kind that really has to be experienced to appreciate.
4. Name a literary fiction novel with an interesting structure
The Lightkeepers by Abby Geni follows a nature photographer during her year-long residency on the remote and rugged Farallon Islands. Taking place throughout that year, the book is split into four seasons, with each section named for the animal species that dominates during that time (Shark Season, Whale Season, Seal Season, and Bird Season). The idea of a natural cycle ties into several prominent themes, including the organic process of coming to terms with grief and trauma; the animalistic survival instinct in all of us; and our crucial ties to the natural world.
5. Name a literary fiction novel that explores social themes
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss is a little powerhouse of a novel. In a time of Brexit division and anti-immigration rhetoric, the author explores the notions of nationalism, violence, toxic masculinity, gender, class, and power; all of which are incredibly pressing social themes.
6. Name a literary fiction novel that explores the human condition
Trumpet by Jackie Kay is the story of a celebrated male musician who, upon his death, is discovered to have been born biologically female. By following the impact this revelation going public has on his widow and son, Kay examines the most human condition of all; the universal question of what it means to love someone, regardless of issues like gender, class, and skin tone.
7. Name a brilliant literary-hybrid genre novel
The Last by Hanna Jameson instantly comes to mind for this. It manages to incorporate the hallmarks of many distinct and disparate genres, but her focus on the psychology of her characters throughout ties everything together. At once a murder mystery, a post-apocalyptic survival tale, and a political satire; on paper this book shouldn’t work, but Jameson pulls it off thanks to her strong prose and the deft handling of her many plot threads.
8. What genre do you wish was mixed with literary fiction more?
If I see the words ‘gothic literary fiction’ or ‘literary horror’ written on a book, I will buy it. Simple as that.
Thanks again to Rachel for tagging me! Since she tagged many of my favourite literary fiction bloggers (and because I’m lazy), I will leave this open to anyone who would like to get involved. Let me know if you do it – I’d love to check out your answers!