This tag was created by Jasmine over at Jasmine’s Reads on booktube. I was NOT tagged for this by Claire from Claire Reads Books but we have since decided to advocate in favor of booktube/book blogging cross-pollination so I am doing this tag as a self-proclaimed ambassador of booktuber/book blogger relations. Also I like literary fiction, as you may have noticed.
1. How do you define literary fiction?
Claire had a really good answer for this so I highly recommend watching her video, but I’ll try to come up with something.
I basically think of literary fiction as fiction that’s particularly concerned with style, structure, and quality of prose. That’s not to say that literary fiction has ‘good writing’ and genre fiction doesn’t (because first of all, ‘good writing’ is way too subjective to be a real standard, and second of all, that statement would be blatantly untrue), but in genre fiction, I see the prose more as a vehicle to move the story forward, and in literary fiction, I think the writing and stylistic choices dovetail more with the author’s thematic intentions. I also think an interest in social commentary is a common feature.
2. Name a literary fiction novel with a brilliant character study
Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney
Since Claire already talked about The Idiot by Elif Batuman (my go-to answer for any question like this) I will instead go with Conversations With Friends. What I think Sally Rooney does so well is balance characters’ inner lives and interpersonal lives, and while I think she did that splendidly with Connell and Marianne in Normal People, I think it’s Conversations With Friends where her prowess at characterization is most prominent. Each of the characters in this book are frustrating, complex, contradictory, and layered, none more-so than the protagonist, Frances, one of the most vivid characters I’ve ever encountered.
3. Name a literary fiction novel that has experimental or unique writing
A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride
I just finished reading this the other day so it’s the one that’s on my mind the most at the moment (and Jasmine also used this in her tag), but it’s honestly the perfect answer. Eimear McBride has a striking prose style that can probably best be categorized as stream of consciousness, but it’s not the kind of rambling Joycean stream of consciousness that a lot of us think of when we heard the term. Instead, sentences are abrupt, terse – thoughts begin and then cut themselves off and trip over one another. It takes some getting used to, but once you warm up to the style McBride’s skill is undeniable. She writes with similar prose in her sophomore novel, The Lesser Bohemians, which I actually read first, though I do consider A Girl if a Half-formed Thing superior in just about every way.
“I love the. Something of all it. Feeling ruined. Fucking. Off. I’m ready. Ready ready. To be this other other. To fill out the corners of this person who doesn’t sit in the photos on the mantel next to you.”
– Eimear McBride, A Girl is a Half-formed Thing
4. Name a literary fiction novel with an interesting structure
How to be Both by Ali Smith
It’s an obvious answer, but I’m going with it. How to be Both is noteworthy for the fact that it’s a novel comprised of two different halves: one story is about a girl, George, living in contemporary London, and the other is about a painter, Francescho, in Renaissance Italy. 50% of the editions printed begin with George’s half, the other 50% begin with Francescho’s. But rather than being two disparate short stories connected in a single binding, How to be Both is very much a novel, one whose meaning shifts ever so slightly depending on which section you get first. It sounds like a gimmick, but it’s done brilliantly.
5. Name a literary fiction novel that explores social themes
Milkman by Anna Burns
Set in 1970s Belfast, Milkman is a novel about the Troubles, which captures the atmosphere of social unrest with unerring precision. Anna Burns perfectly brings to life this community characterized by paranoia and terror and distrust, and ties into that a searing commentary on what it’s like to live under surveillance as a young woman. It’s both a universal portrait of femininity in times of crisis, and distinctly Northern Irish in its portrayal of the Troubles, tackling social themes on both micro and macro levels.
6. Name a literary fiction novel that explores the human condition
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
I could actually use this book as an answer to every single one of these questions, but I have to put it here, because I have never read another book that offers more of an unapologetic examination of what it means to be human. It’s hard to talk about this novel’s plot as there’s a twist partway through that reframes the entire narrative and I think it’s best to go into it not knowing what that twist is, but, this is my favorite book, so I don’t know how to give praise much higher than that.
7. Name a brilliant literary-hybrid genre novel
I’m going to name a couple:
Literary thriller: Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk
Literary sci-fi: Kindred by Octavia Butler
Literary historical fiction: Human Acts by Han Kang
Literary erotica: The Pisces by Melissa Broder
Drive Your Plow: technically a murder mystery about a woman living in the Polish wilderness whose neighbors keep mysteriously dying, but it’s literary for the attention paid to the slightly offbeat prose style, and the fact that the narrative is less concerned with the murders themselves than their social implications.
Kindred: sci-fi because it’s about time travel, literary because the time travel is just a vehicle used to explore social themes of Civil War era slavery in the US.
Human Acts: about the Gwangju Uprising in 1980 Korea; literary for the prose style and unconventional format.
The Pisces: a woman has sex with a merman — but it’s literary for its highly intelligent commentary on love, loss, loneliness, desire, mental health, and femininity.
8. What genre do you wish was mixed with literary fiction more?
Given how much I adored The Pisces, I could definitely go for some more literary romance/erotica. But honestly, I read across all genres, so seeing ‘literary’ attached to anything is a big selling point for me.
In an effort to further my booktube/book blog cross-pollination agenda, I will be tagging a bunch of people. But feel free to skip it, obviously, and feel free to do it if I didn’t tag you!