Thursday, April 09, 2009

Literary Fiction vs the Genres

I probably have a skewed view of literature. It comes from still having to read Dr Seuss when I was eight years old. The first book I actually consumed driven by my own volition was Swallows and Amazons. My father had been reading it to me. I was in bed sick and very, very bored. The book was within reach. I was eleven or twelve.

I loved stories. But for me, like other dyslexics, the process of decoding the words was a barrier. Imagine using a chart to read a book printed in the dots and dashes of Morse code. If the author put in a wasted sentence, you might resent the extra effort. Perhaps that is why I gravitated towards genre fiction in adult life. It tended to put less barriers between me and the story being told.

The conventional wisdom of the literary establishment is that 'literary fiction' is the highest form of the art. That is why a crime novel could never win the Booker Prize. The belief is, genre fiction is populist, low-brow, commercial and tends to be shallow.

I do not accept this.

It seems to me that a story can be simply told and at the same time have great beauty and many layers of meaning. There is no reason why a novel found on the crime shelves could not also be a great work of art. And, by the same token, no reason why a novel found among works of literary fiction could not also be an enjoyable and accessible yarn.


Barney said...

I agree with you. Surely the basis of fiction, whether literary or genre, is a good story. Or is that terribly old fashioned? I also like music to have a good tune. I have no patience with the kind of elitist intellectual pretentiousness that decries story and tune and which disconnects itself from the generality of humankind.

Rod Duncan said...

My ideal is a literature that is so layered that it can be appreciated immediately and each time you read it you discover more.

This could be literary fiction - if it overcomes the tendancy to be remote. It could be genre fiction if it overcomes the tendancy to be shallow.