What is literary fiction?

by Suw on January 15, 2012

I belong to an internet forum populated by a right bunch of weirdos some lovely people, and in the course of discussions about my survey, the one in which I’m trying to figure out how people discover new books and authors (it’s still open, please answer it!), the question was asked:

So what the hell is Literary Fiction? Is everything else is non-literary fiction?

The answers were far too insightful to just leave them hidden away in our little corner of the web, so I’m happy to say that I have permission to share them with you. Names have been redacted to protect the innocent.

Serious books that aspire to be literature. Full of high falutin ideas and not many knob gags.

You mean books that the reviewer and/or marketer didn’t understand (or finish?) and couldn’t place elsewhere?

And a lack of death-rays, super-villains etc

What’s the difference between “classics” and “literary?”

Classics is old. Literary is new stuff pretending to be good.

I reckon literary fiction is where the prose is so good the plot can afford to be poo. They make great reads but lesser films.

So can I assume “literary” is “everything left over without a genre”? You know, books about people and their problems who aren’t aliens/knights/spies/criminals/women?

Some are good, but some are a navel-gazing wankathons. Try The Finkler Question. Great prose, but sod all happens.

The stuff that wins awards, but nobody actually reads?

I think some of those definitions are pretty much spot on. 😉

Tim January 16, 2012 at 10:48 am

Literary fiction is what goes on the slush pile of literary history. Very little of it emerges as literature a generation or two later. So it has always been and will be.

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