The Literary Fiction Book Tag

Rachel at pace, amore, libri tagged me for this one and I can’t resist some literary fiction talk so here we go! Her answers are great and worth reading and she links to the booktubers who started this tag and I also enjoyed their videos. (Though “book tube” is a whole other area of the internet I am largely unfamiliar with!

1. How do you define literary fiction?

Wow, starting off with a hard question! Once upon a time I would have given a blithe reply and said it was simply “good fiction”. But what is “good” fiction? Who gets to decide that? Does good means enjoyable?

C.S. Lewis has a quote about friendship that says, “Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.'” I’m inclined to think literary fiction is something similar. The reader might not relate to the character or the circumstance or the location of the story but something in it speaks to you, expresses something you could never quite put your own words to.

2. Name a literary fiction novel with a brilliant character study.

Gilead. I’m going with my gut reaction here and the story of John Ames is so brilliantly and beautifully rendered. The book is almost entirely inside of Ames’ head and his own memories and yet it’s so compelling and Ames feels so real.

3. Name a literary fiction novel that has experimental or unique writing

Rachel gave Eimear McBride’s writing as an example, which is an excellent one and I read McBride for the first time this year so she came to my mind too. I’ll choose another book I read this year instead, which is Lanny by Max Porter. From the structure of the words on the page to the choice of narrators, Porter continuously surprised me right until the very end of the book.

4. Name a literary fiction novel with an interesting structure

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. One character, dozens of possible lives. We witness the main character Ursula live her life over and over again, how different choices lead her different places or how a single moment has repercussions in endless ways. How her personality and her values are altered by the things around her. The novel moves back and forth through Ursula’s life as well as through the early 20th century in Britain and captures so much of both history and human nature.

5. Name a literary fiction novel that explores social themes

There are a LOT of literary fiction novels that could be named here. Arguably, exploring social themes is at the heart of how I would define literary fiction. As such, I’m going to use this as an excuse to slot in my personal favourite novel, In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje. It’s a deeply personal story but it’s also about the birth of a city, about immigration, about class structure, and how society is built, both literally and figuratively.

6. Name a literary fiction novel that explores the human condition

Again, going with my gut and I’m going to say Life of Pi by Yann Martel. Partly because he uses animals so brilliantly to say powerful things about who humans are at their very core.

7. Name a brilliant literary-hybrid genre novel

This is a hard one for me because the line between literary and genre fiction is not one I tread very closely. I don’t read a lot of genre fiction and I’m never sure if it’s a literary snobbishness I’m holding on to or if I just haven’t found the right match for my tastes. My choice here would be Blindness by Jose Saramago. It’s a sort of post-apocalyptic, almost horror story but it’s really about humanity and it’s the sort of story that stays with you for a long, long time.

8. What genre do you wish was mixed with literary fiction more?

As I said, I don’t read a lot of genre fiction. The only one I found myself sometimes drawn to is that post-apocalyptic setting – books like The Road or Station Eleven. So I guess I’d like to see more of those kind of books.

Tagging? Do these questions intrigue you? Do you like my answers? Ardently agree or disagree? Consider yourself tagged! Let me know if you do it so I can read your replies too!

8 thoughts on “The Literary Fiction Book Tag”

    1. Thank you! It’s a tricky question but I’m really enjoying hearing other people’s answers and seeing how they approach it!

  1. Gosh, these questions look deceptively simple till you start trying to answer them! You’ve come up with some interesting answers and I too like your definition of literary fiction – a thing that’s very hard to define but we kind of know it when we see it, I think. I love literary genre fiction, something they did so well at the end of the nineteenth/beginning of the twentieth century and then it seemed to fall out of fashion. I’ve seen recent signs of a revival though, especially in crime, horror and, as you point out, dystopian. I may have to consider myself tagged for this one… πŸ˜€

    1. Yes, you’re so right about the literary genre fiction of the 20th century. Most examples I could think of were from the first half of last century. Consider yourself tagged! Would love to see your answers!

  2. Yay, I’m glad you did this tag! Really interesting answers, I actually haven’t read any of the books you mentioned (with the exception of Station Eleven, which is brilliant). Blindness has been on my shelf for years though and I am super intrigued by it!

    1. Thanks! Blindness is amazing but a very hard read. I’ve never re-read it even though I recommend it to people quite often.

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