If you asked me what my favourite genre is I would probably tell you literary fiction. I sometimes feel that the genre gets a bad rap and that people think that it is pretentious or too complicated. It is also a confusing genre and it can be difficult to determine what counts as literary fiction and what doesn’t. That is why I was so excited to find this tag on Rachels blog, Pace, Amore, Libri.
1. How do you define literary fiction?
This is such a complicated question! For me, I know a literary fiction novel when I see one. The definition is a little bit fuzzy, but in my mind literary fiction is character-driven vs. plot-driven. They are often slow-paced and tackle complex themes. Many people see literary fiction as highbrow, which I believe does a disservice to both it and genre fiction. Both have so much merit! Sure, literary fiction can be complicated, but not always, and I think the term can scare readers from giving books they could potentially love a chance. A lot of genre fiction is also complex and tackles difficult themes! There are also some books that fall in to a more specific genre that I would consider more literary- it such a difficult thing to define in words.
2. Name a literary fiction novel with a brilliant character study.
There There by Tommy Orange
There There follows many different characters with many different personalities and life circumstances who all find themselves attending the same Powwow. We learn about each of their pasts and what brought them to this very moment. It is compelling look at what it means to be Native American in a modern age. Each of the characters has their own struggles and the reader comes to know each and every one of them as individuals by the end of the novel. It makes what happens and the choices the certain characters make that much more gut-wrenching.
3. Name a literary fiction novel that has experimental or unique writing.
Women Talking by Miriam Toews
There is something so special about the way that Women Talking is written. The novel, which takes place over the course of two days, is based on actual events that occurred in a Mennonite community. It is a book that gives a voice to the voiceless. Reading it feels as though you are part of the conversation, that you are one of the Mennonite women who has world has been turned upside and that you must come to a decision- whether to fight, stay, or leave. It feels so personal and made me emotional in a way no other book has- I think that it has a lot to do with how it is written.
4. Name a literary fiction novel with an interesting structure.
Lanny by Max Porter
It is hard to explain just how Lanny is formatted and structured. I highly recommend downloading a sample chapter from Amazon or Goodreads. You will instantly get an idea of what I am talking about. The story is set in a small town where a young boy goes missing. There is something, or should I saw someone, sinister that may be to blame. The reader hears from this creatures perspective and the way in which those passages are written is unique and adds to the creepiness of the story. It is just brilliant!
5. Name a literary fiction novel that explores social themes.
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Immigration is such a hot topic these days, and I think that everyone would benefit from reading Exit West. It is an interesting look at what it means to be a refugee- never feeling like you have a place in the world. The story follows one particular couple, so their experience and feelings will not be universal, but I think that the novels sheds an important light on the issue- it brings some humanity to the conversation.
6. Name a literary fiction novel that explores the human condition.
Normal People by Sally Rooney
On the surface Normal People seems like a simple story about a couple navigating the ups and downs of their relationship, but it ends up being so much more than that. There is something so real about this story and I think many readers will see themselves reflected in these characters. I have never read such an honest look at what it means to be in a relationship. I know I am not the only one who can relate to the notion of being with someone who is both and the right person and the wrong person at the same time.
7. Name a brilliant literary-hybrid genre novel.
Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller
Bitter Orange has become one of my favourite novels of all time, and big reason for that is because it manages to crossover so many genres and it does it so seamlessly. It is definitely literary fiction, but it is also historical fiction (set in 1969) and a mystery. There is sinister air throughout the entire novel that is so brilliantly executed. The small reveals as the story progress kept me turning the pages.
8. What genre do you wish was mixed with literary fiction more?
I have come to the realization that I adore magical realism, especially if it is found within a work of literary fiction. In fact, two of the novels that I spoke about in this tag are what I would consider to be magical realism- Exit West and Lanny. I am also on the lookout for books like this so any recommendations you have would be highly appreciated!
If you are a fan of literary fiction, I would love to see your answers. I would be curious to know what other people’s definition of literary fiction would be- it is a term that I struggle to define myself!
28 thoughts on “The Literary Fiction Book Tag”
Love your answers!
Thank you! It was a tough one!
I enjoy your definition of literary fiction, I don’t think I could have put it into words as great as you did!
Thank you! I definitely had to put some thought in to that one!
great answers! I loved your answer to definition.
I completely agree about magical realism! Great answers 🥰
Yes! I love magical realism. Thank you!
I’m happy you tackled this subject Kristin! I think of Gentleman in Moscow as literary fiction. Also, This Must Be The Place and Crossing to Safety. I think the big book award winners are usually literary fiction. I most often think of literary fiction as contemplating/exploring the meaning of life!
On the topic of magical realism, did you read Harry’s Trees?
I am dying to read Gentlemen of Moscow. I just know I am going to love it! I completely agree with you about literary fiction exploring the meaning of life–great point!
I haven’t read Harry’s Trees yet but it is sitting on my shelf. How was it?
I think you’ll love GiM Kristin! I loved him! The structure is unique (time doubles with each chapter and then midpoint, reverses) and the writing is exquisite!
HT was ok for me …..I’m not a huge magical realism fan but I can see how someone who is would absolutely love it! I’ve read wonderful reviews. I think you’d enjoy it!
Yay, I’m so glad you did this tag! I love your definition of literary fiction – I agree it’s hard to pin down and very ‘I know it when I see it.’ I really need to read Women Talking – I started reading it a few months ago but didn’t have time to continue, but I loved the writing style!
I’d be so curious to see what you end up thinking of Women Talking. It’s very unique!
Thank you! 😊
Great article! I’ve liked several of the books you mentioned. Was literally just about to pick up Bitter Orange from my library tomorrow, looking forward to it after this!
this is such a great tag! I love reading literary fiction. I think most people think of it as a separate genre and I used to too, but I try not to. I think it’s a broad term that’s applied to a type of writing or angle taken with a story…I’m still working out my definition of it.
That’s pretty much how I feel as well!
I had actually never heard of Bitter Orange but the way you summed it up makes it seem like the perfect mash-up of genres for me! Thanks for sharing 🙂
Awesome! It’s such a great book!
Agreed. Literary fiction is too diverse it is quite difficult to define. haha. You just kind of know one when you read one.
Great post! I’m planning to do this tag as well at some point, and have been mulling over how to define lit fic- it is so hard to describe! But all of your answers seem so fitting. 🙂 I just started Lanny and can see exactly what you mean about the structure; and you’ve also reminded me that I need to read There There!
I’m looking forward to reading your answers! Both Lanny and There There are incredible. I hope you enjoy them!
Yay! Another literary fiction reader. I read ‘Exit West’ this year and thought it was a very interesting look at being a refugee, yet it was honestly kind of a disappointment. I think it was because it had been on my list since 2017 and was expecting much more of an emotional punch. I also think it was just a mood thing for me, sometimes when I read too much literary fiction I start craving a happier story and I think that’s the place I was in when I read ‘Exit West.’
Shows how important mood and expectations are!
I really am looking forward to reading ‘There, There’ though!
I can totally understand that. Exit West was not what I was expecting, but I enjoyed it. I definitely relate to needed a happier sorry every once in awhile. Too much literary fiction can be heavy on the soul.
Such a great book tag, from a fellow literary fiction lover!
Yes! Literary fiction can get such a bad rap!
I define literary fiction as fiction that has something significant to say about the human condition, as opposed to just telling an entertaining story. But.. no reason why you can’t have both.
That’s a great definition!