What I talk about when I talk about literary fiction
I definitely agree that defining lit fic as solely character driven isn’t quite accurate! I agree wholeheartedly with you 3 definitions of lit fic. I’d add books like ‘Giovannis Room’ by James Baldwin, ‘The Death of Vivek Oji’ Akwaeke Emezi, ‘Demon Copperhead’ by Barbara Kingsolver, ‘Young Mungo’ by Douglas Stuart, ‘Homegoing’ by Yaa Gyasi and ‘Black Butterflies’ by Priscilla Morris to that list & recommend them as really exceptional books in the lit fit genre!
Favorite literary fiction: Notes on an Execution, Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, Still Life, The Interestings, The Most Fun We Ever Had. I would also call Tana French’s mystery novels (which I love) literary fiction, more than genre.
What plot-driven story doesn't have character at its heart? I understand that distinction, but in any story, if you don't care about the character then the plot folds. I found that to be the difference between my most recent reads, Robert Wilson's two spy thriller/historical/crime mystery books: A Small Death in Lisbon (I loved) and In the Company of Strangers (great plot, but left me feeling flat from a character point of view - good probably if you like romance?) The writing is very good, but I wouldn't go as far to say literary even though both books struggle to fit a specific genre.
However, I would place Elif Shafaq, Mariana Enriquez, Haruki Murakami, Suzanna Clarke, Elisa Shua Dusapin and Muriel Barbery in the category of literary and I think that I would say that it has something to do with attention to pushing the limits of their craft, their use of language and perhaps a little experimentation with form. From the start you feel, oh this is new, let's see where this takes me. They are like rebel writers who satisfy something in the rebel reader that genre tropes and conventions just cannot meet. I come away with a feeling of fullness, of being challenged, that different slant on life that leaves a memorable trace long after the book is finished.
Thank you for getting me to think about this, Sara!
This is great. It’s so hard to define for people who don’t read it :)