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What makes a story 'literary'?

Discussion in 'Café Life' started by Paul Whybrow, Jul 6, 2017.

  1. Paul Whybrow

    Paul Whybrow Venerated Member

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    I've just finished reading Helen Cadbury's first crime novel, To Catch A Rabbit, which was enjoyable. I'm looking forward to reading the follow-up, Bones In The Nest.

    She's been through a rollercoaster journey in recent years, with two books published and optioned for television series, but brought down by a fight with cancer:

    Cancer, crime and turning 50 - author Helen Cadbury on the year which changed her life forever

    There's an endorsement quote by Lesley Glaister on the cover. She's a highly experienced novelist, and knows her stuff:

    "A rare find—a literary crime novel that you can't put down."

    This made me wonder what makes a novel 'literary'. There's snobbiness about what one reads, with various interpretations made about the difference between genre writing and literature:

    Literary Fiction vs. Genre Fiction | HuffPost

    I write crime novels and enjoy reading within the crime genre. Some of the more literary authors I favour include Dennis Lehane, John Connolly, Michael Connelly and James Lee Burke. They're literary because of their use of stylish language and willingness to unravel the emotions of their characters. To my mind, genre writing is more simplistic, with the action taking precedence over character development.

    Helen Cadbury's writing is literary because she tackles the thought processes of her protagonist, but it's not that challenging to read.

    Does that mean that literature has to be difficult to get through, but it has a density of meaning that genre writing lacks?

    How do you define literary writing? Posh words? A preachy delivery by the author? No great thrills in sight? Pretentiousness?
     
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  2. Robinne Weiss

    Robinne Weiss Venerated Member

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    I think that HuffPost article hit the nail on the head. Literary fiction is real-world stuff that examines the human condition. I go to literary fiction when I want to think and feel. I go to genre fiction when I want a good yarn, when I want to escape from thinking and feeling. "Literary" is simply another genre. I think of it as "real world"--the events could realistically be happening right now in my own neighbourhood or my own household. The action is every day life sorts of things--death, illness, relationship guff--things we all are likely to experience. Literary fiction examines everyday people's reactions to these everyday events. Because they resonate with us on a personal, intimate level, it makes us think. Not that sci-fi or fantasy (or any other genre) can't do this, too (read Ken Liu's short stories for great examples of 'literary' sci-fi), but it's harder to relate to the emotional turmoil of someone living on a space station in another solar system, because so much about their situation is foreign. The reader can dismiss the deeper meanings and focus on the fantasy world or the cool technology, or the fight scenes.
     
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  3. Marc Joan

    Marc Joan Venerated Member Founding Member

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    Difficult to construct a definition that meets all cases, but generally you know lit fic when you see it. But for me the most interesting fiction blurs the boundaries; so-called 'genre-bending'.
     
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  4. Geoff

    Geoff Well-Known Member Founding Member

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    On completing the first draft of a new work I am often unsure as to which genre my finished creation has finally fallen into. I start off clear enough, but then the 'horror' story begins to spread it's content across other boundaries until it becomes a cross breeding horror-crimr-tragic comedy. If I take a step back then the literary badge would seem to fit, as Marc aeems to suggest.
     
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  5. AliG

    AliG Well-Known Member

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    The tag literary implies that a piece is better than the common herd; almost as if it's an honour to be bestowed not claimed. Yet generally I'd rather read the yarn at the end of a day when I'm thunk out, neurones negative on the firing front.
     
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  6. Paul Whybrow

    Paul Whybrow Venerated Member

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    [​IMG]
     
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