A common question people ask when I tell them I write novels is, ‘What genre?’. Okay, so maybe they don’t use the word genre, but that’s often the gist of the second question. (Sometimes people ask what a novel is, but not every time, or even half the time. But way too many times.)
I usually tell them ‘literary fiction’, but I’m beginning to think that hardly anyone knows what I mean. ‘Like fantasy?’ someone said today.
I don’t mind calling literary fiction a genre. When I was a science fiction nut at sixteen and seventeen, I remember reading an impassioned article in Aurealis, perhaps by Van Ikin, about how literary fiction is just as generic as science fiction. The literary stories he analysed had a number of common features – a journey, introspection, the suggestion of illicit sex and some other things I can’t remember. Maybe not true of everything published as ‘literary fiction’, but the argument has validity.
What I can’t do is explain easily to people what literary fiction is without sounding elitist.
‘It’s a type of fiction which pushes boundaries… it could be about anything… but it explores the experience and meaning of life… often… sometimes… it’s read by highbrow people with English degrees… or just people with better taste… oh dear, I didn’t actually mean that…’
Because let’s face it, us literary fiction readers do look down on the rest of you. At least a little. Sorry.
Anyway, I feel this gulf between me and people who have no clue what literary fiction is. I guess it’s the problem everyone faces who has gone deeper into their field. I mean, I’m not going to appreciate the finer points of distinction between different types of motorbike racing or knitting, am I?