Friday, 29 January 2010
I was reading a piece today by P D James in which she asks the question: what defines a literary novel? She doesn't have the answer, but I've always found this an interesting question. Is it one of those things you recognise when you see it? Or is it more specific? Is the Booker prize (for example) limited to writers of literary fiction, or does winning the Booker make them so? The Life of Pi won the Booker, but while I loved it, I would never describe it as a literary novel. There are Booker winners which I haven't especially enjoyed, but have recognised as being literary fiction. The well-known 19th century novelists all seem to be considered to be literary (Austen, Dickens, Gaskell, George Elliot, the Brontes etc). Genre novels are rarely considered to be literary; why not? Blockbusting best-sellers never seem to be literary (or is it that literary novels are never blockbusting best-sellers?). Any thoughts?