The term “Literary Fiction” is fairly loose in my opinion. It’s daunting to think that there are so many different types of fiction out there in the world. You’ve got chick lit, historical fiction, mystery, romance, science fiction, etc. I’m been thinking about literary fiction because I just “finished” All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I feel like I’ve read a million WW2 era novels and memoirs from The Book Thief to The Diary of Anne Frank, and for the most part, I’ve enjoyed all of them. I assumed I would enjoy All The Light We Cannot See, especially since the novel is based in France instead of Germany this time around.
I put quotation marks between the word finished because I cheated. I will admit this. I got 300 pages into the book and still had zero idea where the heck it was going. It doesn’t mean I hated it. That’s the strange part. I actually really loved and enjoyed the prose. That’s the phenomenon of literary fiction – it’s all about the prose, not so much about the plot. So, after three weeks of forcing myself to continue reading the beautifully written prose, I couldn’t take it anymore. I HAD TO KNOW WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED. I knew if I continued at the rate I was at, I wouldn’t finish this book until the end of the summer, if I was lucky. If I’m having a particularly hard time getting through a book, I’ll flip flop between books in my shelf and go with something a little light and fast because I need to fuel that hunger for a plot. For instance, it took me a year to read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. A YEAR. I would read and read and read for about two weeks until my brain couldn’t handle it anymore and then switch to Sophie Kinsella among others, and then back to Tolstoy again. The difference is that Anna Karenina is considered one of the best romance novels in history, and you can almost guarantee that any list titled “Top 100 Books You Must Read Before You Die”, Anna Karenina is on there. But who’s to say that in a hundred years, All The Light We Cannot See won’t be considered of the greatest novels of our time?
After reading Anthony Doerr’s novel, I decided that maybe literary fiction isn’t for me. I looked up other books that are considered to be literary fiction and was surprised by what I found.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I’m a little shocked that Gatsby is considered literary fiction. You learn a lot about the human condition, but there’s still a heavy loaded plot in the story. There’s adultery, fraud, murder, parties, etc. In my opinion, I don’t consider Gatsby to be literary fiction.
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
A 14-year-old girl is murdered. Susie Salmon in the afterlife follows her family, friends, and even her murderer over the years, slowly watching what her death has done to them emotionally. It’s the human condition, but definitely driven by the plot. Also, anyone else weirded out by the ending?
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The fact that the narrator is Death says a lot about what we may learn about the characters throughout the novel. Liesel is adopted to an old German couple. She doesn’t know how to read. They’re hiding a Jew in their basement. She’s stealing books from the mayor’s wife. Rudy Steiner wants to kiss her. And I couldn’t put it down.
So, as it turns out, the joke is on me. I do like literary fiction…just not this particular novel. I appreciate the writer’s prose, and hope to one day achieve that seem level of skill in my own writing, but I also like books that make me want to read and read until I can’t read no more. Who doesn’t?