To my great delight, The Blue Bookcase has begun hosting a Literary Blog Hop. If the term "Literary Fiction" doesn't make you want to roll your eyes or gag, then you should consider checking out all the amazing bloggers that are participating. You are sure to find some new books to put on your TBR list.
To join the hop, you are asked to highlight a favorite book and explain why you would consider it literary. The book that immediately sprung to mind was Olive Kitteridge. Here's a book that seems to ride the line of many Literary Fiction Defining Points.
(HEY! ...I was in the middle of typing a lengthy literary discourse when a 3.8 earthquake hit a half mile from my house. I love Southern California! I'm definitely awake now.)
So here's the deal. While you can put some qualifiers/definers on what Literary Fiction is, the truth is that it is a shady, grey, fuzzy line. It can be an old book, or not. It can be long, or not. It can be difficult to read, or not. It can be dark and depressing, or not. It can be dull and humorless, or not. And maybe...what is literary to one person will not be considered literary by another.
As I see it, Literary Fiction is something that doesn't rely on plot device to carry the book (not that all literary fiction is weak in this area, but that it typically doesn't play as important a role as it does in other adult fiction.) Literary Fiction puts more time into writing style and themes rather than a lively plot and pace. It is something that values the unique, that challenges you to think, to engage. Complaints about Literary Fiction that say it is slow or boring, or that ask "What's the point?" or "Where's the story?" often simply express a preference for books that are plot driven.
When Olive Kitteridge was published, it seemed to share shelf space with general Adult Fiction, resulting in a confusion in what to expect. As "a novel told in stories", about a rather unlikable character and without a distinctly satisfying ending, it definitely didn't follow a typical plot line. But I flew through this book. I just could not stop reading it. The writing was lovely; fluid yet to the point. The characters very real to life, the stories heartbreaking but satisfying.
Olive is a big person. She knows this about herself, but she wasn't always so big, and it still seems something to get used to. It's true she has always been tall and frequently clumsy, but the business of being big showed up with age; her ankles puffed out, her shoulders rolled up behind her neck, and her wrists and hands seemed to become the size of a man's. Olive minds--of course she does; sometimes, privately, she minds very much. But at this stage of the game, she is not about to abandon the comfort of food, and that means right now she probably looks like a fat, dozing seal wrapped in some kind of gauze bandage.
What enjoyable writing! Such a satisfying read. I really liked how the book was organized as short stories that added up to tell about Olive and her town in Maine. All the characters were so real that I found myself amazed at times. My only complaint is that it got to be pretty depressing. All the stories are about life changing calamities that aren't necessarily balanced out with hope. There was an overriding theme of the fear, loneliness and uncertainty that goes along with old age. Strout seemed to do a great job in expressing those feelings.
Have you thought about the role of plot in literary fiction? Is a well-developed plot a quality you value over others?