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Growing Into Literary Fiction

21 September, 2012

There has always, for as long as I can remember, been a common theme to the books I gravitate towards (and the books I write) – that of fantasy, and to a lesser extent SF. The same can be said of my favourite films, and games, and even artwork. I always seem to gravitate towards works that have an element of the fantastic, as I wrote about here. Recently, though, I’ve noticed something else creeping into my standard reading fare: literary fiction.

I’ve always, in the past, been a bit leery of lit. fic. The most lauded books, classic and modern, seemed to have little or no relation to my life or my concerns. The same could be said of fantasy novels, but if those focused on middle-aged men or teenage boys, at least there was magic and dragons and strange new worlds to hold my attention. Lit. fic simply didn’t have the same appeal.

Recently though, epic fantasy began to lose a little of its shine for me. There have been some brilliant fantasies out in recent years, but I began to grow a bit weary of yet another vast uncharted world, or overly complicated magic system, or female character who couldn’t fall in love with just a normal bloke – it had to be a vampire/werewolf/farmboy-who-grows-up-to-be-prince. As an alternative, I began to look for something entirely different to read.

First, I turned to Haruki Murukami, then to Hilary Mantel. Both writers have, perhaps, more of ‘genre’ fiction in their work than your average lit. fic. writer (one verging on fantasy, the other having won the Booker prize for a historical novel about Thomas Cromwell), but they were still a step away from my usual reading material. I began to realise just how far I was drifting from traditional fantasy, though, when I brought home a library book which proudly proclaimed it had won the Pulitzer.

I don’t honestly know what’s made me turn towards these books, other than that they’re a change of pace. Perhaps this post’s titles is misleading, too – I don’t consider lit. fic. any more ‘grown up’ than fantasy, or any more worthy, no matter what prize judges might claim. I’m fairly certain I won’t suddenly write a book about an American college professor having an affair with a nubile young student, either – fantasy is still where my heart resides. Still, I’m taking my sudden shift in choice of books as a positive, for however long it lasts: it’s a way to broaden my horizons, improve my writing and, perhaps most importantly, never fall out of love with reading.

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