|The US cover. Less pink, arguably no|
I agree with Levitt that literary fiction shouldn't be seen as something you have to choke down to become a 'better' writer or reader, and that 'moral complexity' is not a sufficient description of what it does do for us. As I argued in 2011, Marian Keyes's wonderful piece of chick lit, The Other Side of the Story, presents three very complex and flawed female characters who are, to one degree or another, at odds with each other, but who are all sympathetic. There is no easy answer to the questions Keyes poses about adultery and loyalty, although the novel contrasts with Single, Carefree, Mellow in considering the moral implications of its characters' actions much more carefully. But then, if a deep concern with morality was enough to tip a novel out of the literary canon for being too simplistic, Middlemarch had better be thrown out as well. Moreover, I would suggest, engaging a reader deeply with your text is something that a writer must accomplish if they want the vast majority of their readers to care about unpicking anything more nuanced or subtle that is going on. I have read so many novels where I suspected that the writer was doing something clever - Butterflies in November being the most recent example - but I simply didn't care enough to accomplish the necessary analytic work. In contrast, I have spent many, many words (over-)analysing George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, because he made me care about the story he was telling. If I hadn't been much bothered about what happened to Sansa or Arya, I would never have appreciated the subtleties of some of the symbolism he uses to refer to these two sisters.
|The top search terms used to find this blog are 'What happens|
to Arya Stark in Game of Thrones?' I wish I knew!
|Not literary fiction, still brilliant.|
So while there are no absolute rules about literary fiction being slower, more complex and more challenging, I would suggest that the existence of a category that tends towards creating such expectations in readers is not a bad thing at all. And although regarding genre fiction (the question of 'is literary fiction a genre' is one to tackle another day!) as automatically inferior is both foolish and wrong, there is something about literary fiction that demands, I think, a greater investment, simply because it's more at odds with our idea of how we ought to be entertained. This, of course, only makes it more disappointing when that investment is wasted. Authors, be warned.