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Literary fiction is a term used in the book-trade to distinguish novels that are regarded as having literary merit, from most commercial or "genre" fiction. However, the boundaries are not fixed, and the serious study of genre fiction has developed within academia in recent decades.[1]

Literary fiction often involves a concern with social commentary, political criticism, or reflection on the human condition,[2] with a focus on "introspective, in-depth character studies" of "interesting, complex and developed" characters.[2][3][better source needed] This contrasts with genre fiction where plot is the central concern.[4] It often has a slower pace than popular fiction.[5] As Terrence Rafferty notes, "literary fiction, by its nature, allows itself to dawdle, to linger on stray beauties even at the risk of losing its way."[6] There may also be a greater concern with style and complexity of the writing: Saricks describes literary fiction as "elegantly written, lyrical, and ... layered".[7]

Criticism

The distinction between literary fiction and genre fiction is sometimes doubtful or controversial, because many works of genre fiction are considered works of literature. Furthermore, major writers of literary fiction, like Nobel laureate Doris Lessing, as well as Margaret Atwood, also publish science fiction. Doris Lessing described science fiction as "some of the best social fiction of our time," and called Greg Bear, author of Blood Music, "a great writer."[8]

A number of major literary figures have also written either genre fiction books or books that contain certain elements of genre fiction. For instance, the novel Crime and Punishment by Fydor Dostoevsky contains elements of the crime fiction genre.[9][10][11] Gabriel García Márquez's book Love in the Time of Cholera is a romance novel.[12][13] Frankenstein and Dracula are examples of gothic social commentary, political criticism, or reflection on the human condition,[2] with a focus on "introspective, in-depth character studies" of "interesting, complex and developed" characters.[2][3][better source needed] This contrasts with genre fiction where plot is the central concern.[4] It often has a slower pace than popular fiction.[5] As Terrence Rafferty notes, "literary fiction, by its nature, allows itself to dawdle, to linger on stray beauties even at the risk of losing its way."[6] There may also be a greater concern with style and complexity of the writing: Saricks describes literary fiction as "elegantly written, lyrical, and ... layered".[7]

Criticism

The distinction between literary fiction and genre fiction is sometimes doubtful or controversial, because many works of genre fiction are considered works of literature. Furthermore, major writers of literary fiction, like Nobel laureate Doris Lessing, as well as Margaret Atwood, also publish science fiction. Doris Lessing described science fiction as "some of the best social fiction of our time," and called Greg Bear, author of Blood Music, "a great writer."[8]

A number of major literary figures have also written either genre fiction books or books that contain certain elements of genre fiction. For instance, the novel Crime and Punishment by Fydor DostoevskyThe distinction between literary fiction and genre fiction is sometimes doubtful or controversial, because many works of genre fiction are considered works of literature. Furthermore, major writers of literary fiction, like Nobel laureate Doris Lessing, as well as Margaret Atwood, also publish science fiction. Doris Lessing described science fiction as "some of the best social fiction of our time," and called Greg Bear, author of Blood Music, "a great writer."[8]

A number of major literary figures have also written either genre fiction books or books that contain certain elements of genre fiction. For instance, the novel Crime and Punishment by Crime and Punishment by Fydor Dostoevsky contains elements of the crime fiction genre.[9][10][11] Gabriel García Márquez's book Love in the Time of Cholera is a romance novel.[12][13] Frankenstein and Dracula are examples of gothic horror novels. Graham Greene at the time of his death in 1991 had a reputation as a writer of both deeply serious novels on the theme of Catholicism[14] and of "suspense-filled stories of detection."[15] Acclaimed during his lifetime, he was shortlisted in 1966[16] for the Nobel Prize for Literature.[17] John Banville publishes crime novels as Benjamin Black, and both Doris Lessing and Margaret Atwood have written science fiction. Furthermore, Nobel laureate André Gide stated that Georges Simenon, best known as the creator of the fictional detective Jules Maigret, was "the most novelistic of novelists in French literature."[18]

In an interview, John Updike lamented that "the category of 'literary fiction' has sprung up recently to torment people like me who just set out to write books, and if anybody wanted to read them, terrific, the more the merrier ... I'm a genre writer of a sort. I write literary fiction, which is like spy fiction or chick lit."[19] Likewise, on The Charlie Rose Show, Updike argued that this term, when applied to his work, greatly limited him and his expectations of what might come of his writing, so he does not really like it. He suggested that all his works are literary, simply because "they are written in words."[20]