Literary Fiction I Actually Like

orangutan list

You guys may have noticed I have a tendency to complain about literary fiction. That’s cos, for me, it’s very hit or miss (with no room for the in-between). I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes, if I read a string of bad literary fiction, I wonder why I bother going back to the genre. But then, I simply remember a few of my favourite things and then I don’t feel so bad I recall why I keep picking them up. Today’s post is a long-overdue celebration of some of the finest literary fiction out there.

As I got into it in my last post, it’s a pretty hard genre to define… which makes it hard to choose from the right selection of books! For the sake of this post, I’m not counting classics- because for me this is a marketing category that promotes contemporary writers. And I also didn’t feel like including heavyweights in genre fiction (Madeline Miller, Neil Gaiman, Erin Morgenstern etc)- because I don’t feel like beautiful prose is restricted to literary fiction and they weren’t originally marketed in this category.

kite runner

Kite Runner– kicking off the list with one of the best literary fiction books I’ve ever read, the story caterwauling to impossible highs and lows.

a thousand splendid suns

A Thousand Splendid Suns– yes, I’m immediately putting two books by the same author on here- what can I say? Hosseini is just that good. And where I’d say Kite Runner is one of the best literary fiction books out there, it’s safe to say I think this is even better. Detailing the lives of women under Taliban rule, it’s impossible to remain unmoved by the tale.

eleanor oliphant is completely fine

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine– while I didn’t know this was literary fiction when I picked it up, I can safely say this is a great example of what amazing literary fiction can be. Giving incredible insights into the human condition and portraying an authentically odd soul, this ended up being an even more emotionally rewarding read than I was expecting.

a man called ove

A Man Called Ove– Backman is undoubtedly one of the most skilled writers of this generation. And for me, this poignant tale- which I’d describe as a more adult version of Up– is a beautiful character study exploring what we owe to each other.

perks of being a wallflower

Perks of Being a Wallflower– a moving coming of age story, this is the kind of book that leaves an infinite impact.

the secret history

Secret History– I’m still a little astounded by how remarkable this was. A murder mystery told in reverse, it’s a fascinating portrait of college life.

never let me go

Never Let Me Go– a terrific dystopian novel, centring on the themes of growing up, getting old and ultimately what is to be human. This terrific take on the genre is a long-time favourite for me.

the bell jar

The Bell Jar– this is a weird one for me to put down, because I didn’t give it an especially high rating, as it depressed the hell out of me. That said, I do admire the incisive writing style and it’s stuck with me years after reading it. I feel like this is the kind of book I like more every time I think about it- and you can’t say fairer than that.

the_road.large_

The Road– another gloomy read- and yet I cannot deny how much I admire this book. I read it in one sitting years ago and, like the Bell Jar, it’s stuck with me all this time. I especially like how McCarthy experiments with writing in such a way that doesn’t leave the reader behind- which is a really hard feat to pull off!

homegoing

Homegoing– an utterly unique novel, this story takes an intergenerational approach, telling a different story of one family’s descendants in each chapter. Miraculously this is far from jarring- it flows into a brilliantly narrative, spanning the scope of centuries into one great story.

memoirs of a geisha

Memoirs of a Geisha– not the most popular book nowadays, yet I cannot help but love this story of lost love and constancy.

shadow of the wind

Shadow of the Wind– I did umm and ahh over whether this is historical or literary fiction… and ultimately came down on the literary side, because while the setting plays a huge (and atmospheric) part, this is more about the love of books. And this gives me another opportunity to plug one of my favourite novels 😉

book thief

The Book Thief– another book I wasn’t sure whether to place on this list… and yet it doesn’t fit comfortably into any category. A genius book from the perspective of death, I will never cease to be amazed by it!

So, have you read any of these? What do you think of them? And what literary fiction do you particularly admire? Let me know in the comments!

77 thoughts on “Literary Fiction I Actually Like

          1. I think Norweigan Wood is one of his more realistic works? I haven’t read it personally, so I don’t know, but thus far those have also been my less preferred of his works. I prefer slightly weirder speculative-fiction-esque books more! After Dark was the one I started with and it definitely hooked me- it’s just written in such an interesting way!

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  1. I love “Never Let Me Go” – I’ve read it at least 4 times, even the movie is good. How about Elizabeth Strout? Is she considered ‘literary fiction”. I love every syllable she ever wrote.

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      1. Some of her books – “My Name is Lucy Barton”, “Olive Kitteridge, her latest is “Olive, Again” – Start with “My Name is Lucy Barton” – a quote from the book – “You will have only one story,” she had said. “You’ll write your one story many ways. Don’t ever worry about story. You have only one.”

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      1. I think you’d like, dare I say love, ‘Deathless’ by Catherynne M. Valente. It’s a Russian fantasy/historical novel. It’s literary in the sense that you will want to highlight every sentence, but there are house brownies, a very well known witch and a creature that is a gun.

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  2. I’ve been meaning to read those Khaled Hosseini books for YEARS. They’re the type of books that I feel like I must’ve read already because I hear about them so often 😅. Eleanor Oliphant is one of my favorite books! Her unique personality was really portrayed well—I felt very protective over her by the end of the book 😂.

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  3. You have great taste in literary fiction. I don’t hate literary fiction at all, but I do hate some of the snobbish attitudes that lit fic writers and publishers sometimes express about genre fiction. I loved Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, The Secret History, Never Let Me Go, The Shadow of the Wind and The Book Thief. Actually you could argue that some of these could be put in genre fiction, thus proving that the category of lit fic is artificial…

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    1. Hehe thank you! I completely get what you mean- that’s why I feel so conflicted about it (especially when, imo, not all lit fic is groundbreaking or amazing). Ahh those are all wonderful! And I completely get what you mean- in fact all of them could easily be fitted into genre fiction categories

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  4. a thousand splendid suns is what tops my list here. The pain of being loved but never accepted is one of the darkest yet the most real feeling that stands out in the novel.

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  5. Love literary fiction. I read Husseini’s books and cried (beautifully written), A Man Called Ove is awesome, and I tried Never Let Me Go, but I just couldn’t stand the book. I never finished it. But you have two of my favorites The Shadow of the Wind and The Book Thief. Love them both. I definitely need to try Secret History. Thanks so much for this list!

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  6. It’s so hard to define “literary fiction”, and the category in general is also very hit or miss for me. You have a lot of books I loved on your list, although I’m one of the few people who just didn’t like (at all) The Secret History.

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  7. I’ve read only Hosseini’s books out of your list, and they are AMAZING alright. I’ve cried for hours reading those.. phew.. in fact, people listing saddest times in life, should straight up list out the time they read these 😉 . The Book Thief on the other hand has been on TBR since forever, I need to pick it up ASAP, I know that, believe me. (Inner ramblings.. never mind)

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    1. They are!! Ahh me too!! Haha too true! I can’t recommend book Thief enough!! Hehehe I totally understand- I think get the same way about so many books I feel I should’ve read by now 😉 but on the plus side, not having read great books means you still have a lot to look forward to!

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  8. The only one I’ve read is Eleanor Oliphant. If that’s lit fic then the category is more accepting than I realized.

    Right now I’m reading The 6th Lamentation, which slides back & forth in time between 1990s England and 1940s Paris. It’s so well written that it’s probably literary fiction.

    And, awesome reference to The Sound of Music! Now I’m going to be singing the song all day, thanks a lot!

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  9. I have read Kite Runner, Book Thief and Memoir of Geisha. I have no doubt about the first but last two were also historical fiction with writing equivalent to Literary Fiction. I agree with you Book Thief was most brilliant book. I’ll read other Hosseini’s books soon. I hope read them this year. Another wonderful post!

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  10. The Book Thief isn’t my usual type of book that I read but I gave it a try and I will never stop regretting it. Such a powerful and unique book.

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  11. It’s rare to find someone who likes both A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Kite Runner. Actually, I think you’re one of the only two people who like both! ATSS was good, but it was sad throughout which just doesn’t work for me.

    I hear Reese Witherspoon is playing Eleanor in the film adaptation, I would never have pictured Reese as Eleanor, but either way, I think the film might outshine the book.

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  12. I’ve read all of these except for four, and if these are literary fiction then, yes, I’m a fan. They offer something different and more thought-provoking than the usual formulaic mass-produced fiction, and often stay with you for a long time as the characters are so compelling.
    Having said that, I totally agree with you on some literary fiction being up it’s own arse – pleasing the author more than any of its reader. I once read a book which took three pages to describe the main character making a cup of tea – three! They were the only three pages I read.
    (Crikey, you can tell I’ve had wine tonight – blah blah! ;-))

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  13. Hi there. I am going around the neighborhood introducing myself. My name is Marc. My blog contains excerpts from my book The Driveway Rules. It contains memoirs about growing up with undiagnosed autism. I hope you stop by.

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