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– 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– 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– 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– 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– a moving coming of age story, this is the kind of book that leaves an infinite impact.
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– 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– 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– 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– 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– not the most popular book nowadays, yet I cannot help but love this story of lost love and constancy.
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 😉
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!