I wasn’t intending to rant. Only review. Unfortunately an article came randomly across my desk and made me mad like a spitting llama. So you get both.
RANT First or REVIEW??? mmm Rant. lol.
My favourite reads are romance. My favourite authors, are the ones that write good ones. I also read other things: fantasy, sci-fi, space, opera, and paranormal, fairy tale, mysteries, crime, classics, etc. But they all usually contain some kind of romance as well.
What can I say? I like HEAs. A rather indifferent book, I am not particularly interested in, can be completely redeemed by a good romance arc running through it.
And occasionally, VERY occasionally, I like to paddle in around the shallows of literary fiction. I generally steer clear because it mostly just makes me cranky.
In my mind, Literary Fiction is Genre Fiction’s slightly older, know-it-all cousin that thinks they’re too cool to hang at the little-kids table anymore, but still like to do basically ALL THE SAME THINGS.
There is no getting away from the fact the Faulkner, Hemingway, Joyce etc are step above general fiction (otherwise they wouldn’t make us read them in school — right??) but there are so many ‘literary novels’ that are about the same things as genre novels, but wouldn’t deign to sit themselves on the same shelf.
Case in Point (and I am going off-topic here): Glen Duncan’s werewolf series: Specifically about the last of the lycanthrope species. (maybe like the Mohicans?) He’s depressed and wants it all to end.
It’s gritty. It’s got loads of sex and violence. It’s got WEREWOLVES. And in a midst of all that, there are some nicely scattered literary illusions. So, would fit well into the werewolf oeuvre yes? No. Heaven-forbid anyone mistake it for that! No, this IS a CLASSIC take on the lycanthropes. By a LITERARY author. Thus, Superior.
According to experts (and I use that term VERY loosely) the difference between literary fiction and genre fiction is the REASON a person reads the book.
Apparently GF is to provide escape. LF, ’separates itself’ because it is not about ESCAPING reality, but rather a mechanism to understand the world better and ‘deliver REAL emotional responses’
To that I say:
WHAT the actual?
(Also: Does anyone else think they all sound like pretentious assholes???)
The article, also condescended to add that it WAS entirely possible for genre authors to write ‘competent and engaging prose’ and then went on to list the works of Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, George R.R. Martin, (!) in his supercilious list of GOOD genre writers. It was then finished off with a resounding clarion call to the deeper, more substantial waters of the literary fiction world, calling it the heart and soul of a writer’s being; which (when read properly, I’m sure) is experienced as an emotional journey through the ‘symphony of words, leading to a stronger grasp of the universe and of ourselves.’
Yeah. This from a guy who writes for Playboy. Some stellar literary stuff going on there. I. Am. Sure.
But then I read this article, which called it an empty luxury brand, and made me feel considerably better. I realise this is not a new issue – but really – c’mon – how is, in this day and age of self -publishing and e-books this even STILL a THING????
I like books – any books that are good. (I like them even better when there is a romance involved…) but the point is, why all the classifications and setting of one type of story above another? Why can literary things write about the same things as genre, but when they do, it’s a higher form of fiction???
Anyway, all this to say, last night I read a book I’d found shelved amongst those aforementioned denizens of the LF world. But what it was actually was a really nice love story (albeit 34500000 times looonger and slower than a romance), wrapped up in some fancy packaging.
A perfectly lovely story, slowly mouldering away on the snob-shelf which I ordinarily would never have found, because of this ridiculous segmentation between stories for the masses and high brow stories-with-morals for the elite, and because the lines between genre fiction and literary fiction get moved and stretched ALL the time, often simply at publishers whim.*
Now the Review:
Meet Alice Peel. A geologist, the daughter of a famous scientist/explorer mother and not-quite-so-famous, but still just as smart scientist father.
When a relationship falls to pieces, at her mother’s wishes, Alice joins a group of scientists working and studying at the end of the world. Literally: Antarctica. She is looking for meaning and (like all good stories), herself.
Meet James Rooker. A man of practically no words ( I think he says maybe a hundred in the whole book), a tortured background and a dismal outlook on life. He is looking for escape and isolation.
There are eight scientists, plus some support staff, all battling against the harsh and dangerous conditions of this icy world in a tiny base camp.
Things happen and lives change forever.
I won’t go into too many details. This is SPOILER free, because the things that happen are fairly huge. And because it is a REALLY good book.
Like: I-started-reading-it-at-11:30-last-night-and-finished-it-at 5:30-this-morning-(thank goodness it’s Sunday)-Good.
It’s also long.
Takes far too much time to get to the point.
Contains so much SCIENCE my inner nerd totally came out of the basement.
And makes me want to read everything else by Rosie Tomas
Alice is such an interesting character. Rook is such a screwed up mess. And Antartica? Well, it just made me very glad I live in a temperate climate and are not required to live through snow storms.
There is some ridiculousness of plot and a particular character I kept wishing would just get accidentally run over by snowmobile just to end all the angst. But even with all of that? It’s still GOOD.
I do think I probably need to emphasise how INCREDIBLY slow this story is what with the background before the actual Antartica-snow-part and huge parts of filler in between – but it is still interesting and I suppose Thomas does have almost 500 pages to kill…
In saying that though, the build up which takes place over those pages, the climax (which made me ugly-cry) and the development of these two characters and the people they impact, is so beautifully done that I am left with all sorts of good feels, regardless of any weaknesses.
And the HEA? Total airport-movie-swoon-worthy.
A quiet and thoughtful book that imbues its world with a dangerous, graceful, eloquent sense of otherness.
Since reading it, I’ve seen it bookshelved as general fiction, romantic fiction, literary fiction and romance. I don’t think it is any one of these. It’s just a dang good story. I have moved Rosie Thomas near to the top of my TBR.
Valancy: still quietly fuming, but alleviating the angst with large amounts of chocolate.
*Rosie Thomas has won the Romantic Novel of the Year Award. Twice. See? Why in the world Literary Fiction then!???
Header Image: Winter, Guy Rose (1867-1925)