Saturday, 11 August 2012

Blurred at the edges

Don't mind me, just sneaking in at the back here. Yes, I know it's been nearly a year. Stuff, life, you know. Twitter, mostly. AAaaaaanyway. Excuse hiccups, Blogger changed while I was in my enchanted sleep and now I can't work out how to hyperlink.
Every now and then when I'm not writing about food, booze, or perfume, I write about books. There has been an almighty shriek about the infamous Fifty Shades Of Grey, and don't worry, I have no intention of dedicating a post to it, other people have covered the subject EXHAUSTIVELY. My whole Big Thing Point here is: I think what people are getting upset about at the moment is not anything to do with content, it's how it's presented. People like their genres to be crudely obvious and Fifty Shades confounds them because it's jacketed like "normal fiction" rather than being plastered with fingerwagging Parental Advisory stickers and the mark of the Beast and sold from under the counter. In point of fact it's doubly misleading because while it looks like fiction and is reputed to be terrifying civilisation-destroying porn, it is in fact a poorly-executed and soppy 1980s romance bonkbuster, pretending to be a bit transgressive with some handcuffs.
I just finished reading (and gruesomely enjoying) The Uninvited by Liz Jensen. She writes literary fiction, albeit odd and not entirely real-life, and gets reviewed in the heavyweight papers, Anthony Minghella was producing a film based on one of her books just before he died, etc etc. But if asked to classify what genre it belonged to, I would call it either Horror or Fantasy (caps because that's what we bookselly types do). Both of which are genres the average reader gets quite uneasy around. Ooh, Horror, that's all rats and gratuitous entrails, isn't it? Is Fantasy the one where it's all sodding elves and swords of mystic destiny? Publishers are obviously aware of the ghettoising of genres (I've mentioned this before), and nobody wants their book languishing in a section traditionally only visited by some but not all teenage boys, especially if it's been Orange Prize longlisted. Hence the recent trend towards blurring the boundaries. If you asked people what Susan Hill writes, they'd probably say Literary Fiction. And yet what's The Woman In Black? Well, Horror, obviously. It's even been filmed by the recently resuscitated Hammer. David Mitchell writes SciFi, because frankly Cloud Atlas is mostly that, and is being filmed by the Wachowski Brothers (that's The Matrix to you). So does Murakami. What it is, and this is all it is, is jacket design* and placement in shops. I'm personally all in favour of it, as anything that expands the boundaries of what people think is "literary" is a great thing. I would even be happy if there was a stretch the other way, so all bookshops had to have a tiny awful ghetto of a section called Novels About Middle-Class Women Having Nervous Breakdowns At Holland Park Dinner Parties.

*As an example, which of these would you buy? They're all the same text inside. What if you were told the appalling Regency Romance cover cost a fiver less than either, but in order to buy it you had to go to a separate section of the bookshop called Romance Novels?