Right off the bat I'll say that I'm not starting this discussion to get into the literature vs. genre debate. I just want to explore some of the differences and see what other members have experienced in the same realm.

To tell you the truth, most of my reading throughout my life has been based firmly in the genres of sci-fi, horror and crime. I haven't ventured into the world of contemporary literature much at all. But at the moment I find my desires leading me in this direction with mixed results.

I recently finished FIGHT CLUB by Chuck Palahnuik and absolutely loved it. Loved the rhythm, the plot, the ideas and messed-up philosophies of the main characters, loved that it didn't clearly fit into any genre but still felt like a genre novel.

Some time ago I read Peter Temple's THE BROKEN SHORE and loved its slow, laconic, introspective pace combined with a decent crime fiction plot. But I wouldn't call it crime fiction.

Right now I'm reading THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy. While it has beautifully bleak poetry, I find some of the devices jar me on a regular basis.

The use of obscure words that don't fit the voice of the character, the random flashbacks and drifting moments of introspection, the repetition of the dialogue, the needless detail in the description of actions.

Having said that, you might think I'm not enjoying the novel, but I'm loving being swept up in the world McCarthy creates and I appreciate his conviction in not using quotation marks or apostrophes.

But I'm definitely finding it to be a slow read.

I'm also reading AMERICAN PSYCHO by Bret Easton Ellis. It fits well within the crime fiction world but the way it's presented makes it seem more literary to me. The relentless descriptions of brands and products, the draining obsession with status, the detailed world of the 80s, all make for a novel that doesn't feel like crime fiction. But then the slow build of the serial killer nature of the main character does.

Literature has always seemed to me to be a separate genre that focuses more on character, description and language, whereas genre fiction has a much stronger plot element.

In a way, I see all the genres (including literature) as part of a spectrum, where at the far literary end I might see something like THE ROAD; pulling back in further would be AMERICAN PSYCHO and THE BROKEN SHORE, with FIGHT CLUB being more thriller based and more genre than literary.

You can see I'm not exactly making a clear point with this, and that's because I'm really just feeling my way through the differences. I don't see a clear divide between literature and crime fiction, but I can see the use of elements from both in what I'm reading.

I suppose I'm looking at broadening my reading horizons and would love to hear some recommendations and experiences from others.

As David Terrenoire loves to say, "Talk to me."

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She said she couldn't sell it before trying. Mind you, her contacts are probably looking for a different sort of book, but it was hugely discouraging. I'm fond of that novel.
ANIL'S GHOST by Michael Ondaatje. We had to read it for school, the teacher told us it was crime fic and it so clearly wasn't!! It was more like medical thriller - but so bogged down in Political agenda that it might as well have been a god damned thesis study on civil war in Pakistan for all the enjoyment I got out of it. WORST BOOK EVER!!! The plot was bogged down with sub plots that didn't lend to the actual story. The dialogue was too cliched. It was like walking through mud on a hot day - half the class didn't even bother finishing it. Ondaatje spent too much time deciding on what would be a good word to say something, rather than focusing on what he was trying to say. Suffice it to say I prefer Genres to Literature, simply because the conventions are more entertaining, and the authors have no delusions of granduer. You can always tell when someones trying to be sophisticated, and it hurts my eyes to read them!!!
The difference between crime fiction and "Literature?" Crime fiction is more fun.

And, for aesthetic quality, I'll put writers like Dennis Lehane and James Lee Burke up against anything out there.
Well, in each case there is at least one thing that irritates me as a reader, and that has nothing to do with plot or genre.
And then there are books like Nabokov's Lolita. Crime fiction and literature both, I think.
Yes, if any book with a crime - or talk of crime - was classified crime fiction, that would be most of literature.
The seriously fascinating thing about these sorts of discussions is that the need to have the discussion is always around. There is no way in this world that you could accuse me of intellectual discourse on this matter but to me, the differences aren't all that important and they get increasingly blurred. Your example of The Broken Shore is a classic - I'd definitely regard that as crime fiction because of the context of the events, to me it has to be called crime fiction. But then I don't expect my "crime fiction" to be thriller based / exciting / eventful - Shame by Karin Alvtegen is still a crime fiction novel to me but there's absolutely no crime in it. Having said that, there are plenty of examples of genres crossing genes - The Black Man by Richard Morgan was a crime in a science fiction setting (which is not that uncommon).
Very interesting discussion.
But here's a thing.
Can a story that falls within the crime fiction genre, have within it some other factors--perhaps more crucial insight into one or two of the main characters?
In other words, can it be hard-hitting and be intellectual? Without in any way slowing the pace, lessening the punch?
Is that possible do you think?
Surely, Hammett's been there and done that. (And there may be others, of course.) There are some very serious ideas embedded in the Maltese Falcon, for example.
yes, of course there are. but didn't actually think of that.
No, I mean something else. something deeper.
A crime novel whose story is told in more of an enriched way--
for instance, if it takes place in the South in the U.S., in the past, it's got to have real situations. not glossed over ones but real hit you in the head situations that might arise between the characters living there at that time.
A story that takes place in pre-war Germany same thing.
not to weigh the thing down--AT ALL! but to give it reality.
A book that comes to mind for me is Persia Walker's Harlem Redux. it's about Harlem in the 1920's--the story is so realistically drawn as are the characters. I came away from it feeling moved and emotional. and that's what it should be about. imho.
Absolutely. Most of my favourite Scandinavian authors work on insight - not just into their main characters, but also into societal issues. Look at the way that Karin Fossum's Don't Look Back addresses people's reactions to others who are "different". Even her final ending slaps the reader over the head and reassesses how you react, even after you know the truth. Sjowall & Wahloo purposely wrote issues into their books and made them entertaining, hard-hitting in some places and ultimately very thought-provoking. Henning Mankell has said that his first book was a "crime novel" in format because the treatment of refugees in his country was something he regarded as a crime - the issues he explores in that book provide stark insight into the central character's psyche.
so interested in your reply Karen.
I'm going to read those books!
I too prefer a richer brew--a story with extra facets to it because life has extra bits.
People (even made up people) have lives and situations--the
"hero", the murderer--a victim.
And they don't live in a vacuum either, but in a society with other people with their lives--issues and so on.
The trick is (as these writers you mention have apparently done) is to enrich the story beautifully without slowing it down. Just the point I was trying to make!


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