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I have an uneasy relationship with intensely literary fiction; the sort of fiction that deliberately has no plot but delves deep into themes of the “Human Condition” (in other words, the emotions and experiences that make us uniquely human). There’s no doubt that this sort of thing has huge merit as an example of perfect form within literature, but I think that too often the more snobby members of the literary community force a comparison between it and very commercial fiction at the opposite end of the spectrum. To me, comparing literary fiction and commercial fiction seems like comparing the Mona Lisa to an episode of Spongebob. They both serve a purpose and are nice in their own way, but it’s not really possible to discuss if one is better than the other because they exist for completely different reasons. And yet so many people try.

"A heart of stone". It's right up there on the list of cliches that turn me into a snob. Image by James Jordan

“A heart of stone”. It’s right up there on the list of cliches that turn me into a snob.
Image by James Jordan

A commercial piece can be stuffed with adverbs and clichés without really having a deeper meaning and that’s OK, just as long as it is marketable and entertaining. And literary work can forgo any plot or suspense just as long as the form is perfect. Although it can be tempting to think otherwise, these two styles are completely separate and neither one really needs to conform to the rules of the other.

That said, I don’t think that it’s essential for an avid reader to enjoy both styles. I really can’t read more than a few pages of literary fiction before I get distracted and there are also a few commercial works which go a little too far for my liking with the clichéd descriptions and half-arsed writing style. But I would love is to see readers respecting the value and purpose of fiction at both ends of the spectrum, even if they don’t personally enjoy them.

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