Must all literary writing be difficult?


This weeks Literary Blog Hop question is a more thought provoking one than I initially thought.

Must all literary writing be difficult? Can you think of examples of literary writing that was not difficult?


I have really been struggling to write my reply to this question because I think the answer rests a lot on what you consider literary fiction to be. This is difficult because everyone will have a different idea of what literary fiction is.

I think literary fiction has a much greater focus on the characters themselves. There is plot of course, but the plot revolves more around the characters development, morals, values, dilemma's and other such personal, social and cultural issues. I would also suggest that literary fiction has a more artistic quality than genre fiction.

To me, this means that any genre of book could also be literary fiction. You could have a literary piece of crime fiction or science fiction for example.

But where does that leave us on the question of whether all literary writing must be difficult?

At first blush, I thought that there was an easy answer to this question: No, all literary writing doesn't have to be difficult, nor is all literary writing actually difficult.

On second thoughts, I think that we maybe need to break this up a little bit more.

Firstly, I want to think about the prose in a work of literary fiction.

I have said that I think that literary fiction has a more artistic quality than genre fiction but this doesn't necessarily mean it's more difficult to read.

Some literary fiction uses prose that it is definitely difficult to read; it uses long convoluted sentences and you are really required to put in a lot of work to follow the story and the journey of the characters because of it. Examples of this for me would be books such as Lost Paradise by Cees Nooteboom, The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie or Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. These are the types of books where the complexity of the language creates a barrier between the reader and the story.

On the other hand, there are works of literary fiction that use quite simple prose to tell their stories. Examples that come to mind are The Book Thief by Markus Zusak or Lovesong by Alex Miller. I would suggest that the prose in these books, which in my view would be considered works of literary fiction, is no more difficult than many other works of literature that are not considered literary.

Having said all of that (and I know I am repeating what Lucia said in her answer), what is difficult writing will vary from person to person. Everyone has different taste, experience and education. What I find difficult/easy to read, others may feel differently about.

So does the prose in literary fiction mean that it is more difficult to read? Sometimes.

Secondly, I want to think about the contents or nature of a book of literary fiction.

I would argue that the nature of a work of literary fiction does mean that it is likely to be a more challenging or difficult to read. This is because it isn't a case of just watching a character follow a course of actions throughout the plot. Instead the plot of the book is more internal, more focussed around the character and their development. This means that often the reader is required to read between the lines, to go deeper into the characters to really understand their inner motivations and their actions.

This means that the reader has to engage more with the story; that to really get everything you can from the book, you have to put a lot of yourself into the book itself.

In that sense, I think that literary fiction will always be more difficult or challenging than other types of fiction.

What do you think? Must all literary fiction be difficult?

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