To help break down the myth that readers of literary fiction never read genre fiction (and NEVER read romance), and that romance readers never touch books that aren’t about romance, and NEVER read literary fiction, here’s a list of some of my favourite literary reads. Note that the first three are a testament to my love of all things German.
The song before it is sung (by Justin Cartwright)
Because of my love of the German language, stories that refer to German history really double click my mouse. So this book about a man who is given the letters of an executed German count who tried to assassinate Hitler, and is tasked with writing his story, really appealed to me. The central character is a writer and after reading the letters he becomes obsessed with finding the film of the count’s execution (and with his life in general). A fascinating exploration of guilt, friendship, voyeurism and morality. I want to read it again now.
The zookeeper’s war (by Steven Conte)
Another story about the Second World War (see, I told you I was a germanophile). Set in Berlin, the story is about an Australian woman and her German husband, the zoo director, who struggle to look after the zoo animals during air raids and shortages. Tension mounts as forced labour is brought in to replace conscripted zoo staff, an affair blooms, and as the fall of Berlin creeps closer.
The Berlin crossing (by Kevin Brophy)
Do you see a theme here? Set in Brandenburg in 1993 (after the wall has come down) this story is about a teacher fired from his job by his new West German headmaster for being socialist, former Party member (in East Germany). He heads home to care for his terminally ill mother who, before she dies, tells him how to find out about the father he never knew. In doing so he learns the dark truth of what both of them suffered before the wall fell.
Other country (by Stephen Scourfield)
I would never have guessed that the story of two brothers living in the Top End, both deeply scarred by their abusive father, would have appealed to me, but, oh, I was so wrong. Their struggle to overcome their past and avoid becoming like their father sounds so male-focused I thought I’d have a hard time identifying, but the writing is so stark and beautiful that it just grabbed me and didn’t let go.
Handling the Undead (by John Ajvide Lindqvist—god I love Swedish names)
Lindqvist is best known for writing the novel that the movie Let the Right One In is based on, but I haven’t read that book or seen the movie. Handling the Undead is set in Stockholm and the story focuses on what happens when the dead come back to life, not like zombies but not exactly like their former selves either. This book was very emotional in an understated sort of way and its handling of love and death fascinating.
A wolf at the table (by Augusten Burroughs)
A memoir by author Burroughs, famous for the book Running with Scissors, this is the best told and most memorable memoir I’ve ever read. Given that his father appears to have been a sociopath or psychopath (or some kind of ‘path’) it’s a wonder Burroughs survived his childhood, let alone was able to go on to become a writer and write about his experience. With its black humour and deft style, I won’t ever forget this book, it’s permanently etched in my memory.
Homer and Langley (by E.L. Doctorow)
Born into a wealthy New York family, the brothers Homer and Langley seem destined for a charmed life. But everything changes when (in their teens) one loses his sight and the other has his lungs seared by gas in Europe during the First World War, and both lose their parents to the influenza epidemic of 1918. The story follows their lives and despite the way they try to insulate themselves from the world by hiding in their parents mansion, the outer world always finds a way in. I loved how the brothers’ story traced the change in society from 1918 to the 1970s (despite the two characters being shut-ins) and their bond is so strongly captured that at one point I blubbed while reading the story.
So there you have it, seven literary novels that I enjoyed in between consuming my usual romance fodder. This contradicts the belief pulled from some people's rectal area that romance novels only appeal to people who don't read literary fiction.