Saturday, 6 June 2015

Writing Both at the Same Time

Drawing on the example of Shakespeare ("everyone knows his plays and no one worries too much about what genre they fit into"), Susan Glickman believes we waste too much time trying to classify books.
Since Aristotle first divided poetry into epic, lyric, and dramatic, students of literature have found genre a very helpful way to talk about the structure of works and the transmission of traditions. But I’m not convinced that thinking within such tight aesthetic categories is equally useful for writers themselves, whose job, after all, is to represent life.
Our obsession with those "tight aesthetic categories" may even have harmed her second novel's reception:
When asked the genre of my second novel, The Tale-Teller, I described it as “feminist picaresque”—after all, its realistic framework of life in 18th-century Quebec was constantly being interrupted by heroic tales of feral children, pirates, and escapes from harems. I was informed by agents and editors who admired the writing but disliked generic miscegenation that my book ought to be either historical fiction or fantasy, and I wasn’t permitted to write both at the same time. I stuck to my guns and found a publisher (Cormorant Books) that got what I was doing. But still, the French translation by Boreal has done better than the original; reviewers in Canada’s other official language celebrated the work for exactly those qualities—philosophical engagement and linguistic playfulness—overlooked by English reviewers who insisted on reading it as historical fiction.

1 comment:

theresa said...

Susan's piece in the Q&Q is something I've been waiting for -- a writer standing up for the work itself rather than the genre. I think readers are willing to simply read and aren't necessarily troubled by fine divisions of fantasy or historical fiction or (heaven forbid)the fact/fiction distinction. I wish agents and publishers weren't so insistent that we all need to colour within the lines. I loved both Susan's novels and look forward to this one.