October 04, 2014

FO and DAM novels

It's been a while since a post. Travel - new experiences and ideas, places, people - has kept me out of my cave where I am usually squirreled with books or searching the quirks of the publishing world.

Settling down again, I've turned to some new titles that I have acquired along my way with a growing sense of dismay. What was I thinking? There are books in my suitcase and on my Kindle that I either won't read at all or are destined for the DNF (did not finish) stack.

Some were freebies, others were purchased in some dizzy moment, but either way I now feel guilty that I am doing competent or brilliant authors a disservice by not giving my full attention to their well-crafted work, but the reality is I am now over certain styles of writing.

Historical fiction (HF) is my favourite genre and I've been an accredited reviewer of same for some time, but too many books that are now being marketed in this category don't really belong there. Contemporary relationship stories with links to the past are not historical fiction in my opinion, they are just modern stories that have in some way been influenced by something that took place in the recent or distant past - which applies to just about everything in life anyhow. *

These books tend to fall into two similar categories. 

One style has a specific trigger device, the found object (FO). It's a diary in the attic or letter hidden in the drawer, a portrait, a locket. etc. The FO is discovered by a modern-day female who is in crisis over her career and/or relationship, and she becomes embroiled in a search to solve the mystery surrounding the FO, occasionally involving a spot of time travel or dimension switching. It usually concludes with our heroine finding love and resolving her other problems in the process. These novels are usually lightweight and an easy read.

The other type is more problematic. It can sometimes include an FO, but is more “literary” in style with lots of deep and meaningful (DAM) prose about the leading character's relationships and how everything that is going wrong in her life can be traced back to tragic or ugly dramas that happened way-back-when to someone else in her family.

Copyright ?
What is increasingly common to both of these formats is the cut and jump around time-frame – the arty flashback. I blame the movie industry for introducing this annoyance in the first place. The simple two-strand story with half the action taking place in modern day and the other in a specific time in the past, e.g. 2014 and World War 1, is tolerable and usually straightforward to read ... BUT it is the growing plethora of those with lots of different eras, e.g. 2014, 1914, 1940, 1990, written in random order that feel more like a collection of short stories rather than a complete novel. It seems compulsory too that tenses and points of view must vary.

Considering the large number of novels like this being published, I am convinced they are evidence of what is being taught in Creative Writing degree courses where linear narratives are despised as being too simplistic, easy or dull and that challenging your readers with hodge-podge DAM writing is now mandatory if you want to graduate. Sigh!  Given what I have written, I suspect this would happen to me if I dared to enrol in such a degree course ...

Copyright Alex Hallatt
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So I accept I am in the grumpy minority and thousands of readers adore such novels, but my patience isn't what it used to be nor is my brain's bookkeeping system that tidy any more, and I'm over having my involvement in a story being disrupted with switches back, forward and sideways in time, tense and point of view at the expense of readability and plot.

If these books were marketed as general fiction, I would have no quarrel with them as I probably wouldn't pick them up in the first place, but marketing these books as HF when their historical component is minimal doesn't seem right.

These books also tend to have more anachronisms and errors in tone, dialogue and general sense of history.  The author who writes good contemporary fiction is not always as successful when they venture into HF, and vice versa. 

Going away to dig in my TBR (to be read) pile for an HF novel that has an old-fashioned narrative, preferably one that was written with a quill pen ...

* The debate on what constitutes historical fiction is always being argued and the Historical Novel Society website provides the best guides.

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