Genre-Benders by Rob Doyle
5th February 2016
In their variously delightful ways, the books I’ve chosen here all melt down the barrier between fiction and non-fiction, and exhilarate through proximity to the lived experience of the author, rather than relying on artifices of character and plot. In my series of linked short stories This Is the Ritual, I took great pleasure in creating fictions that drew inspiration from books such as these. Thus there are essays that are stories (and vice versa), autofictional self-assassinations, and deadpan biographies of imaginary authors - in short, fictions that keep the reader guessing how much is truth and how much is fabrication.
What binds together many of the books I find fascinating is a spirit of playfulness, along with a genre-bending willingness to disregard the conventions of much so-called literary fiction. Summertime by J.M. Coetzee was a novel comprised of (fictitious) interviews with figures from the life of the deceased South African author, J.M. Coetzee. In Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be or Aidan Higgins’ Balcony of Europe, the authors novelised their own day-to-day lives rather than dream up stories that never happened. These are all writers whose natural instinct is to make it new, recasting literary forms in their own mould and jettisoning the parts they find boring, rather than merely inheriting the common ways of doing things. As such, they thrill me as a reader and inspire me as a writer.