(Imported from Blogger; formatting glitches need to be fixed)

When the call went out last November for recommendations of “popular” novels by Australian Women Writers, book bloggers recommended far fewer books in this category than for “literary”, Speculative Fiction/Fantasy/Sci-Fi, Crime and Romance. Yet recent mainstream contemporary fiction has generated the greatest number of reviews for the challenge so far.

Because of the sheer number of books, the broad category of “contemporary” a temptation has been to break down this category into subgenres.

But which books should go where?

In attempting to answer this question I found myself grappling with several more questions.

What’s the best way to recognise “contemporary women’s fiction”? Is this type of fiction “popular”, easy reads, whereas literary fiction is more demanding? Or should a “contemporary” list include literary novels? What about lighter books, commonly known as “Chick Lit”? Should these be counted as a separate sub-genre?

Most contentiously of all, what about novels that focus on the domestic relationship between two people? If it ends happily, or happily for now, should it be considered “romance”, while relationships with a less obvious sense of closure be regarded either as literary or mainstream?

Behind all these questions looms an even larger one. If we let book publishers’ and sellers’ marketing decisions dictate how we categorise books, do we run the risk of making books of literary merit that are “generic” or “popular” in nature less visible to those compiling long lists for literary awards? Equally, do we risk marginalising the “literary”?

In consultation with writers and reviewers on Twitter, I’ve decided to include here novels labelled by reviewers as “chick lit”, as well as books marketed as “rural fiction”, even though some of these novels may include a courtship (which arguably makes them “romance” or books with “romantic elements”). New releases which obviously fall into a generic category such as Fantasy/Speculative Fiction/Sci-Fi, Crime and Romance (where the focus is on the courtship to the virtual exclusion of all other story), as well as books with a historical setting* and those marketed as “literary”, have been tallied elsewhere.

Arguably, though, all are “contemporary” fiction.

Disclaimer: I’ve only read a fraction of these books and only skimmed many of the reviews. Putting the reviews into a format that helps readers looking for recent titles by Australian women – rather than having them try to decipher the Mr Linky boxes of reviews posted on the AWW challenge page – has taken a great deal of time and effort. If some authors object to having their books categorised as “popular” or “women’s fiction”, instead of “literary”, my apologies. Same goes for authors listed previously as “literary” who believe their books also belong here. Any mistakes will gladly be rectified. EL

Tally: 37 books, 90 reviews, 40 reviewers, 12 publishers.

Publishers: Allen & Unwin (9 books, 20 reviews); Random House (9 books, 25 reviews);Hachette (2 books, 5 reviews); Pan Macmillan (2 books, 5 reviews); HarperCollins (3 books, 10 reviews); Penguin (7 books, 16 reviews); Harlequin (3 book, 10 reviews); Simon & Schuster (1 book, 1 review); Indigo Dreams* (1 book, 2 reviews); Joshua Books* (1 book, 1 review); Even Before Publishing* (1 book.1 review).

NB: It’s unclear whether the publishers marked * are independent small presses or vehicles for self-publication.


* Shelleyrae of Book’d Out suggests both M L Stedman’s The Light Between
Oceans and Nicole Trope’s  The Boy Under the Table should also be
included in the tally of “historical fiction“, but as that wasn’t obvious to me from my cursory glance at the reviews, they were included here.

Post modified: title and summary paragraph deleted (22/7/12).

Are there any other authors who would prefer not to have their books on this list?