Well, we’re back in lockdown again and for me that means only one thing: I now have time to, if not write, then at least plan the Great Australian Novel.
But what genre will it be?
Here are five possibilities:
Roman a clef
French for “novel with a key”, these are true-life tales hidden behind a thin veil of fiction.
Roman a Clef allow writers to:
– write terrible things about real people and not get sued
– write about their own lives and make themselves a little better (or worse) than they really are.
Roman a clefs of note include:
Postcards from the Edge – Carrie Fisher writing about her own struggles with addiction, rehab, family and Hollywood.
The Devil Wears Prada – Lauren Weisberger writing about her horrible boss Anna Wintour.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Hunter S. Thompson writing about himself, his drug use, the Mint 400 car race and the hallucinations caused by all three.
Black Water – Joyce Carol Oates writing about the Chappaquiddick incident.
Primary Colors – Anonymous/Joe Klein writing about what went on behind the scenes during the 1992 Clinton presidential campaign.
From the Spanish word for bohemian, picaresque narratives are social satires with roguish main characters who have many adventures, but remain largely unchanged by any of them.
In other words, like a kid in online schooling, by the time it’s all over they haven’t learned a thing.
Picaresque “rouges” you may have heard of include:
Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair (William Makepeace Thackeray)
Tom Jones, of Tom Jones (Henry Fielding)
Ignatius J. Reilly in A Confederacy of Dunces (John Kennedy Toole)
Tom Sawyer in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Mark Twain)
And, while not particularly rogue-ish, Forrest Gump (Winston Groom) is also considered a picaresque protagonist, because although being present at key events in US history he isn’t changed or affected by any of them.
A story told through a series of journal entries, letters, newspaper clippings, emails or a combination of all these. Epistolary novels are typically first person narratives often, but not always, told through the eyes of one character.
Epistolary titles you have heard of include:
Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
Dracula – Bram Stoker
The Color Purple – Alice Walker
World War Z – Max Brooks
Basically a “coming of age” tale, the Bildungsroman genre centres on a youthful protagonist who goes through profound psychological and moral growth.
So, unlike a picaresque protagonist, they do learn something.
A German word that roughly translates to “education novel”, Bildungsroman stories feature youthful characters, the loss of innocence, a journey to maturity and (perhaps) the line “I’ll never forget that summer at the Cape.”
You know the kind of thing:
Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)
To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
David Copperfield (Charles Dickens)
The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton)
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky)
Again from the German, this “artists novel” is basically A Portrait of The Artist as a Young Man. Which is fitting, as that’s one of the books that falls squarely into this category.
The Künstlerroman genre is focused on a fledgling artist forced to choose between a “traditional” life or the life of an artist. Something that, in these novels, often equates to: unemployment, squalor and heavy drinking.
And I guess some of them actually write/act/paint/dance/make music too.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – Betty Smith
Keep the Aspidistra Flying – George Orwell
Of Human Bondage – W. Somerset Maugham
Fun Home – Alison Bechdel
Although not wholly responsible for it, this genre has been known to perpetuate the stereotype that to be a “true” artist you must live on the fringes of society and reject the trappings of a “normal” life, like hygiene and bed frames.
While I agree that pursuing a career in the arts was an incredible risk in years gone by (especially for women and minorities), in 2021 being an “artist” no longer demands such brutal sacrifices. Today, it’s possible to self-publish your sexy werewolf-romance novels, make money from them, AND still have a steady job, a nice home and, if you choose, a family.
What a time to be alive… y’know, apart from the whole virus thing.
Anyway, now we’ve reached the end of the post I should probably mention that I’ve chosen a genre for my book.
I mean, isn’t it obvious?
Are you a word nerd like me? Then why not check out these older posts: