What is the Paris Bookshop's prescription?

I gave a talk on narrative voice at our writers' group yesterday. We looked at how different voices create different expectations in the reader. First person, present tense, teenage girl feeling isolated in a curiously different world? Must be YA dystopian romance, right? Or hard-bitten male voice with elegant lady in the office and dead body in the conversation--must be noir detective? Third person, past tense, multiple characters but we're not deep in their heads, and there's a dead body; must be cozy mystery? Third person, hero's point of view...?

It got me wondering, is there a "right" point of view for literary fiction?

Here are some books that felt kind of literary (and wonderfully so) when I read them. But I'll leave you to decide. Drink coffee. Always drink coffee!

First is French Letters: Children of a Good War by Jack Woodville London is the third in a trilogy, but the only one I've read of the set. It stands alone perfectly, following the lives of multiple characters through multiple wars, and revealing the lies and deceits of peace as well. Told with humor and pathos, it's deeply human and enthralling, and complex: best enjoyed with some seriously complex 4star coffee.

Yael Politis' The Summer of 1974 tells of a different war and place. It's set in Israel and weaves together the unbelonging of a Jewish orphan and an African American traveler. Quest for family becomes quest for purpose, and tangible dangers bring the humanity of the Jewish conflict into sharp focus without any political or religious message--instead there's quiet wisdom, promise and hope. Enjoy another complex (literary) tale with a complex 4star coffee.

Then there's Mrs. Rossi’s Dream by Khanh Ha, which brings to life the world of yet another war, this time in Vietnam, as Mrs. Rossi's absent son and present guide tell their (first person) tales. Haunting, vivid, filled with contrasts and wonder, it's a darkly complex tale deserving either a complex 4star coffee or a dark 5star one.

FREEFORCE: The Gryphon Saga by L. E. Horn is a science fiction novel with another different take on war. While it starts slowly, its complex imagining of different races and skills, and of human possibility, is what puts it in my "literary" book-pile. Definitely dark, enjoy it with some dark 5star coffee.

Brian Doyle's Martin Marten isn't a novel of war at all, unless it's the war of nature and the peace of belonging. A literary story of a boy's coming of age, combined, without anthropomorphism, with that of a marten, it weaves forest and stream, home and hearth, town and nature in an absorbing, enthralling blend. Enjoy with some seriously complex 4star coffee.

Westfarrow Island by Paul A. Barra builds up warring relationships too, and the war between a man's two selves--his secret life, and the powerful love that binds him to a woman. A war between peaceful Maine coast islands and criminal threat perhaps, it's one to enjoy with some complex 4-star coffee (though you'll need some dark sips in places).

And finally, there's The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George, a novel that tells of the war between a man and his past. He'd rather not know or remember, in case it hurts, so he looks into everyone else's feelings instead, resolving them with books. Until he finally has to open that door. Romantic, powerfully descriptive (and prescriptive), it's one to enjoy with some more complex 4star coffee.

So... first person, third person, single or multiple points of view, past, present or future, human or animal... what made me think these were all literary novels? They all involve a powerful sense for place. They all draw me deeply into the worlds and lives of their characters. They all show me something--a place, a point of view, a life--that I've never been before. And they all make me feel like I've been somewhere, someone or even somewhen else for a while, as I lost myself in their pages.

Is that "literary." The Paris Bookshop, or literary apothecary, might say so.


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