Century, $43.85 hb, 608 pp
I recently took part in a forum on contemporary Australian fiction, a discussion during which the publisher on the panel talked about popular and/or ‘middlebrow’ fiction, and about her ire with reviewers who either simply trashed such novels, or else insisted on emphasising their status as ‘popular fiction’, and on discussing them within the context of its generic expectations and limitations.
The weakness in this latter point is the fact that if judged by the same criteria and standards as ‘high culture’ literary fiction, most popular or middlebrow fiction would suffer cruelly, if only for its lack of originality. The reviews that don’t take generic differences into account are precisely the ones that give populist writers the hardest time. The work of a populist writer, especially if it works within well-defined genres – the historical novel, the detective novel, the saga, the romance, the western, or whatever – deserves to be analysed in its class, by its own rules and standards.