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The genre divide

Despite the latest efforts of John Banville, the gulf between genre and literary fiction remains wide

By Tom Chatfield   December 2007

Ever since Edgar Allan Poe laid the foundations of horror and detective fiction in the 1830s—and was soundly reviled for this impertinence in his native land—genre and literary authors have been wary of one another. The history of high literature is also the history of genius; of the Shakespeares and Byrons whose unique talents have bewildered the world. Throughout genre fiction’s briefer lifetime, however—from Poe to le Carré via Verne—the contract between audience and author has always been the most important matter. This is what genre signifies: you aim to please them at least as much as yourself, and you…

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