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Domestic Fiction in the 21st Century

Post by Elizabeth Coleman
Posted June 06, 2014 in NoveList Plus, Readers' Advisory News

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In continuing the clean-up of genres at NoveList, we’ve recently started looking at non-genres. What is a non-genre?  Well, non-genres, as the name implies, might be best defined by what they are not -- they are not Fantasy, or Science fiction, or Mysteries, or any of the other major genres.  And they are not easily defined by specific tropes. They are a little fuzzier and harder to pin down when it comes to a cut-and-dry definition.  Think of genres like Literary fiction, Political fiction, and Psychological fiction. Unlike the major genres, very little research has been done on these non-genres, which has given us at NoveList the unique (and exciting!) opportunity to explore our own ideas about how to define them for readers’ advisory purposes. 

For the past few weeks, the non-genres team has been getting into rousing discussions about the definition of Domestic fiction and wondering what kinds of books should be included in this category.  Just what is meant by Domestic fiction, you ask?  At first, we weren’t sure either. The very word “domestic” seems to imply a cozy home and family life. But families (happy or not) are not alike (sorry, Tolstoy!), and they can be complicated to varying degrees. We did find that a common factor in Domestic fiction novels -- from E.M. Forster’s Howards End to Wilton Barnhardt’s Lookaway, Lookaway -- was the intense focus on the dynamics within a family.

From there, we built up a working definition of Domestic fiction by adding aspects we thought it should include.  First, the relationship should be between all members of a family unit, whether that consisted of two people or twelve.  For example, a book about sisters that does not address their relationships with the other members of the household would probably be better served by a different genre. In addition, the family members should be living. Stories where characters agonize over their relationship with a deceased parent, for instance, is not Domestic fiction according to NoveList’s understanding of it. From our research and work, we have defined Domestic fiction so far as novels that are usually home-centric and focused on the relationships within a (functional or dysfunctional) family during a single generation.

Before we close the door on Domestic fiction, however, we wanted to hear from you.  What do you think Domestic fiction means in the 21st century? Do people still read it? Let us know!

Elizabeth Coleman is a Cataloger at NoveList.