Leigh Podgorski wrote a really interesting blog for the Magic Realism Blog Hop yesterday, in which this quote caught my eye:
“In today’s literary marketplace it seems at times that it is all about the label—though in truth, Magic Realism does not seem to entice anyone to pounce upon the BUY NOW button.”
Leigh had started her piece by sharing some different definitions of magical realism, and I liked Susan Napier’s suggestion that magical realist fiction “takes the supernatural for granted”. It sort of got me thinking about genre again, a topic which we argue about regularly at allonymbooks and which my stablemate Evie Woolmore has blogged about before: is magical realism the principle genre of the books she writes (and I dabble in), or is it just one of several?
In this incredibly crowded market for fiction, aren’t all writers looking for something that makes their work stand out? And yet, as Leigh implies, that’s thinking like a writer, not thinking like a reader. Readers – and I’m no different – look for the familiar, something they’re going to feel comfortable with, a bit like not sitting next to the panic-stricken guy on the plane. I was surfing through the top 100 Kindle books last week, looking for some holiday reading, and I was kind of mad at myself for drifting towards the familiar all the time. But unless your reading mindset is deliberately adventurous, and you want to be challenged all the time, you’re probably not the sort of reader who does press ‘Buy Now’ when you see a book is magical realist.
So I’m thinking some more about this idea of taking the supernatural for granted. Is that like saying that in magical realist fiction, the supernatural is the least remarkable thing about the book? I know Evie’s approach is to normalise the supernatural stuff, to make it seem like it’s been there all along. Now by contrast, my lead character, Crash Cole, (let’s not pretend the guy’s a hero!) knows that what’s happening to him is anything but normal, but in all honesty I was more interested in writing innovatively about the lack of social and emotional boundaries we have now, and using the supernatural element (that Crash can hear everyone’s thoughts) as a way to show that. I was taking the supernatural for granted. But as a writer. I’m still not sure what readers think about that.
Leigh goes on to say “Still, a category is a category, or a label is a label, and it would matter to the loyal group of readers.” Which makes me wonder if readers are clinging on to the genre elements they can more easily relate to – the romance, the history – and they let the magical realism be the sprinkles on the cupcake. A kind of fancy add-on which doesn’t stand out as a flavour but makes the cake a bit more special. Would you buy a cupcake because it had yellow sprinkles rather than green ones? You might do if you were five (which is why kids are great audiences for magical realism), but as an adult you’re thinking “Is that red velvet under all that goo?”
I’m no further on in answering the question I set myself, but I’d like to thank Leigh for making me think about it. And actually, I kind of like the idea that we can take the supernatural for granted. It might make marketing my next book a bit easier too.
Cadell Blackstock is the author of Crash Cole in ‘The Rake Spared’, a contemporary satire on sex and celebrity (with a bit of supernatural thrown in, but don’t make a big deal out of it).
MAGIC REALISM BLOGHOP 2014
This post is part of the Magic Realism Blog Hop. Twenty blogs are taking part in the hop. Over three days (6th – 8th August) these blogs will be posting about magic realism. Please take the time to click on the link below to find out about the other posts and remember that links to the new posts will be added over the three days, so do come back to read more.
Very thought provoking – like you, I don’t have the answer, but it’s definitely got me pondering.
I think you are right that readers will reach for the familiar, following links from one book or writer in a genre that they like/are comfortable with, to find others that have the same feel. Can the “magic” strand be part of that? Personally, as a reader, I *would* follow the across different historical periods/countries/plots to follow the magic realism “genre”, but how much that is linked with my choices as a writer I’m not removed enough from my own self to be able to say with any degree of certainty!
What I am now thinking is, as writers, do we *want* the supernatural to be the sprinkles on the cake, or more one of the other integral ingredients (I’m going to say flour, to keep up with the cake analogy!) that you don’t really notice but the cake wouldn’t be the same without it? Food for thought, if you’ll excuse the pun!
(And great post!)
Nice post… magical realism is a category that perhaps better serves students than booksellers, though I’d like to see books in their own MR shelves! Great food for thought with this blog post, thanks!
I understand people reaching for a novel in a genre they love, where they feel confident of what they’re getting, and many people are unfamiliar with the term magic realism, but some people also think there’s not much difference between magic realism and fantasy which doesn’t help either. I recognize genre/categorization is needed as a marketing tool that helps directs readers, but it’s often quite an inflexible structure. A very interesting post.