“Metafiction is a term given to fictional writing which self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its status as an artifact in order to pose questions about the relationship between fiction and reality. In proving a critique of their own methods of construction, such writings not only examine the fundamental structures of narrative fiction, they also explore the possible fictionality of the world outside the literary fictional text.”
Metafiction is commonly associated with postmodern literature, but as wikipedia says it has been around since perhaps the beginning of the written word, with examples of books across various time periods such as Homer’s Odyssey, The Canterbury Tales and Don Quixote. The two great epics of Indian literature, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are wrapped in metafictional plots with the poets Valmiki and Vyasa who composed these works appearing within the respective stories as key characters. The collection Kathasaritsagar or the ocean of stories is likewise a labyrinth of fantastic tales within tales, all of which are supposed to be sourced from the ancient epic Brihatkatha which literally means ‘The Great Story’.
As a reader, I find it all the more interesting to read a novel with metafictional elements set in more recent times. Metafiction is more than a book or an author self consciously referring to themselves. In many books it brings out the attachment between the author and her work, a coming together of the art and the artist so deeply that they seem to be one single entity, which extends to the reader who opens the pages and finds themselves to be a part of this absolute union, an intense experience which goes beyond the illusion of the fictional universe.
Some of my favourite books in the genre include Loitering with Intent, Fahrenheit 451, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, 84 Charing Cross Road, The Name of The Rose, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, The Thirteenth Tale, Angel’s Game, The Help, The Neverending Story, Sophie’s World, Atonement, The Inkheart trilogy…and more. Sometimes I feel that this genre is the only one worth reading as it (usually) covers everything else.
I plan to write a series of posts analysing metafiction, on what it means to me as a reader, why I turned to it as a writer, and why I believe like many that metafiction is a way of understanding the nature of reality.