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Ellis Sharp enthusiastically reviews RSB-contributor Lee Rourke's book of shorts Everyday on his blog The Sharp Side. Hopefully, my copy will arrive soon!


Every insurrection requires leadership and drive. In storming the citadel of Establishment Literary Fiction, Lee Rourke has, over the past two or three years, emerged as the V.I. Lenin of the literary underground. As the editor of Scarecrow he has both set out a manifesto and passionately and enthusiastically promoted a very diverse range of writers from the margins of our culture. We are no longer in the realm of Martin and Julian and Ian but in a bleaker, less consoling place. Stewart Home, Ann Quin, Noah Cicero, Tom McCarthy. And many, many others. An alternative geography of literature to the ones in the corporate supplements, the corporate review pages.

T'was I who first coined the phrase Establishment Literary Fiction and I'll be writing more here on the blog, and elsewhere, about what I consider it to be very soon. But I just wanted to note, today, that by deriding most current literary fiction as merely a particular brand of genre fiction, I wasn't suggesting that the remedy for this was something one might call "anti-Establishment Literary Fiction."


Novels/short-story collections are churned out in their tens of thousands each year. The antidote to this excess of mediocrity is art. It is artistry that is lacking in so very much of what is pumped out today, and being anti-corporate is no guarantee that what you are writing is not going to simply be an inverted form of Establishment Literary Fiction itself.

Readers Comments

  1. "book of shorts"

    Gives a whole new meaning to "flyleaf".

  2. Hullo Mark,

    Thank-you kindly for the plug. I must stress that my book is not an Anti-ELF book. Although, if people feel it is, that's fine by me. Personally, I am not interested enough in ELF as a genre to write anything against it via my own work - my blog maybe, but not through my own writing. My concerns are vertigo, modernity, and boredom. My book offers nothing, and it is certainly not an antidote.

    Ellis Sharp's review is very astute in many ways, though. He makes the point that our narratives are completely fragmented; they have no ending. Which pleases me.

    Both yours and Ellis' notions of ELF interest me; I look forward to reading more from you, and Ellis, on this subject.

    And, yes, book is on its way.

    Lee Rourke.

  3. I think that Mark made a significant refinement, however, in his idea of Establishment Literary Fiction, with the addition of the notion of "anti-Establishment" LF. My problem with a lot of "underground" or "alternative" writing (and I don't include Rourke at all here) is that it's often poorly or crudely or carelessly written, Charles Bukowski knock-offs -- often in the name of some kind of unmediated DIY spontaneity that ends up being every bit as much in "bad faith" as the "good writing" (a la McEwan) of ELF. The 'underground' is too often just a reaction-formation which ends up ratifying what it purports to reject. Mark has had the directness to come out and say it: What's missing in both cases is precisely art (and not "craft," beloved of the MFA programs). There's the above-ground ELF and the underground anti-ELF and then there's art, which is . . . elsewhere. (my way out of hazarding a definition).

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