What’s ‘Up Lit’?
It’s the trend that everyone in the literary world has been talking about after it took 2018 by storm. There has been a surge in demand to read novels such as the award-winning ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ and other ‘up lit’ titles such as ‘Three Things About Elsie’ by Joanna Cannon. The popularity of the trend truly came to fruition during the Frankfurt Book Festival in which the Guardian noted that presses were fighting over Beth Morrey’s novel ‘The Love Story of Missy Carmichael’. Yet, the question remains: what exactly is up lit? As readers, we seem to have collectively turned our backs on the doom and gloom of genres such as dystopia and crime, and now we are looking towards literature that is happier and more life-affirming. Many news articles emphasise the genre’s themes of kindness and community and that the genre helps to piece together a fragmented and bleak outlook by focussing on small moments of positivity.
Despite this, up lit remains an ambiguous genre. Needless to say, the core of up lit is that it is ‘uplifting literature’, however the plotlines are not linear. Situating Gail Honeyman’s novel as the prime example of the genre, it initially seems odd that a story with a blurb detailing a woman’s dependence upon drinking two bottles of vodka every weekend is conducive of uplifting the reader. However, despite the troubling plot, it has been praised as one of the forerunners in the up lit movement.
This is due to the genre’s capacity to alter Eleanor’s lonely world simply through small acts of kindness and an unlikely friendship. Although Honeyman touches upon troubling subject matter, she resists the urge to create a ‘happily-ever-after’ ending to the novel. Instead, Honeyman presents these acts of kindness as building blocks in establishing the potential for a more hopeful future for her protagonist. By the end of the novel, we see Eleanor begin to pick herself up and open herself up to a support network willing to help her. It is this potential for hope that renders the novel worthy of the up lit categorisation.
Up lit becomes clearer when viewed as more akin to realism than a fairy tale utopia. Unlike a fairy tale, up lit recognises that ‘happily ever after’ is not a full stop and that life goes on beyond this. The genre is expansive enough to accommodate the ups and downs of life which makes it able to immerse the reader in storylines that are truly harrowing, such as Eleanor Oliphant’s loneliness. Although these themes are not uplifting themselves, it is the refusal to censor the negative aspects of life makes the uplifting elements of the novel, like Eleanor making a friend, more powerful.
Another important aspect of the genre is its focus on relationships. It seems that up lit drags readers through a heavy emotional plot before ultimately reaffirming values of community, friendship, family and the importance of support networks. The emphasis on the transformative power of relationships has been mentioned often with regards to the genre. However, it is not necessarily that relationships can save a person. Unlike fairy tales, the frog does not inevitably turn into the prince and the couple do not necessarily walk off into the sunset with the promise of infinite and unwavering utopia. Rather, the emphasis on relationships within up lit demonstrates the importance of connection and the impact that small acts of kindness can have on someone’s life. These acts do not necessarily resolve all of their problems, but it gives them enough hope to carry on.
Ultimately, up lit has become so popular because it recognises that readers are seeking an escape from the pessimism of the daily news but are too cynical for the unreality of a fairy tale to cheer them up. The genre has the same effect on us as the quotes of the day we often see in London tube stations. These are quotes written with the intention provide daily commuters with a brief moment of positivity before they go about their day. Like up lit, the quotes will not solve large scale problems, but they are there to remind us that we are not alone in feeling a certain way or simply to just keep on keeping on as it gets better.