Grunge lit

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Grunge lit is an Australian literary genre usually applied to fictional or semi-autobiographical writing concerned with young people living in suburban or inner-city surroundings. It was typically written by "new, young authors"[1] who examined "gritty, dirty, real existences",[1] where life revolves around a nihilistic pursuit of vices such as sex, drugs and alcohol. It has been described as both a sub-set of Dirty realism and an offshoot of Generation X literature.[2] The genre was first coined in 1995 to capitalise on the success of Andrew McGahan's first novel Praise which had been released in 1991 and became popular with sub-30-year-old readers, a previously under-investigated demographic.[1] Since its invention the term "grunge lit" has been retrospectively applied to novels written as early as 1977.[2]

Themes and style[edit]

The majority of grunge lit works place their subjects within an urban or suburban environment where they explore the relationship between the body and the soul.[3] The novels typically depict an "inner cit[y]" " of disintegrating futures where the only relief from...boredom was through a nihilistic pursuit of sex, violence, drugs and alcohol".[1] Often the central characters are disfranchised, lacking drive and determination beyond the desire to satisfy their basic needs. The authors use a confessional style of narration and autobiographical elements to achieve an intimacy with the reader.[2] Although arousing antithetical views on publication, the majority of grunge lit books received little critical attention.[3] "In grunge fiction, Ian Syson argues, “depressed and frightened young Australian men” express “their alienation through excessive alcohol consumption, acts of brutality, sexual conquests and active contempt for authority”".[4]

Stuart Glover states that the term "grunge lit" takes the term "grunge" "...from the music industry" genre of grunge " the late 80’s and early 90’s—the Seattle bands".[5]


Australian authors recognised as having written Grunge lit include Andrew McGahan[2] whose novel Praise, won the Australian/Vogel Literary Award in 1991, Helen Garner[2] whose novel Monkey Grip won the National Book Council Award in 1978 and Edward Berridge[3] who wrote The Lives of the Saints. Christos Tsiolkas and Linda Jaivin have also been considered to be grunge lit authors.[1] Other authors who have been classified as grunge writers include Clare Mendes, Neil Boyack, Justine Ettler (author of The River Ophelia) and Leonie Stephens.[6]

Critical analysis[edit]

Murray Waldren "...denied grunge [lit] was a new genre"; he preferred to categorize these " publications [of the 1990s] within a wider tradition of 'dirty realism'".[1] Dirty realism is a term coined by Bill Buford of Granta magazine to define a North American literary movement. Writers in this sub-category of realism are said to depict the seamier or more mundane aspects of ordinary life in spare, unadorned language.[7] The term formed the title of the Summer 1983 edition of Granta. Sometimes considered a variety of literary minimalism, dirty realism is characterized by an economy with words and a focus on surface description. Writers working within the genre tend to avoid adverbs, extended metaphor and internal monologue, instead allowing objects and context to dictate meaning. Characters are shown in ordinary, unremarkable occupations, and often a lack of resources and money that creates an internal desperation.[8] Ian Syson states that "grunge" "...goes by other names at different times and places in history", including naturalism, social realism, kitchen sink drama and the angry young men in Britain. American realists like Henry Miller and Raymond Carver; and neo realism.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Leishman, Kirsty, 'Australian Grunge Literature and the Conflict between Literary Generations', Journal of Australian Studies, 23.63 (1999), pp. 94–102
  2. ^ a b c d e Vernay, Jean-François, 'Grunge Fiction', The Literary Encyclopedia, 6 November 2008, accessed 9 September 2009
  3. ^ a b c Brooks, Karen, 'Shit Creek: Suburbia, Abjection and Subjectivity in Australian 'Grunge' Fiction', Australian Literary Studies, 18 (1998), pp. 87-100, accessed 10 September 2009
  4. ^ Vernay, Jean-François, 'Grunge Fiction', The Literary Encyclopedia, 6 November 2008, accessed 3 February 2017
  5. ^ Glover, Stuart. A Short Note on Grunge Fiction.
  6. ^ a b
  7. ^ "Definition: Dirty Realism". Online dictionary service in English, Spanish, German and other languages by. 20 July 2008. 30 Dec. 2008 <>.
  8. ^