One of the most exciting freedoms that literary fiction offers is the elbow room to blend or hop genres in a single work. David Mitchell comes to mind as an author who seamlessly integrates the historical, contemporary, and speculative. To genre-blend is a skill. The writer must win the trust of the reader several times over—for each genre attempted—and then one final time for the entirety of the work, which must cohere and address the author’s thematic concerns. In Cloud Atlas, for instance, Mitchell’s statement about the connectedness of human nature across epochs and geographies is first and foremost what we remember about the novel. The adventures in the nineteenth century and the post-apocalypse are instruments that amplify this overarching theme.
In The Tusk That Did The Damage, Tania James attempts a similar genre-blending high-wire act. Set in South India, the novel is at once a fable, a behind-the-scenes look into the world of elephant poaching, and a love triangle between Western do-gooders abroad.