One may make a distinction between two types of novel: the self-enclosed and the open. The distinction is not absolute. Such things never are. Genre fiction may merge with what is called the literary novel, for instance. Still the categories I have in mind are useful, or at least interesting. By the self-enclosed novel, I mean one which makes no reference — or almost no reference — to anything beyond itself. It belongs to its age of course, but it does not appear to be set in time. Time naturally passes, as it must in a narrative, but there is no suggestion that events in the world of fact beyond the novel might impinge on its characters, influence their behaviour, or affect the course of their lives. The doors of the novel are closed against the winds of the world.
In the open novel, these winds, which are the winds of history, beat upon the characters. Indeed history is itself a character in this kind of novel, even if the author chooses not to introduce real-life historical figures.
more from The Spectator here.