Harriet Walker: Could a taste for crime fiction over romantic fiction add up to social decline?

 

Share

Given the explosively pungent mix of economic disquiet, social unrest and general misery, it's little wonder we're burying our noses in books. You'd think we'd all be ramming on the rose-tinted spectacles and pretending we live in gentler times, but the Public Lending Right reveals that the 10 most popular library books of last year were crime novels.

Topped by Dan Brown and shot through with James Patterson (who accounted for five of the top slots), it's a clear indication of our changing tastes. But why so grisly? And whither Catherine Cookson? Perhaps it's simply that gritty reality now differs so entirely from the parlours and ballrooms and coquetting crinolines of romantic fiction that it has become unrecognisable and irrelevant. There's no will-they, won't-they in our minds any more – they always will, and they'll regret it in the morning.

It's a sad indictment of our imaginative capacity that we can no longer relate to a zeitgeist that is not directly in front of us, whether on Twitter, Facebook, The Only Way is Essex or the pages of a whodunnit. Perhaps our tastes for plot have been so wrecked by populist pandering as to ruin the romantic genre forever: thrillers can maintain a suspense quite apart from our endless quest for a happy ending, while romance doesn't have quite the same hold once you've figured out who is Mr Right.

In his new novel, The Marriage Plot, Jeffrey Eugenides argues that a turn away from romance and nuptials in fiction indicates social decline; a society that does not see marriage as the endpoint is morally bankrupt.

Or perhaps it's just a phase. The crime genre was born of civil unrest, and revolution, let's not forget. The parallels between the Arab Spring and 1848 are well explored, but why shouldn't our literary tastes reflect them, too? That year saw people swap Northanger Abbey for Wuthering Heights and take to the mysteries, scandals and murderous plot twists of writers such as Wilkie Collins, Edgar Allen Poe and Charles Dickens. Now we have Sarah Lund, but our first British fictional 'tec, Inspector Bucket of Bleak House, was born of a similar public curiosity and anxiety.

Not much has changed: when humans experience hardship, they want to know more about it, not to read about the lucky few whose lives all worked out. These days we know we can't rely on "happily ever after", and our library cards reflect it only too well.

h.walker@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Norwegian Speaking Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + competitive OTE: SThree: Progressive in Manchester...

IT Support Analyst - London - £22,000

£20000 - £22000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chel...

Learning Support Assistants-Nantwich area

£8 - £9 per hour: Randstad Education Chester: We are currently recruiting for ...

Primary Teachers-Northwich area

£85 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Primary Teachers- Northwich Ar...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Prime Minister’s Questions: Yah Miliband versus Boo Cameron

John Rentoul
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella  

Zoella is a great role model - she changed my life

Vicky Chandler
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London