Sunday 19 November 2017

Book worm: Love affair is over for Irish fiction

Maeve Binchy
Maeve Binchy

John Boland

Time was when popular Irish novels seemed to dominate the bestseller lists, both here and across the water. Not anymore, though.

At the beginning of every year, the Guardian devotes a page to the 100 bestselling paperbacks, whether fiction or non-fiction, of the preceding 12 months, and until recently Irish novels figured very prominently - mostly the work of such feel-good women writers as Maeve Binchy, Marian Keyes, Sheila O'Flanagan, Cathy Kelly and Cecelia Ahern, some of whom appeared more than once in each list.

But this January's list featured not even one book by an Irish writer, which may point to a weariness with the "chick lit" genre in general or with its Irish practitioners in particular, though the death of Maeve Binchy should also be noted as a factor, given that in her heyday four or five of her books were likely to feature in any given year's top 100.

Whatever the reason, the reading public's love affair with Irish women's fiction seems to be waning. Indeed, in the Guardian's just-published list of the 100 most borrowed books from libraries during 2013 and 2014, it's only the late Binchy who flies the flag for Irish writing, featuring in 40th place for A Week in Winter.

Other forms of popular fiction seem to have peaked, too, notably the Harry Potter and Twilight phenomena, as well as softcore porn. Instead, it's crime fiction that dominates this particular Top 100, with Lee Child, Jo Nesbo and Michael Connolly doing very well and with James Patterson - either by himself or with his battalion of co-writers - accounting for 13 of the most-borrowed titles.

And thus it was hardly surprising to learn from a recent Vanity Fair profile that, in the last year alone, Patterson's literary endeavours have earned him an estimated $90m. His books may be wretched but, as the man said, nobody ever lost any money by underestimating the taste of the public.

And so while Stephen King may decry him as a "terrible writer", the former advertising boss is hardly worried, busily and no doubt happily amassing a fortune of which even King can only dream.

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