Which got me thinking. Who draws the line between genre and literary fiction? And would that line ever become blurred enough to let a thriller or mystery slip through to the winning post of the Booker?
This year’s Booker shortlist includes a Western and a YA(ish) novel set in Peckham. All six books are said to be great reads, with Julian Barnes’ slim (150 page) story about male sexual rivalry (oh good) the most ‘literary’. The only vaguely thriller-esque shortlistee is Snowdrops by AD Miller.
But no out and out crime novel.
In 2010 the Australian crime writer Peter Temple won the prestigious Miles Franklin award – Australia’s top literary prize. Which got a the literati in this country a bit twitchy. Well written genre fiction? Come on.
In the past there have been novels on the shortlist or longlist that might have ticked the ‘high quality’ crime/thriller fiction box. In 2002 Sarah Waters was nominated for Fingersmith – a Victorian psychological crime novel in the Wilkie Collins mould. She didn’t go on to win the Booker, but she did nab the CWA’s Historical Crime Fiction Dagger.
In 2008 Tom Rob Smith’s Moscow thriller Child 44 was longlisted.
Close, but I don’t see anyone flashing cigars. Equally, on the other side of the Atlantic, George Pelicanos and Dennis Lehane are flying the flag for the riveting plot/fine prose combo, but neither have won the Pulitzer.
If crime is good enough for the likes of Kate Atkinson (Jackson Brodie series), Ian McEwan (Saturday), John Banville (writing as Benjamin Black) and William Boyd (Ordinary Thunderstorms) then maybe the literary establishment needs to take the genre a tad more seriously.
Or we just have to wait for Hilary Mantel to invent a new female sleuth (Murder at Wolf Hall, anyone?)
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