As I was finishing up the last draft of The Devil’s Looking Glass, I received news of the publication of the French version of Lord of Silence (see below). It got me thinking about how, although we live in a globalised world/economy, fiction is one area where the separations of the past are still quite evident.
The massed ranks of the internet love to pretend only one yardstick is necessary for books. Press this button for good, and this one for bad. Except, as the music industry has found out, the 21st century is all about nuance and complexity and mini-tribes. The mainstream is dead.
Some books just don’t travel well. That doesn’t mean they’re bad books, just that they’re not necessarily universal. Some novels work best when they’re communicating with a very narrow readership. Subtle, deeply-themed, with a great deal of unspoken communication because so much knowledge is already shared.
This is a long tradition of British fiction, and one reason why many UK writers have struggled across the Atlantic, but you can also find it throughout Europe.
Americans are much better at universal communication (unless the fiction is religion or sport-based when it hardly ever breaks out of their shores). I don’t know why that is, although I have a few ideas. The nation and its history is based upon the principle of Big Mythologies, and myth is a universal communicator with its symbols and archetypes. And film as an American art-form (okay, arguable, I know, but it has been embraced by the people as such) has infused the culture with its universal communication techniques.
I love the big books with the ubiquitous themes, but I’d certainly miss those fusty, quirky little stories about forgotten parts of a country’s culture if they came under threat in the current publishing climate.