I have never been a trend-setter. Some I’ve attempted to follow, with varying degrees of success, and some I’ve left well alone; many’s the time I’ve wished I could be one of those people who always seem to be the first to cotton on to the next big thing that everyone’s going to be wearing/watching/talking about. I wonder then, is it every author’s dream to see the title of their novel emblazoned across the cover of countless other publications, with the preceding words “the next” promising the perpetuation of a hot new trend? I can’t think of any other creative industry that so overtly compares one work to another in the hope of attracting an audience, but it’s a device that’s used over and over again, more accurately on some occasions than others. It’s fascinating to observe these literary trends take off, snowballing to epic proportions before the resultant behemoth eventually implodes under the weight of its own success, and the reading public lie prone and sated, waiting for the next idea to catch their imagination.
At the moment we’re all well and truly obsessed by what, for want of a better term, I’m going to call the female-orientated psychological thriller. Started arguably by “Gone Girl” and cemented by the juggernaut that is “The Girl on the Train” it’s a trend that’s still in full flow, with “The Widow”, “What She Left” and “Disclaimer” to name but a few picking up the ball and running with it. Delving a bit further back in time, remember the slew of conspiracy-theory-surrounding-ancient-artefact novels that followed Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code”? Suddenly you couldn’t move for ruined temples, mysterious relics and secret societies. And who could forget the era of gleeful sexual abandon instigated by “Fifty Shades of Grey”, when we all cast our embarrassment aside and it was suddenly okay to be seen reading porn on the tube?
Are big, bold, strident trends such as these always win-win for the readers or are they more of a double-edged sword than we’d perhaps like to think? Inevitably when comparisons are made between books in the way I’ve described there are always going to be instances when confidence that a new book really is “the next Girl on the Train” is slightly misplaced, and the readers (and author?) are left a bit disappointed. And admittedly, walking into a bookshop and seeing a succession of books that merely seem to repeat what’s gone before can potentially become quite tiresome. But for every novel that doesn’t quite live up to expectations there will be plenty that do and I believe that actually, the fact we so often see swathes of books of a very similar genre being released in a certain period of time is a perfect way of encouraging people to read even more than they may have done otherwise. Loved “Gone Girl”? Then brilliant – because there are now dozens of books right in front of you that you’re going to be drawn to and will probably enjoy.
All trends fizzle out eventually, and this one will be no exception. The exciting question for me, and all the other bookworms out there, is: what will be next?