Books-it: Will Brexit Change What We Read?


Daniella explores what Britain's break with Europe is likely to mean for writers, publishers and readers.

The 2016 Referendum questioning whether or not the UK should withdraw from the European Union (EU) saw 51.9% of the country's participating voters decide to leave the EU.  This voter's outcome subsequently invoked Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which sets out how a current EU country might if they so wished to, voluntarily leave the union.  

Now, with the UK officially on its way out of the European Union after 44 years of being a member, the changes to come from this so-called divorce will most definitely mean a new direction for our country – especially as it relates to our agricultural and manufacturing sectors to name a few.

But with all that being said, what does leaving the European Union mean for literature?  

Like all major changes that affect the socio-political sphere, Brexit shakes up our current climate, meaning that writers will feel compelled to write about the populous' response and attitudes towards it. 

Romanian novelist, Claudiu Florian, who was among the European Union Prize for Literature laureates in 2016 articulates this sentiment perfectly, saying that "Writers are stimulated by conflict and upheaval."  

Now it seems as though the spirited aftermath of the 2016 referendum has led to something called Brexit Literature, a term formerly unbeknownst to most of us--but not anymore. But how exactly would we define Brexit Literature? 

Culture Trip's Book Editor Matthew Janney describes how

In an aim to narrativize the fallout of the 2016 referendum, a new genre […] is emerging, reminiscent of classical 20th Century dystopian fiction.

In other words, we are currently experiencing a new-type of dystopian-esque fiction within the literary world, thanks to anxieties about entering a new era in Britain. 

Over recent years we've seen a rise in young-adult (YA) dystopian fiction with the arrivals of Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games and Veronica Roth's Divergent series (which only scratch the surface), indicating that readers, particularly of a certain demographic, are striving for narratives which describe a heightened state of a not-so-far-fetched reality.

Though dystopian fiction isn't a new trend, we have seen authors for centuries commenting upon their perspective socio-political climates through their characters. Novels such as George Orwell's 1984 (which saw a sales spike in 2017 after US Presidential special advisor, Kellyanne Conway introduced the notion of 'alternative facts') and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World have become synonymous with the genre and have directed the titles which came after these well-known favourites.  

Ali Smith’s Autumn and Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West are viewed as Brexit Literature, looking at the uncertainty for the future felt among immigrants and residents alike.

So it's not surprising that the literature to emerge from this momentous change in British politics turns to 20th Century dystopian works. 

For example, Ali Smith's 2016 novel, Autumn, which is set just after the outcome of the EU referendum and Mohsin Hamid's 2017 release, Exit West both are viewed as major Brexit Literature, looking at the uncertainty for the future felt among immigrants and residents alike and the discontent between voters rather than on authoritarian governments.

Emphasising this almost mild form of dystopian fiction focuses attention on the polarity between the two sides of the vote. The Enid Blyton pastiche Five on Brexit Island sold more than a quarter of million copies by early 2017, 4 months after the book's release.

So, all in all, it is safe to say that Brexit will give us a new branch of dystopian literature to delve into. But will Brexit change what we read?  

Just as writers and publishers respond to every major change, this one will likely mean more variety on shop bookshelves, already evident with the publications of these new post-Brexit texts.

However, I don't feel as though Brexit means a call for an impending anti-Europe period, where we will only read novels written by British authors; the opposite might even be true.

In fact, we have seen a surge in translated European titles, including the works of Swedish crime writer, Steig Larsson, who is most commonly known for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo which is the first instalment of the Millennium trilogy (translated by Reg Keeland) and most recently in 2016 Austrian novelist, Robert Seethaler saw his book A Whole Life (translated by Charlotte Collins ) become a UK bestseller. 

Hopefully Brexit will mean a continuing increase in translating our continent's best literature, as readers look for stories that connect them to places to which we might be losing political and economic connection. 

by Daniella Ferguson-Djaba