Friday, March 14, 2008

US vs UK Readers

I picked up my copy of Mo Hayder's latest novel, Ritual, today. I am so excited that I am about to exile myself to my room with it and not emerge again until I am done.

Before I shut myself off, though, I thought that I would write about something that has baffled me for a while now, this idea that the US audience wants something different than readers in the UK out of their novels. It's true. At their last signing at High Crimes in Boulder, mother and daughter team PJ Tracy revealed that their UK publisher had requested additional pages for their last title, Snow Blind. The idea was that the action scenes should be more intense for the UK audience.

On the flip side, when picking up my book this afternoon, High Crimes owner, Cynthia Nye, said that Mo Hayder had gotten some pretty critical reviews in the US concerning her use of explicit violence. I found this to be very surprising and slightly disturbing because it is just this aspect that draws me to Hayder's work - she's unlike any author out there. My first Hayder novel was The Devil of Nanking, a book that I can't recommend highly enough. It's an intense book, probably the single most intense title I have had the pleasure of reading in the past 5 years, if not ever.

Now, Hayder's very first title, Birdman (and having not read the reviews in question, I believe the book that was targeted) had been recommended to me by a fellow bookseller way back in 2000. I am ashamed to say that although the recommendation was strong enough to make a lasting impression, it was years before I actually read it. I honestly thought that Devil was much more graphic than Birdman and am glad that Hayder seems to have taken the criticism in stride and ignored it, as she should.

Some other very graphically violent UK imports that I recommend are Minette Walters and Sara Rayne. Their use of psychological suspense coupled with an almost elegant writing style makes their books extremely appealing. Walters is a very popular author here in the states and I have not heard any criticism in regards to her work. Course, I had not heard the criticism in regards to Hayder until today.

It is my opinion that none of these authors uses violence gratuitously. It serves a purpose within the novels and elicits a very specific emotional response from readers making the reading experience more rich and intense, in my opinion. I can point out plenty of examples of titles that are published in the US that have way too much gratuitous violence that does not serve any purpose in the story other than simple shock value. I can't say that they aren't getting bad reviews either, though. All I can say is that I believe the idea that UK readers can handle and crave more intensity in their novels than their American counterparts is just silly. Course that perception is, sadly, supported by reviewers who claim that books like Birdman are violent enough to make them throw the book down without finishing it. I know the subject matter is not for everyone, but that goes without saying for just about every book out there.

I'm sure this makes me one of America's desensitized youth, but I obviously have no issue whatsoever with violence in books. It could be that I cut my teeth on horror - reading every single RL Stine and Christopher Pike novel available between the ages or 8 and 10. Cynthia says the issue with Hayder is the perception in the US that a woman should not be writing such intensely violent scenes and that demographically the US reader is thought to be over 50 and more apt to read cozies - this sounds like absolute crap to me. I know that I am the abnormal reader. (I have my own theories about reader demographics in the US and how they have come about, but that will be another blog.) I do not think American audiences have an issue with violence, though, and I hope this ridiculous perception is something that will change soon. There's absolutely nothing wrong with cozies, I read and enjoy many so-called cozy authors.

There is another element to the women and violence issue that I won't even go into as it is totally off the wall. Fortunately for readers like me, there doesn't seem to be any real attempt to "censor" our reading. We may be less likely to see some UK titles published here in the states right now, but some are making it through. Those that aren't, well, there are plenty of bookstores willing to order them in for you and they are well worth it.

One last item before I go and that is the fact that it seems not only UK authors fall victim to this strange perception. California author (now lives in the UK) Meg Gardiner has been published overseas for years. Gardiner's American debut comes highly recommended from Stephen King himself. Dirty Secrets Club hits shelves June 12 (and I have a copy!).

No comments: