Literature goes Brexit: EU vote prompts writers to tackle issue

Katie Spencer, Entertainment Correspondent

Many of the greatest books of all time have captured challenging moments in history.

When it comes to state-of-the-nation novels, more often than not we look to the American greats like Philip Roth, John Updike and Tom Wolfe.

Imperial Britain was arguably where it all began, with authors like Charles Dickens and Anthony Trollope.

Zadie Smith, Anthony Burgess and Martin Amis have helped keep the tradition alive here.

But could Brexit inspire a new wave of British writers to tackle modern society in fiction form?

At the London Book Fair this week, publishers announced a number of Brexit-based stories will be hitting the market by the end of the year, including one by the father of the man who was at the centre of it all - Boris Johnson.

Stanley Johnson says his book Kompromat - a political thriller which teases that Russia might have played a part in the referendum result - isn't meant to be taken seriously.

In fact, he's even more keen to stress that his son has neither read the book or provided him with insider knowledge.

"[Boris] was of course a figure in the campaign and maybe there will be some people that will say they can recognise him [in the book] but this is fiction.

"My ambition is not to write history, it's to write something readable, hey - it's just meant to be fun."

Juliet Mabey, founder of Oneworld Publications, believes Brexit has made publishers want to seek out challenging new titles.

"The publishing industry generally is very inclusive and left leaning and I think what you'll find is that the publishers react to Brexit, and the politics America is experiencing, by going to the other extreme and making more effort to be inclusive."

Almost all of our leading authors that have spoken about Brexit - including Ian McEwan, Hilary Mantel, Philip Pullman - have found themselves on the losing side of the referendum. That of course, could put them at odds with many of their own readers.

However Nikesh Shukla, author of The Good Immigrant, doesn't think writers are going to temper their views.

He said: "I imagine the political turmoil that we were in in 2016 certainly needs unpacking by a lot of writers. It's our job to kind of document things as we see them rather than worry about people disliking our political views."

Brexit fiction is already coming on to the market, but Stig Abell, editor of The Times Literary Supplement, says the real era-defining novels are going to be some way off.

"The problem with Brexit is it's such a moving target. The Britain you're describing in 2017 might be very different in 2018.

"Things that try to capture the spirit of the age could be very exciting.

"That might mean science fiction. Look at the book that's done brilliantly since Trump became president, that's 1984. George Orwell wrote Animal Farm about communism, he made it a fable, so I think what we'll probably see is the tone of Brexit might get transmuted into other things but it'll be there."

Brexit bedtime reading is coming. For some, the fantasy of fiction might be preferable to reality.

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