Translated fiction enjoys sales boom as UK readers flock to European authors
On eve of Brexit, figures show unprecedented numbers of Britons are turning to translations of continental novels
As Brexit looms and the UK faces a future outside the EU, the country’s readers are gulping down European fiction at an unprecedented rate, with sales at their highest since records began.
According to research commissioned by the Man Booker International (MBI) prize from Nielsen Book, overall sales of translated fiction in the UK were up last year by 5.5%, with more than 2.6m books sold, worth £20.7m – the highest level since Nielsen began to track sales in 2001. Over the last 18 years, sales of fiction in translation have risen “steadily”, with the performance of translated literary fiction in particular standing out for its “extreme growth”, up 20% in 2018 year-on-year. Sales of English-language literary fiction over the period, meanwhile, have plateaued and are now significantly below where they stood in the mid-noughties.
“Reading fiction is one of the best ways we have of putting ourselves in other people’s shoes. The rise in sales of translated fiction shows how hungry British readers are for terrific writing from other countries,” said Fiammetta Rocco, administrator of the Man Booker International (MBI) prize, which will announce its longlist on 13 March.
Norwegian and Swedish writing, represented by authors including the Norwegian thriller powerhouse Jo Nesbø and the Swedish bestseller Jonas Jonasson’s The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, was also popular over the last year, with Chinese, Arabic, Icelandic and Polish languages “in growing demand”. Popular Polish titles included Olga Tokarczuk’s MBI-winning Flights, as well as Andrzej Sapkowski’s fantasy series The Witcher. Chinese science fiction and fantasy novels such as Liu Cixin’s The Three Body Problem and Jin Yong’s A Hero Born also sold strongly, but sales of crime novels and thrillers, a major contributor to sales of translated fiction in the past, declined by 19% between 2017 and 2018.
Charlotte Collins, co-chair of the Translators Association and translator of Robert Seethaler’s MBI-shortlisted novel A Whole Life, hailed the surge of interest, adding that the amount of international fiction now available for sale in the UK has almost doubled in recent years, now accounting for 5.63% of all published fiction.
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