Where Are The Stories For Our Times?
What a decade! How do you encapsulate it?
Murmurings and mutterings; the rejection of global economics, the rejection of free movement. As more parts of the world become unstable, the pressure on those areas which are relatively calm increases. They’re safe havens for cash and companies, property and tourism.
With the reduction of popularity in Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, the Lebanon and anywhere that’s home to increasingly hardline attitudes, tourists and migrant workers head for safe bets; Spain, France, Italy, Croatia, the UK, Canada, the Nordic countries. At the moment I have friends buying flats in South Africa – once seen as a high-risk destination.
The everyone-welcome system is not broken, just out of date. Countries are learning to cope with the rise of the middle class that has led to mass tourism. Burmese rulers have banned climbing on temples to protect their integrity, but cruise ships continuing to damage Venice with the collusion of the Italian government. What point do you reach before you realise that you’ve lost the very thing that makes a place unique?
London would do well to ask itself that. For fifty years it has survived by rolling with the changes and becoming differently unique. Now, though, it’s doing so at the expense of its own people. In my lifetime London has quintupled in geographic size. Others cannot, or they have Old Towns that need protecting. Brussels is a shock; its centre is so dense, its ancient quarter smothered in graffiti and hoardings. It’s clear that the centre of European government can’t look after its own capital. In Barcelona this week there were attacks on tourist bikes and buses; they were not carried out by locals, as the press suggested, but by separatists from the other side of the country sensing a rising level of protest.
Once free movement supplements the government budget, there’s no going back. But it could be better managed. Licences for AirB&B, taxes payable by US giants and the issuing of identity cards are no-brainers. The UK’s refusal to tolerate ID cards seems increasingly bizarre given that we all have online identities, photo ID driving licences and travel cards.
It’s one of the main reasons why crime continues to reduce in severity, and of course it makes the work of the crime writer much harder! When everyone is discoverable, the solutions to murder mysteries have to become more ingenious, which is why the traditional whodunnit has almost had its day.
It’s hard to see how nations will negotiate the changes, and almost impossible to guess the future. Things are moving too fast for anyone to write a true state-of-the-nation novel. Tom Wolfe’s ‘The Bonfire of the Vanities’ perfectly captured 1980’s city life. Jonathan Coe’s brilliant ‘What A Carve Up’ did the same for the 90s. Who would dare to attempt the same for this decade?
America is producing some fine, if often difficult and challenging, novels about modern times, but perhaps we have to reach post-Trump, post-Brexit times first and let the dust settle. Then we’ll see some interesting reading!