Browsing the lists of last year’s top ten bestsellers in several European countries, I’m struck both by the frequent recurrence of some titles and authors and by the huge variety of fiction that proved especially popular among European audiences.
British author E.L. James had bestsellers in the UK, France, Germany and Spain, missing out only in Italy. An astonishing nine of the fifty titles in the lists I looked at were novels from her ‘Grey’ series. The release of the film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey last summer no doubt played its part in these remarkable sales.
Paula Hawkins, whose psychological thriller The Girl on the Train was the bestselling novel in the UK last year, also poached the number two spot in Spain with the Spanish translation.
With one exception, all of the lists feature at least three titles in translation. Most of these were written by British or American authors, including US novelist Harper Lee, whose 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird was a bestseller in Italy, and Ken Follett, Welsh writer of historical novels whose 2014 novel Edge of Eternity proved popular with Spanish readers. Australian, Swedish, Danish, Swiss and Austrian writers also featured across the lists with Australian author Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief reaching number two in Italy.
It is no surprise that the only country with no translated titles in the bestseller list is the UK, where the top ten fiction titles were all written by British or American authors. Yet variety is certainly not absent, from this or any of the lists. Thrillers, romances, crime novels, fantasy novels and historical drama all proved bestselling genres in the UK last year. There’s even a children’s book (David Walliams’ Awful Auntie) and a graphic novel (Joe Sugg’s Username: Evie) on the list.
It’s a pattern that echoes across every list. Germans were avidly reading a crime novel by Charlotte Link, an apocalyptic techno-thriller by Marc Elsberg and a romance novel by British author Jojo Moyes. Italian readers were obsessed with Elena Ferrante, who has four titles on the list. Yet millions were also buying a conspiracy thriller by Umberto Eco, an apocalyptic fairy tale by Niccolò Ammaniti and George Orwell’s 1984. The French list is perhaps the most diverse, ranging from The Little Prince to Jean Anouilh’s 1944 version of Antigone.
Popularity is no bad thing and can tell us a lot about the tastes of different readerships. In my view, these lists are cause for celebration. There is no shortage of good writing and the diversity of genre, form and target audience suggests that eager readers are in no short supply either.