Scottish crime novelist Val McDermid on how the mystery and crime genres (at least in the UK) are helping to keep ‘mainstream’ fiction honest:

“Literary fiction in the U.K. became very concerned with literary theory, critical theory, to the extent that the notion of narrative almost became a dirty word. That’s slowly started to change because the simple economics of the marketplace dictate that readers actually want to read things that have a beginning, a middle and an end. I think we’re hard-wired for narrative. I’ve been saying this until I’m blue in the face for the last 10 years. And interestingly enough there was an article recently in the Observer when the Booker short list came out saying precisely this, and I felt I’d been vindicated.

“But it seems to me that although literary fiction is returning to the notion of narrative, [literary fiction writers] are still not engaging with the society that we’re living in. There’s a big boom in historical fiction, whether it’s recent history or further back in time. I mean Ian McEwan’s novel “Atonement” is essentially an historical novel. It doesn’t engage with the present day. And I think that if you look at the successful books in literary fiction, this is what you find. So the crime novel started to pick up the baton in the ’90s. We were the ones writing about the reality of the world we lived in.”

I hope this is true in America, too. I’ve had enough of Rick Moody, Jonathan Franzen and Lorrie Moore. Read more from McDermid in Salon.