Jeffery Archer's visit to the city today is one more in the long line of book tours by thriller writers from overseas. SRAVASTI DATTA wonders if the line between literary and popular fiction is blurring

Popular fiction in India is in a transitional phase. Distinguished contemporary international authors are looking towards India to promote their books, and leading publishing houses and bookstores are capitalising on this emerging trend. Last week the city played host to crime fiction writer Peter James. Jeffrey Archer's visit this month — his third to Bangalore — is expected to draw crowds and media hype alike.

Thanks to Stieg Larsson and his Millennium Trilogy, the world and his wife were fascinated with Swedish crime fiction, even though the Swedes have a long history of crime fiction. When Hakan Nesser, Swedish teacher and writer of the famous Chief Inspector Van Veeteren books was supposed to come to the country excitement reached fever pitch among whodunit aficionados.

He was even supposed to conduct a workshop on the essentials of crime fiction writing. Due to a volcanic eruption in Iceland, however, his visit was cancelled.

Readers, authors and bookstore managers agree that India's expanding market and reader-base for contemporary English fiction, among other things, are responsible for this trend.

Prem Rao, author of the riveting thriller “It Can't Be You”, convincingly explains that fiction writers from the West have it good in India: “There is a 12 to 15 per cent annual growth rate for fiction in India. As you know, we have a very young population, as much as half of India's population is less than 25 years old and 65 per cent is less than 35. That's a huge market! The only danger I foresee is that with so many titles being published, the quality of writing could see a dip.”

Rao has a point there, and readers are now looking beyond Agatha Christie and exploring a world of thrills, spills and whodunits.

A friend, who writes under a pen name and is an avid reader, says: “Genre fiction has always sold in India. What's changed though is that readers are discovering a much larger world of popular literature out there.”

Jahnavi Barua ,who is among India's emerging literary fiction writers, wrote her novel “Rebirth” after “Next Door” was published.

She contends that genre fiction, particularly, crime fiction, is coming of age in India. “Crime fiction is finding a place in the sun. This is a good trend as it makes reading more democratic.”

Raksha Bharadia, author of “Roots and Wings” and “All And Nothing” contends that the exposure of Indians to crime in world cinema and television series is making the way easier for popular fiction.

“The speed and thrill of crime and popular fiction has a unique appeal. They provide an escape into another world, which doesn't involve your life. So it's bound to be popular.”

Bala, manager, marketing at Crossword, opines that genre fiction sells much more than literary books do. “For one, fiction is priced lower than literary books. It's an easy read as it contains a couple of hundred pages. Also, readers relate more to popular fiction.”

“The Indian market for international genre fiction has opened up in a big way, but that doesn't mean literary fiction has lost its charm. Readers graduate from reading paperbacks to more serious, literary novels.

“So, even if popular fiction is being promoted and is riding high on the popularity wave, literary fiction is still respected.

“That being said, international popular fiction writers are promoted more than their literary counterparts,” opines V. Rajesh, category head, Landmark Bookstores.

So can we look forward to more engaging reads in the world of fiction? “Only Time Will Tell”. No, that's not me philosophising, it's Jeffrey Archer's new mystery novel.

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