I might as well face it. 2016 will not be the year when I discover the joys of serious, mind-expanding, high-brow cultural ventures. There will be no let-up in work for a while yet, and what I will crave most for my workday evenings will be entertainment and relaxation. I can, however, still hope for good quality. There’s no reason why novels, TV dramas or films made for popular consumption should be bad.
My book wish for 2016, then, apart from more novels from authors I’ve already discovered, is to find more seriously good writers of popular fiction. I’ve always resisted the wide-spread tendency to sneer at well-known bestselling authors, believing that they know their craft and take their job seriously and for those reasons alone deserve their success. It has to be said, though, that books from some of the famous bestselling names in popular fiction compare rather poorly prose-wise with authors in the same genres whom I have discovered by chance, such as Jude Morgan, Sally Beauman or Kate Saunders. Hopefully, these authors aren’t doing too badly out of their sales, but they’re not exactly household names. It would be heartening if good writing in popular genres would be more amply rewarded. If we readers of historic romances, family sagas and light-hearted romps aren’t careful, we’ll only be left with writers favouring the flat, recapitulating style of prose which you find in plot summaries of previous chapters in magazine novel serialisations. I call it the “now read on” style: it tells us what happens and what the characters feel, but doesn’t bring it to life. The silver lining in all this is that you can still discover good writers on your own (or only led by a favourable review somewhere), and impulse buys can turn out to be among the best reads of the year. I have a certain sympathy with Rum Tum Tugger who “only likes what he finds for himself”.
As for TV, what I wish for most heartily, of course, is a replacement for Downton Abbey (the final Christmas episode will be aired in Sweden this evening). This will be extremely difficult, as even Downton failed to become a consuming obsession for me right away: it crept up on me stealthily, hit me squarely over the head with the strong Thomas-Jimmy storyline in series three, turned out to hold up very well for rewatching, and did for me that way. What had been a light-hearted costume-drama pleasure – a guilty pleasure even – became, for me, the undisputed TV highlight of the year.
There are some possible contenders for the Downton crown, which should at least provide good costume-drama fun until one particular series gathers enough momentum to fill the Downton gap. Dickensian looks promising judging from its trailer and preview reports. It seems well-produced and well-cast – I hope one of Dickens’s prime-quality villains will turn up to seal the deal eventually (Fagin won’t be enough, I’m afraid, not even as played by Anton Lesser). Poldark looks set to continue for a while yet, with no less than twelve volumes of family saga as source material. Its great advantage – from my perspective – is that the hot villain, George Warleggan, is already well established. But I worry about the narrow focus and lack of complexity in the series – which is a fancy way of saying that I fear it will become too obsessed with its hero Ross Poldark, and that Georgey will be reduced to playing Tom to his Jerry and consequently suffer one defeat after the other.
The final Mr Selfridge series will probably bring some solace too. I’ve read that Lady Mae will return, which should boost the show after a disappointing series three. But there has been no mention of her ex-hubby, so who will be the villain? Here’s hoping that they realise the need for at least one.