Saturday 30 May 2009

Anne Brontë’s Agnes Grey storms into the Top Ten Chart…

…In Sweden (see chart from this week’s Bookseller). And I don’t think this is a Vampire or Zombie version, but the real thing. I wonder what happened – maybe there’s a film tie-in with Ulrika Jonsson and Bjorn Borg in the lead roles (doesn’t look like from the cover). Or perhaps it’s been selected by the Swedish equivalent of Richard & Judy. One thing is certain: it has received wonderful reviews. I’ll try to find out – I’m intrigued. And I will try to understand what it means to be number six in Sweden – the book may have sold 235 copies for all I know.

But as a Brontë lover, I am delighted to see Anne’s novel getting this sort of recognition in our day and age. After all, she is a very fine novelist, whose only misfortune was to be the sister of two of the greatest novelists who ever lived.

This surprise entry of a translation of Agnes Grey in a top-ten chart in Sweden 162 years since its first publication, and the number one spot gained by Zweig’s Journey into the Past (just released in UK by Pushkin Press) recently in France show us at least two things: first, the incredible power of classics across time and space, their ability to speak to and excite different people of different countries, ages and times; and secondly, that whereas a classic can still get into the bestsellers’ charts in Europe, the same is almost an impossibility in UK or US.

I don’t know if it’s to do with the education system, the publishing system, the newspapers (who hardly review classics) or all of them, but I think it’s sad, because classics are – generally speaking – much more enriching than the escapist tripe you can find on bookshop tables these days.


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