Thrillers are, at root, escapist and consolatory ... There is nothing wrong with being entertained by that from time to time, just as there is nothing wrong in reading about overcoming obstacles to find your great dark man in novels of romance. But there is something overdone about the extent of the thriller's grasp on us," he writes in the Telegraph. "The best thrillers are rattling good yarns in ways which Middlemarch or Buddenbrooks never aspire to be. We turn away from the unspeakable, inexplicable horrors of the newspapers, events with no resolution, into a world where a single running policeman can put everything right. You would have to be a dull reader not to enjoy that sometimes. But never to want something better, deeper, less resolved, you would have to be a moron.
He also thinks that:
the liveliness and extravagance of current genre-writing in fantasy and science fiction, such as China Miéville's remarkable novels, make the field a much more plausible candidate for literary exaltation than the rule-bound thriller.
I agree with Mr. Hensher that academism is rampant in today's crime fiction. I also agree that anything written by George Eliot or Thomas Mann, is definetely not a rattling good yarn.
Where we part is his condemnation of "thrillers" as being the literary equivalent of comfort food (It's not; besides, what's wrong with entertaining and consolating and why would it necessarily be antagonistic to "literary" greatness?) and being unable of any kind of innovation or originality because of their adherence to a set of rules (One wonders what Hensher thinks of classical poetry, or the Oulipo)
As to his categorization as "morons" of readers unwilling to read the deeper, less resolved (and, probably, less entertaining) kind of fiction he advocates, it suggests respect and tolerance are among the rules Mr. Hensher successfully freed himself from. Good for him. Bad for us.
Steve Mosby's comprehensive takedown of Hensher's diatribe, with many good points and a marvelous last line.