There’s a lot of rubbish talked about chick lit. Personally I hate the term, which I think is a very patronising catch-all for fiction written by women, for women. But of all the rubbish talked about it, this weekend’s story in The Times, about Man Booker Prize winner Eleanor Catton takes the biscuit.
I almost don’t know where to start, but let me just say that no, a woman winning the Booker does not mean the death of popular women’s fiction. Did Daniel Day Lewis winning the Best Actor Oscar mean the death of action films? Thought not.
I wrote a blog a couple of years ago about chick lit, and in the light of this piece, I thought I’d share it again here…
First published on August 16, 2011.
I have just finished reading One Day by David Nicholls (like pretty much every other commuter on my train in the morning!). I thought it was a lovely book. It’s funny, thoughtful and sad.
For those of you who haven’t read it, it follows two people – Emma and Dexter. We meet them every year on July 15th from 1988, when they’re watching dawn break over Edinburgh after a post-graduation one-night-stand, to 2007. It’s a brilliant concept for a novel and glimpsing a snapshot of them each year is like catching up with old friends. We follow them through career highs and lows, travels abroad and at home, deaths, weddings and babies. The ending manages to be heartbreaking and life-affirming. David Nicholls is a natural, easy writer with a gift for capturing a character.
But all that aside, I have been pondering the nature of One Day. It’s not, by any stretch of the imagination, literary fiction. It’s rip-roaring, unashamed commercial fiction of the highest quality. It’s a beach read, a tube read, a garden read. It won’t ever be discussed by bored sixth-formers or pulled apart by eager undergraduates. And that’s fine. Brilliant in fact. I LOVE commercial fiction. Love it. My own (almost, almost finished) novel is unashamedly commercial. My highest hope for it is to be given away free with a summer issue of Cosmo.
The beef I have with One Day is that because it’s written by a man, it’s deemed worthy. I have seen – gasp -MEN reading it on the train. It’s got a kind of arty cover. Its inside pages are covered in quotes from The Guardian and other worthy publications. If it had been written by a woman, it would have a pair of shoes on the cover and be dismissed as chick lit, a term I despise. Marian Keyes writes ‘chick lit’. Her novels deal with such lightweight issues as miscarriage, alcoholism, drug abuse, rape and bereavement. They often have pictures of shoes on the cover. Or butterflies.
It is a sad fact that in monetary terms at least, women’s fiction is not equal to men’s. Everyone knows women read books by men and women, while men only read those by men. I think one of the cleverest things JK Rowling did was to write under her initials instead of her full name. My dad and I share a passion for crime fiction. One of our favourite authors is James Lee Burke. Last week I read a brilliant novel by his daughter, Alafair Burke (Long Gone, for those of you who are interested). I offered it to my dad. He wrinkled up his nose and shook his head. His loss.
So I urge anyone in search of a good book to read One Day. It’s wonderful. But please don’t dismiss fiction by women. And please don’t call it chick lit. You never know, you just might enjoy it…