Tuesday, 1 April 2008
We are chicks, hear us cluck
Anyone who knows me knows that I hate chick lit. It’s not just the predictable fluffiness of it all that I can’t stand; it’s the conformity of the characters. They are the literary equivalent to everything that’s wrong with the new breed of women in Ireland: Californian tans, enormous jeeps, tacky waggy-style dressing, complete vacuousness, anorexic thinness etc. It’s all so insulting to women writers and to women in general. And what’s worse is you are seen as a jealous whinger if you say anything about it. It’s meant to be ‘all girls together’, as if we are all still 14 and all cut from the same cloth. I don’t want to be with those girls, and I never did!
But Liam Fay – the extraordinarily brilliant Liam Fay – put it better than I ever could in the Sunday Times last week-end. He was talking about a TV programme but he was using the analogy of chick-lit:
“Chick lit is not a victimless crime. Apologists for the publishing world’s most formulaic genre – modern fairy tales for grown women – claim that these starry-eyed novels are a harmless brand of escapism for the sluggardly feminine mind, posing no threat to those people who choose not to read them. In reality, however, the noxious effects of chick lit are not confined to its immediate consumers…’
He’s talking about TV programmes, I would argue that every bus stop, book shop and newsagent I go into is dripping with pink covers with inane titles such as ‘When the Going Gets Tough, Get a Man Quick’. Etc. And our TOP publishers are the ones who encourage this nonsense. But, of course, all they want is cash. I know that. And chick lit, if it does anything, sells in bucket loads. But, so will good literature if it is marketed to the hilt.
Liam Fay again: “Chick lit isn’t so much a literary style as an ideology, It amounts to repeated exclamation of the slogan ‘Aren’t girls great!’. The juvenile and fundamentally silly nature of this sorority cheerleading is especially ironic given that the genre purports to tell stories about independent, smart, grown-up women.”
This is the problem. For every chick lit confection that is belched from a publisher in the name of Irish women’s writing (God save us), there is a good, intelligent woman writer who is not getting published. I resent that ‘Irish woman writer’ has become synonymous with chick lit. One of our own has just won the Man Booker, for God’s sake! Now, Anne Enright is a REAL Irish woman writer. And she is not an anomaly. There are dozens of women writers in this country writing intelligent characters within multi-layered, wry, sensual fiction: not all of us write chick lit nor do we read it. There are many women with small publishers, or still trying to get work out there.
Readers will read literary fiction by women if those books are published and promoted. If they are not available to readers, or if they don’t know about them, they won’t buy them. After all, the book-buying public will only buy what they are sold.