Thursday, 9 June 2011
Why I like chick lit part 2
Chick lit is more than just Sophie Kinsella. I can't claim to have a comprehensive knowledge, but I have to discuss 'Rachel's Holiday' by Marian Keyes. Julie Cohen, mentioned this in a seminar and I remember downloading it to the Kindle on my phone during her lecture. I’m glad I did. I’ve since given paper copies to other people too, though not as many as Julie gave away in book week (See www.julie-cohen.com for more detail on her blog)
Rachel’s holiday is a serious book about addiction, except it follows a similar pattern to Sophie Kinsella's books by portraying a character who is too trivial in everything she does to realize the mess she is in. Self centered, constantly partying, this woman takes whatever illegal substances she can lay her hands on every time she can. She justifies her excesses with trivial excuses, as she runs up debts and runs off friends.
Obsessed with celebrity and instant gratification she aspires to have everything as soon as possible while propelling herself down a slippery slope to real addiction and poverty.
The book is a study in character development. Why go on reading about this air-head of a woman, an Irish girl in New York for all the wrong reasons, who is eventually rescued by her family? Somehow, she manages not to think twice about why her parents would go to the trouble of almost abducting her from New York to get her into rehab in Ireland. Wouldn't it cross her mind, you would think, that this is a bit extreme, and might mean that other people who know her are seriously worried about the way her life is going? Wouldn't that bring most people to just consider the possibility that she might be screwing up more than she thinks?
Nothing of the sort. Instead, she fastens onto the notion that this is an up market rehab outfit where celebrities have been admitted in the past. She will use the stay there as a holiday, which obviously she deserves, because she has a stressful life, and she will meet loads of vitally important glossy people who will be buddies or trophies as soon as she is back on the party circuit.
The beauty of Marian Keyes writing is that the reader can see all the flaws way ahead of Rachel herself, a classic use of the unreliable narrator, and somehow we keep reading just to find out when the penny will drop. When will she realize that any celebrity who finds their way to rehab is off the rails and only worth knowing if they manage to get their life back together and stop being the ultimate party animal?
OK, so I'm not giving too much away if I say that she makes it in the end, and learns some lessons and has insights that all of us can value. I think that is the joy of the chick lit genre, at least of the books that I've read so far. They are real literature, often tackling significant social problems and doing it in a way that makes the learning and insight accessible to a far wider audience than serious literature ever expects.
You could say that they are modern fairy tales, battles between good and evil, with glossy make believe characters, structured so that the reader doesn't think that they are being lectured to.
I am reminded of Terry Pratchett complaining that his books were not taken seriously. He said something along the lines of, 'Throw in one lousy dragon and no one takes you seriously.'
Chicklit has a similar problem; great stories, but once they mention shoes the serious reviewers stop reading. Wake up guys, shoes is where it all starts.