Thursday, 9 December 2010

Chick Lit and Missed?

Hello, just a small note to say that I've moved (or moved back to):

I don't really talk about chick lit on this blog but I do talk about books, music, vintage and other prettiness. Come and join me!

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Confessions of a chick lit miss

Friends, psychics and stalkers will already be aware of my guilty secret. I am not what I claim to be.

Though my header proudly proclaims me to be a twenty-something, a few weeks ago I celebrated my thirtieth birthday. So, yep, technically I'm now a thirty-something lost in the world of chick lit.

Now, if I was a genuine chick lit heroine, this birthday would have been cue for a proper crisis and questioning of life. But I think I had my crisis a few years early, on the break-up of my previous relationship (now this is worthy of a chick lit novel: he got engaged within a year and is now married, and doesn't acknowledge my existence) when I took a lot of time trying to work out what would make me content. And it worked, I'm in very happy place right now, with my own steadfast hero. We're excitingly flat hunting for a new home together. Surely here the story could end?

I did declare from the start I was only reading chick lit until I reached 30. However, I don't think I can let it go just like tat, not just because I've got a back catalogue of books to write up.

The truth is I've found more of myself - to hark back to that quote I half remembered at the start of the project - than in any other book.  Handily, there's a chick lit book to refer to in every situation, no matter how random. A girl I know is off to Vegas - cite a bit of Belinda and her Divas (oops, don't think I've written that one up yet). More bizarrely, my friend was told by a tarot reader that in a year she'd be pregnant - bring on Lucy Sullivan. So, having won their own little spot in my brain, I'm going to keep them as part of my reading repertoire, just I'll read other books too.

I was careful to pick a good author to finish off this chick lit chunk of my reading, the one who ticked the most boxes for me. Can you guess who? It's not Jane Green. Or perhaps I should say, can you keep a secret? Yep, it's the lovely Marian Keyes.

More, hopefully soon...

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Looking for Andrew McCarthy

Normally I start my posts with a picture of the book cover. Not this time. No, the very virtue of writing about a book called Looking for Andrew McCarthy is I get to look for lots of pictures of Andrew McCarthy. So here's the first, possibly my favourite McCarthy moment, in Pretty in Pink (cue Psychedelic Furs soundtrack starting in my head). Every time I watch that film I fall a little a lot back in love with him again. I'm a touch too young to remember the films the first time round but I totally get it. Those crinkly eyes, that sweet smile. Sigh...

So I thought the premise behind Looking for Andrew McCarthy was brilliant. A newly turned 30-year-old, wondering where her life has gone wrong decides Andrew McCarthy must know the answer and heads off on a classic American road trip trying to find him.

The thing I love about those brat pack films is the way they fizzle - with longing, hormonal lust and and a lovely dose of teenage angst. By setting itself up against those expectations Looking for Andrew McCarthy fell a bit flat for me. Ellie, or 'hedgehog', the heroine was awkward and a bit of a misfit sure, but you didn't root for her the way you did for Andi in Pretty in Pink. I found all the angst and obstacles in their path annoying rather than building up to the inevitable romantic ending and to be honest, I was pleased when it was all over.

There was one bit of the book I did really enjoy though. Ellie finally manages to meet Mr McCarthy in a New York diner. Of course he imparts wise words and theories about love and metaphysics. And he reminds us of the following too: 'Don't make plans. Just keep rolling on and accept that life isn't ever going to be like it is in a actual movie'.

Or an actual chick lit. Oh that's actually quite disappointing. Clearly I've got to accept the fact I'll never meet Andrew McCarthy. But here's a final nice all grown-up picture of him for us all to fantasize over...

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

You can't judge a chick lit from its cover

Aggh, lots of chick lit read but less written by me about it. This will change, I hope. After all, I'm now going to be 30 in less than a month - my official cut-off point for this project - and I still feel I've just gently caressed the surface of chick lit. So something of a slight filler post here, directly related to the surface of chick lit - their covers.

Right at the start of this blog part of my definition of what made a chick lit novel was the pastel cover and the swirly writing. It wasn't something I ever wanted to be seen carrying around (incidentally all my tube based shame has vanished - I've been proudly waving around a bright pink, sparkly copy of Divas Las Vegas all week). Anyway, the Bookseller a couple of weeks ago featured a write-up of a 'cover design conference' at which Fiona Curran, design director at Williams Murry Hamm, criticised the covers of chick lit for being overly formulaic: pink script type, pastel colours and a girlie illustration. In her honour you may have noticed I've changed the colours of this blog to her stated combo (anyone want to draw a picture of me, martini glass in one hand, pink book in the other to go with it?). Here's the example she used:

Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella

Encore Valentine by Adriana Trigiani

You can see her point. Oh look, pink + pastel + pretty woman on the front in a dress = GIRLS book. It's quite boring and depressing and patronising. 

The instance that really annoyed me is when a while back they decided to remarket Jane Austen as chick lit. Here's Persuasion. Spot the difference, eh? 

When they first did this what really annoyed me was that I felt they had reduced Austen to chick lit turf. That was what lots of people dismissed her as and this new cover merely shoved her further into that genre. It gave no clue to how witty, clever or interesting she really is. Now, after my explorations into chick lit, what annoys me is that they do that with all the books. Here are the covers of three different authors, three different stories and yet they are all marketed the same. 

At the same conference, David Wardle, founder of Designbydavid, said of a different genre 'To design them in such a unified format seems to devalue the content and the individual form.'

Exactly. The truth is that people do judge a book by its cover, so can we have a more diverse and range of chick lit designs please? It's just possible the readership might follow and get a bit more diverse too...

Friday, 18 June 2010

Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married

First of all, apologies in the amount of time I've taken between posting. I've been reading away but real life seems to have got in the way of me actually writing about them. I've got a back-stack of books that I want to discuss with you, starting with Marian Keyes.

I was quite excited about reading Marian Keyes. She was the author most recommended to me by chick lit readers and I've read lots of her columns and she's always come across as warm, honest and, most importantly, funny. So I was looking forward to a treat.

I was initially disappointed. The first few hundred pages were a bit slow. The premise of story is that the main character, Lucy Sullivan (well, duh) goes along with her colleagues to see a fortune teller. She's told she'll be married within a year. The predictions made to the others start coming true ... will it happen to Lucy too? As she's newly single girl, this is a slightly frightening and unrealistic prospect. Unrealistic to her maybe - like Tasha in Straight Talking, Lucy has an eligible best friend, Daniel, waiting in the wings. Hum, wonder what's going to happen there? To save me going into the plot in much more detail, a couple of hundred pages later it does.

There were some more surprisingly elements to the storyline. Lucy's job is no way glamorous, it's a boringly tediously dull Office-type office job. It's probably closer to the average woman than Jane Green's high flying magazine writers and TV producers, though it's a lot duller to read about. In addition, Lucy suffers badly from depression. Keyes has written widely about her own battles with depression, I was refreshingly surprised to see it here and discussed so openly. So, some points of note, but not enough to keep me reading.

I did get hooked though and, typically, it's because of a man. Lucy meets Gus, a typical 'loveable Irish rouge' type and the man who it seems may be the man she's going to marry. Gus is charming and funny and cute. He's also unreliable. If you know my romantic history, you'll know who he reminded me of. Yes, Gus really reminded me of my ex. To do my ex credit, he's nothing like as much as a scoundrel as Gus turns out to be - however, certain situations in the novel reflected things I remembered about our relationship. It was a definite 'aha' moment - in a cartoon, a far away bell would have been struck as I realised the similarities.  As the story unfolded, I began reading myself into the story, right down to the end when, after the break-up of the relationship, he runs straight into the arms of another women. Reading about it did more than remind me of that relationship, it also slightly shifted the way I thought about it, giving me a bit more of that famous 'closure'. One of my favourite bitter quotes from the horrible bit just before we broke up was when he told me we disagreed about something because I was so 'conventional', while he was 'unconventional'. It appears he is so unconventional he resembles a stereotypical chick lit character.

 When we went to the School of Life reading class, we were given a really good quote about how you find yourself in stories (so good I can't remember the quote exactly, or who wrote it). This was definitely true for me of this book. I live a relatively calm and happy life - it's hard to think of books that don't fall into the so-called chick lit category that write about people like me. The main dramas in my life to date have all been in my love life - why should I be surprised when the book I find myself identifying most with is chick lit?

I was trying to think about books written specifically about contemporary women (rather than about wider issues) that aren't lumped into the category 'chick lit'. It's hard. It's also quite depressing. Me and the Girl from Clapham has written a good piece about how when a man pursues a women to the end of the earth it's romantic, when a woman pursues a man she's a stalker. I was wondering if this gender imbalance also applied to books.  When women write about relationships, are they only allowed to be frivolous and read by only women? Men like Nick Hornby write about relationships and they are widely read by both sexes, still get reviewed in the broadsheets and are allowed to be openly discussed without disparagement. I know lots of females who love a bit of Hornby but wouldn't touch chick lit with a barge pole - me too before I started on this adventure. Where are their stories being written and discussed?

As you can tell, Marian Keyes gave me a lot to think about and stirred up lots of long shoved away memories. So I decided my following book would be something a bit more light-hearted to read. Next mission, Looking for Andrew McCarthy.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Confessions of a Shopaholic

Okay, so time for a key book in the world of chick lit: Confessions of a Shopaholic (or The Secret Dream World of a Shopaholic as it was known in the UK before being repackaged for the film).

Now, much more than my initial problem with Jane Green and my subsequent problems in discovering I enjoyed some Jane Green, I found Shopaholic very confusing.

On one hand this was a very funny book. It made me laugh out loud and the character was the one I could most strongly imagine out of the (admittedly limited) chick lit novels I'd read.

On the other, the whole story line and ending sucked.

So, first, the funny bits. Becky Bloomwood is a scatty London financial journalist who dreams of working on a glossy. She shops like she works for a glossy too, spending massively beyond her means. In the aim to cut costs, she visits a museum and, of course, gets waylaid in the museum shop. In the aim to save on takeaways, she ends up buying out John Lewis restocking the kitchen. It's all really obvious stuff but Sophie Kinsella writes it well, capturing Becky's knack for self justification and twisting the truth. In fact, her voice is so distinctive, I alarmingly found myself taking on her voice in my own internal monologue too: 'Should I eat another piece of chocolate? Well, I am going to run home today. Actually my foot hurts, maybe I should go to the gym instead and better eat some more chocolate to cure it. Oh I'm too full of chocolate to go to the gym.' etc, etc. Now, I say that is funny but typing it out just makes me sound like I'm having one of those overly neurotic conversations you sometimes hear on the tube between girls who list, in painful detail, how they've cut all diary and meat out of their diet and are running six miles every morning before yoga. That's because Becky Bloomwood is that kind of girl, Kinsella is just a lot better at making that sound funny than me.

And then the annoying bit. Becky is obviously quite dim and rubbish at her job. Yet somehow, the boss of a major financial PR company falls in love with her and she gets a job advising on finances on the telly. Meaning her debts are magically repaid. Yep, she gets the dream job and the dream guy. I really resent this Bridget Jones (though I love the book)/Legally Blonde school of thought that out of the mouths of idiots comes wisdom. Out of the mouths of these babes surely only comes quotes from Cosmopolitan or the Metro and it seems very wrong to suggest playing dumb is a way to get your fairytale ending. The over consumption she indulges in doesn't seem glamorous, it just seems sickening.  

There are four more books in this franchise (and one more to follow in September). I'm not sure how this plot can or will develop - although there are obvious clues in the titles Shopaholic Ties the Knot and Shopaholic and Baby.  Perhaps I'll revisit, time first for some Marian Keyes.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Back to Green: Life Swap

Yes, as I mentioned in my last post, I found myself devouring Jane Green's Life Swap. Why, why, why? Partly out of necessity. Confessions of a Shopaholic hadn't arrived in time and I decided to revisit her a few years on and see if she had changed at all. It's the other part of the partly that I'm struggling with. I mean, I didn't just read it, I kept reading it, eager and excited to know what happened next.

It's the story of Vicky, a journalist, who (just like Straight Talking's Tasha) has a successful career but hasn't got her man. In a crazy idea for an article she swaps lifestyles with American Amber, a glamorous housewife in a town full of the glamorous housewives of Wall Street Dealers. It's that classic grass is greener story - who is happier? Does happiness come from a husband and kids or a great job and freedom?

I do think some of it was because of the idea I touted in the last post was true - it was more contemporary, therefore its references were a bit more relevant to me. Vicky had a job I'd actually covert: features editor on a glossary magazine. There was also the exotic element - another lady, with a fabulous American lifestyle and her ridiculous acquaintances that were far enough removed from my reality for me to allow myself they could exist.

I also think Jane Green may have become softer in her old age. Maybe it's because Straight Talking was written in the height of ladette culture and she's moved away from that, as society has shifted too. The other main difference is that Life Swap is completely overpopulated with kids. Vicky no longer only wants the husband and the happy-ever-after - she wants the kids too. The kids are cute, yes, but also troublesome and demanding. It's the happy-ever-after thing that infuriates me about the idea of chick lit, so the small children who run around the novel are a nice challenge to this.

Of course the book does have a happy ending, though it's not necessarily the happy ending you'd expect. Amber has to leave behind her immense wealth (though settles for something equally picturesque) while Vicky lines herself up a few (naturally extremely attractive) dates and learns to celebrate the advantages of her single life.

Maybe the appeal of the book is that both characters end up content without gaining money or magically finding Mr Right. Instead the book's main 'message' is the different paths to personal happiness. Compared to her last book, that's much closer to my own preoccupations and I'd guess it would apply to most of my friends too.

Am I converted? Not yet, I think. But I was definitely diverted.