Chick Lit: Friend or Foe?
I have been reflecting recently upon genre. The publishing industry says separating novels out into different sub-sections helps to sell books. Selling books is good; I know that. However, I can’t help but feel a little uncomfortable with the way novels by women are sub-categorised.
The term Chick Lit has always bothered me. Perhaps this is because the word ‘Chick’ as applied to women puts me in mind of the 1950s, not a well-known time for equality. The terms sounds as though it is meant to diminish the books therein, the women who write them, and the women who read them. And why would we want to do that?
The term Women’s Fiction irks me as a category, as well. It implies that all other fiction is not for women, and Women’s Fiction can be dismissed as being solely for women.
I have just finished reading This Charming Man by Marian Keyes. If you haven’t read it, I can definitely recommend it. It is a powerful, dense, important novel about the personal struggles of three main characters.
For years I didn’t read Marian Keyes’s books. They seemed to be packaged as light reads and I was still making sure I had a good grounding in the classics.
This is where I feel Marian Keyes has been done a disservice. (What? You are probably asking right now. What do you mean? She has a huge following! She sells books! Her next book is always greeted with delight from everyone: readers, reviewers, publishers.)
However, packaging her work as light reading is completely missing the point of what she is capable of doing. Of what she is doing with the books she writes. It also meant that I came late to the party.
In This Charming Man, Keyes is writing about alcoholism and the toll it takes on the life of a whole family; she is writing about domestic violence and control. These are not light subjects and they are not treated lightly by Keyes. Granted, Lola’s voice is chatty and emotional. However, Grace’s voice isn’t. It is weighty and straight-talking. And that’s my point about the significance of the book: the characters are different but treated in the same, just, humane way by Keyes. She had given them distinct voices, because they are very different women. She is telling us that the characters she is writing about should not be dismissed.
In the same way, I think sub-categorised fiction should not be dismissed. Yet, perhaps it is by the simple act of sub-categorisation.