I am most definitely not your stereotypical chicklit fan. I’m a 34-year-old man who likes sport, beer and walking my dog more than just about anything in the world. But despite all that, I love chicklit and I’ve read countless girly-covered paperbacks over many years. Why? Simple – because they’re brilliant books.
To me, the appeal of chicklit (apart from technical stuff like being well-written and funny and having strong characters) boils down to one simple thing: it talks about issues and situations which affect normal people in their everyday lives. That is to say, people falling in and out of love with the right and wrong men and women and people trying to establish themselves in the world and work out the direction they want their lives to follow and then the effort involved in actually following that direction. In short, chicklit is contemporary fiction reflecting contemporary lives and experiences. So the covers are pink and fluffy? So what?
Just like with any other genre, really good chicklit (and some not so good) sells truckloads of copies. My view is that if enough readers want to read something, it must be good. It’s not necessarily better than everything else out there, but it’s definitely good. To me it really is that simple. I’ve also never subscribed to the idea that literary fiction which sells a few hundred copes but has ‘artistic integrity’ and isn’t nakedly commercial is somehow superior to chicklit and other genre fiction (thrillers, for example). We live in a world where people have to earn livings and there is absolutely nothing wrong with trying to sell as many books as possible. And before anyone gets on their cultural high horse, let’s not forget that both Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare wrote as quickly as possible and as commercially as possible.
To be clear, that absolutely doesn’t mean I don’t love literary fiction – writers like Justin Cartwright, Howard Jacobson, Robert Dinsdale and William Boyd are among my very favourites. It’s just that I love chicklit too (and every other commercial genre around as well, by the way.)
So, what’s my favourite? It’s difficult but 50 Ways To Find A Lover by Lucy-Anne Holmes is outstanding. The story (charmingly bonkers girl goes on a search for Mr Right) chimes with everyone who has ever been single and thought ‘will it ever happen to me?’ The central character, Sarah Sargeant, lives life guided by her slightly kooky instincts, without really thinking things through and without really understanding the consequences of her actions. She’s undoubtedly a good and likeable person (the kind readers would like as a friend – which is a very strong reason for the book’s success) and she is capable of utterly daft but endearingly clumsy behaviour. Everyone is like that at some point in their lives and that, essentially, is the beauty of 50 Ways – it makes people feel good about themselves and their own lives while also entertaining them. Surely if a few hundred printed pages can make a reader feel like that, shouldn’t it be celebrated? Isn’t that a special achievement? Absolutely damned right it is.
How, then, can chicklit be seen as a bad thing? If you ask me, it can’t.
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