I’m constantly hearing that the market for non-literary women’s fiction – commonly known as ‘chicklit’ – is saturated, over-subscribed, on its way out because there is just too much of it out there. Basically, that ‘chicklit’ is dead. Is it? Is it really? Hmm… I’m not so sure. And I’ll explain why.
Before we get into this debate, though, I feel I should nail my colours to the mast and make it clear to those not in the know thatI’m not keen on the term ‘chicklit’. Why? Because I think ‘chick’ is derogatory to women. Yes, I’m aware that a large number of people don’t agree with me. You might not agree with me. But, it’s a fact that I’m pretty sure we can both get over while we talk about the genre. Instead of ‘chicklit’, I use ‘heartlit’ to mean books that touch my heart and inspire an emotional response. Other people call it ‘commercial women’s fiction’. Let’s just assume we’re all talking about the same thing. Because, whatever you call it, we’re talking about a particular type of book; a certain brand of story. We’re talking about books that examine, expose and reflect our everyday lives. Whether they are full of romance or full of frivolity; whether they are tense and psychological or laid-back and laugh-out-loud funny, these tales tap into the many, many elements that make up our lives.
And gosh do I love reading these types of books. I like a literary tome with lots of complicated, intricate imagery and clever language as much as the next person, but if I want to relax, want to be entertained, want to find out about something, want to just experience the life of someone who would be like me if not for an accident of birth then I will hunt out one of these stories.
I will open the cover and dive in, swimming – sometimes effortlessly, sometimes furiously, sometimes just bobbing along – through the pages until I get to the other side and pull myself out of that particular pool, shut the cover and reflect upon what I have just experienced.
There are hundreds upon thousands of these books, novels that come under the chicklit/heartlit/cwf umbrella. And of course, as in any other genre, they vary in quality: some are good, some are not so good and some are distinctly average.
What’s unusual, I suppose, about this particular genre is not that it’s written in the main by women for women, but that people are constantly talking of its demise. They are saying so because there is so much of it, often speaking sneeringly of the ‘fact’ that it is one-dimensional dross that it is unsustainable and that if it isn’t already dead, it soon will be. No one talks about science fiction, crime thrillers, psychological thrillers, horror, etc in those terms. And I’ll tell you why, and why anyone who claims that chicklit/heartlit/cwf is dead is wrong.
It’s because, as far as I can see, compared to most other genres, chicklit/heartlit/cwf has evolved the quickest. Books in this genre are different to how they were when this genre first exploded. They are now constantly and regularly dealing with meatier, weightier issues. Readers are demanding more from these stories: more depth, more intrigue, more humanity. Writers are embracing and enjoying the challenge of dealing with challenging subjects within the confines of a good story, with realistic, likeable characters.
I truly believe that rumours of my favourite kind of storytelling’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. I don’t think chicklit/heartlit/cwf is dead, it is merely changing. It is moving with our times. It is evolving, demanding more of its writers, delivering more to its readers. It is in the process of becoming something newer, shinier, better. And that’s A GOOD THING, right? Yes, I think so, too.
© Dorothy Koomson 2011
Dorothy’s latest release is the excellent THE WOMAN HE LOVED BEFORE.