I intended to write two postings yesterday about the Times Saturday books section, but only got as far as the first. Here’s the second.
The other item in the paper that interested me was a piece about "chick-lit", specifically a review of two books, one by Kathy Lette and the other by Gigi Levangle. As might be expected, I am not a fan of the chick-lit genre, and yes I have read some of it, not particularly being aware that I was embarking on a formula read before starting out. I don’t much like the books I have read, for example the first of what became the "Shopaholic" series, because they seem to take part in some alternative universe where the heroine is charmingly ditzy but somehow manages to make a billion bucks by accident before her boss discovers her silly mistake, which she made because she forgot she left her baby on the train or was busy applying her mascara at the time — you get the picture. The last one I read (being unaware in advance it was going to be chick-lit) was "The Ivy Chronicles", about someone in New York whose husband left her, so to regain her Manhattan lifestyle she set up as an agent to get 3-year olds into private school (or something). Despite being penniless she instantly finds a great apartment above a delicatessan shop with saintly owner, has a best friend for all emergencies, on-tap babysitting, lending gold Rolls-Royce, etc etc. So the problem with the genre is that you can tell on page 1 (ish) what is going to happen, and the deus-ex-machina plot devices remove any dramatic tension — which renders actually reading the book rather pointless.
The angle taken in the Times last Saturday is that chick-lit has now come of age. The Kathy Lette book is given as an example. I have never read a KL book, but I know of her becuase she has a knack with titles ("Foetal Attraction", etc). Her latest is called "How to Kill your Husband (and other handy hints)." Not too enticing, and not even a witty title, but I read on.
The point made by Sarah Vine, the reviewer, is that the chick-lit heroines have, 10 years later, become like Bridget Jones: older, fatter, managing jobs, children and so on. These two new books are said to break ground by showing how these "ex heroine, now married with two kids" characters cope when their husbands run off with the new generation of ditzy, mascara-applying…..you get the picture — the is tale told from the wronged woman side instead of the gay young thing side.
All sounds pretty missable, but for the reviewer’s comments about the books. (Or book as it turns out.) "Lette crystallises all the pitfalls facing the modern working couple: work tensions……sexual tensions….. — and more darkly, what becomes of two people who have lost all respect for each other." Well, OK, but that isn’t exactly an original literary theme. (Madame Bovary, anyone?) Vine goes on to say "But what really makes Lette such a pro is that, as well as insight, she provides her reader with that rarest of things, a good plot. Fundamentally, this is a well-constructed, tightly written thriller." Hmmm, I’m mildly interested, now.
I should note that the other book reviewed by Vine seems to be exactly like every other chick-lit book, so the premise of the reviewer is not borne out. In fact, why package the review as chick-lit "growing up" when the sample size is one? (Rhetorical question.)
A note on pricing: once again, Amazon (UK) has the book in hard cover at a crazy price: 6 pounds and 49 pence. The list price, quoted on Amazon and in the Times, is 12.99, or 11.69 if you buy it from the Times. I wonder if Amazon scans all currently reviewed books and sells them cheap for a set time, as it knows there will be a demand? Something is going on, anyway — half price is a whacking discount. (The book isn’t part of any special Amazon promotion so far as I can see.) Maybe it is just competition with Tesco.
Another note: on Amazon you can see the cover of the book, which is the usual pink chick-lit cover with cartoon characters and girly writing. In a bookshop I would walk past such a book on display without even looking at it. Even if Sarah Vine thinks the book is "chick-lit grown up", the publisher does not seem to agree: or perhaps it is just going for the known market irrespective of content. Or perhaps the content isn’t really "grown up". Is it worth finding out? (Rhetorical question again.)
Amazon of course sells things in such vast quantities that they carry the same kind of clout with publishers as Waterstones in terms of wheedling discounts out of them. While this is delightful for us as customers, it is deadly for your local lovely independent bookstore which really just cannot possibly compete…