Novels Are Like A Box Of Chocolate: In Defense of Sickly-Sweet Chick-Lit

The last book I read was entitled ‘Welcome To Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop Of Dreams’. The protagonist is named Rosie Hopkins (shocker, I know). Repressed in a stagnant relationship with an embarrassingly useless man-child appallingly named Greg, Rosie decides to take the only reasonable decision and hot-foot it to the rural countryside. Whilst there, she wanders around in unsuitable clothing being generally quirky and lovable in a non-threatening way and, without a business degree in sight, single-handedly restores her Great-Aunt Lilian’s Sweetshop to its former glory. An experience that is undoubtedly familiar to us all. It was fluffy.  At times, it was sicklier-sweet than a cherry liqueur chocolate.  An Aero is heavier than this novel. It was about as deep as a puddle. I loved it.

I’m Lorna, I’m a ‘Chick-Lit Addict’ and I’m not even vaguely ashamed.

No novel that dreamily confides, “I think love is caramel. Sweet and fragrant; always welcome…” is going to be a hard hitting, scathing social commentary. Good. Sometimes I want escapism. I want to float away on a cloud of fairy tale fantasy. I like coincidences that border on the ridiculous. Sometimes a happy ending is holistic therapy. Sure, Rosie and her sweetsho

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Not a Sweatshop in sight. Plenty of swooning though.

p of dreams aren’t going to change the landscape of the literary world forever. But it made me smile. It wasn’t a chore. It was a treat, and it went down easier than a smooth praline chocolate. Admittedly, when I saw it sitting dusty and neglected on the bookshelf I initially mistook the title for ‘Rosie Hopkins’ Sweatshop of Dreams.’ This would presumably have been a more harrowing read, and a likely contender for The Man Booker Prize.

The term ‘chick-lit’ is problematic in and of itself. Admittedly, there is something sneeringly derogatory about the term. In my opinion it’s sometimes used as a slyly convenient way of neatly tucking female authors within the publishing industry into a convenient little box, preventing them from being taken seriously as eloquent critical voices. More understandably, it’s also used as a solid marketing technique. However, whilst I firmly believe that every author deserves to be respected, whether you enjoy their literary output or not (hello! writing a novel is time-consuming! and hard!), not every author out there is huddled over a Mac laptop trying to write ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’. Although absolutely not ‘chick-lit’, Neil Gaiman was mercilessly ridiculed for departing from the more high-brow style of his fantastic epic ‘Neverwhere’ when he published the fairy tale romance ‘Stardust’ in 1999. When pressed by bewildered critics to justify what the softer, allegorically deficient but utterly wonderful novel was “for“, he coolly replied that the novel was “like an ice cream”, designed to “make you feel happy when you read it.” Any book that gives you a warm glow on the inside long-after you’ve closed the final page is a firm winner in my eyes. Also, Neil Gaiman approves of you reading it. He also wants you to eat ice cream. And that’s good enough for me, sister.

Personally, I choose to own being tarred with the liking ‘lit for girls’ brush. ANYONE that makes you feel inferior for what you read is an utter misery, and I sincerely hope that their copy of Dostoyevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’ keeps them warm at night, but that just ain’t my jam. ‘Chick-lit’ and fluffy novels in general do not need to be derided. Enjoy them, if they’re you’re thing. Maybe you’re more inclined to snuggle down with a copy of ‘On The Road’. Or the latest Irvine Welsh. Or perhaps you cherish dog-eared copies of Steig Larsson’s ‘Dragon Tattoo’ trilogy. Presumably you also own a well-stocked drinks cabinet and a cripplingly cynical attitude on the nature of humanity because, wow, those books are depressing, but if you enjoy them, THAT’S GREAT. If it makes you happy, read it. If it doesn’t, don’t. The point I’m making is this, and I don’t think it’s too Earth shattering; read what you want to read, when you want to read it. You are allowed to read ‘Fifty Shades’ one day and Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’ the next, should you so please – they’re actually at a fairly similar level on the steaminess scale. You absolutely do not have to read something you do not enjoy to feel worthy or intelligent. I have no time for literary snobbery.

To most of my peers studying English Literature’s dismay, I openly confess to liking ‘Twilight’. Admittedly, this partly unwilling fondness does not extent to ‘New Moon’ – at that point even twelve year old me felt that Bella needed a hobby, a stern talking to and, quite frankly, just get a grip – but I enjoyed reading them all the same. Do I think Bella is a feminist icon? Um, no. Do I understand why approximately 60% of the general populous despise the series? Kind of, yeah. Did I personally have a pleasant over-all reading experience? Yes, I did. So yes, I liked Meyer. I like McEwan. I like Françoise Sagan and Fitzgerald and Angela Carter. I love Eva Ibbotson, and I enjoy Kazuo Ishiguro. Cathy Cassidy holds a place in my heart. Equally, I’ll always remember reading Wilkie Collins’ ‘The Woman in White’. I like authors that enjoy a place on the literary ‘canon.’ I like authors that are reviewed in Heat magazine.

I return to my chocolate box metaphor. You need variety. The Coffee Crunch makes the marzipan sweeter. You need never apologise for liking what you like. Read anything. Read everything. Just read.

 

Feauture Art: ‘Chick Lit’. Image sourced from http://whatischicklit.tumblr.com/history

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