Chick lit has its place. On long-haul flights, for example, when you’re a bit pissed and bored with the films on offer, and all you wanted is some literary fast food. I recall one flight back from Colorado where I read Bridget Jones’s Diary from start to finish with it hidden between the covers of a National Geographic in case it were assumed I was a single, lonely chocolate-head who flashed her knickers at work.
Don’t get me wrong. I like that sort of woman. I’m not being snobby about crap books. It’s just that all mass-produced products created for women (excluding sanitary protection) tends to be twee or schmaltzy. The basic chick-lit plot centres on getting a man, keeping a man or coping with a man when he leaves you/is being a total bell end.
Publishers must have realised they’re losing out on my demographic (rabid, feminist, middle-aged lesbians who hate literary fiction but dislike being spoon-fed slush) so came up with Gone Girl, which has since given birth to several litters-worth of similar but inferior types.
So now we have ‘sick chick lit’. Books for women, about womanly things, but with nasty twists. No covers of Louboutin ankle boots or wedding cakes. No pictures of the author’s eight children on the dust jacket. With ‘sick chick lit’ you have edgy, matt black book fronts with prison-orange letters, and the promise of a proper plot in which you cannot visualise Colin Firth or Hugh Grant.
Except you sadly can. The film adaptation of Before I Go To Sleep had a bumbling but menacing Firth playing Mr Husband, who’s so lovely and considerate you know something terrible will happen.
Gone Girl is OK as they go, but contains lines such as, ‘Love makes you want to be a better man. But maybe love, real love, also gives you permission to just be the man you are.’ As a gripping plot, it does the business, except the characters are all so unlikeable it is difficult to care which of them will encounter Freddy Kruger head whipping out of the water.
Before I Go To Sleep is firmly in the mould of Gone Girl. Without spoiling the plot, I can tell you that the promise of nasty, dangerous husbands is threaded through both books, with the main protagonist leaping from feeling in love to being shit scared. A bit like regular heterosexuality to be honest.
Apple Tree Yard is chick lit with a bit of grit. Married woman has affair. Lover might be a spy. Someone gets murdered. Court case. There are more plot twists in a Joanna Trollope.
Can we please do better than this? Women read more than men, and are less likely to skip pages and leave a book half way through according to research, so why are we are sold the dross? From now on, I am boycotting books aimed at women, unless the central plot involves dismantling the patriarchy using a hacksaw and a hedge strimmer.