I don’t have a problem with the phrase chick lit, and neither does Marian Keyes, the author synonymous with the genre, whom I was lucky enough to see speak to a small gathered book club after 16 years of loving her writing.
The only problem with the phrase is the connotation it gets if negativity is permitted: women hunting men, women crying over men, women getting hurt by men, women taking them back anyway – but chick lit, as it should barely need to be explained, given the name – is about chicks.
Women would be a better word, not least of all because my laptop keeps autocorrecting to “chicken lit”, but “women” doesn’t fucking rhyme with “lit”, does it?
Marian Keyes’ writing is certainly rife with chicks, and full of love stories and failed romances and dizzying fucks – but the chicks of her tales have far more to worry about than simply men. These are career women, with complicated families and friendships and hopes and desires that have less to do with men and more to do with finding the perfect lipstick. And, no – that interest in make up and fashion doesn’t make them shallow.
I’ve been rereading and rereading the Marian canon since I was eleven years old, and here’s why I think everyone should try, her at least once.
She’s genuinely, laugh-out-loud funny
We’re talking Sarah Millican/Ellen De Generes/Melissa McCarthy wet-yourself-ridiculous. And while there have been many books in my life to make me sob, it’s a rare tome that makes me cackle out loud on the tube. Try it, it’s fantastic – and guaranteed to win you more elbow room on the Bakerloo line.
Some of her books have dated, obviously, since she’s been regaling us with the plight of the modern woman since the 90’s, but Marian is ever moving with the times. Just like her persona on Twitter, her character grasp new technologies and methods and ideals with both hands, meaning that you’ll always recognize something from their lives in your own. Even if the character in question is falling in love with a doctor she can only communicate with by blinking. Go with it.
She’ll break your heart
If you can name an issue, Marian has covered it: family problems, eating disorders, addictions across the spectrum, broken friendships, failed careers, rape and sickness and grief. But even in the most grueling segments, she’ll guide you through with her unique humour and honesty, because she’s not trying to make you cry – she’s just trying to make you see.
She’ll never leave you without a happy ending
At that same book club, Marian said that she’d once been told by a publisher that if she left out the humour and abandoned her happy endings, she might be taken seriously as a writer. Not only did she not knock his teeth out, but she completely ignored him: so even though you can’t guarantee happy endings in your own life, Marian will never leave you wanting. Even if it’s not always the ending you expected.
The Walsh family is everything you never knew you needed.
There are 5 Walsh sisters, and each has been the subject of novel, starting with Claire in Watermelon and ending with Helen in The Mystery of Mercy Close. And throughout those books has been woven a whole complete family with characters you’re unlikely to forget. Except maybe Maggie. Lickarse (just kidding, actually Angels is one of my faves).
If you run out of books, there’s always Twitter
It’ll take you a while to plough through Marian’s backcatalogue but if you do, fear not! She’s big on Twitter, rarely goes a full 30 minutes without a Tweet, and maintains the exact tone of the books you love. Print them out, have them bound, read ‘em on the tube. You won’t regret it.
So what should you read? I’d start with The Other Side of the Story or Sushi for Beginners, as an introduction to her tone. Then make your sweet way through the Walsh sisters. Last Chance Saloon is bloody brilliant, as is This Charming Man. Feck it, read the lot.
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