Friday, June 01, 2012

In defense of Chick Lit/ Highland Fling

Several female authors that I greatly respect (Maureen Johnson and Jennifer Weiner to name a few names) are very much against the "chick lit" label. When men write about love and romance and marriage and the drudgery of an entry-level position, it's LITERATURE. But when women do it, it gets a pink cover and is easily dismissed as "chick lit."

And they have a point. Especially because it seems that a lot of women's fiction (by which I mean written by women and having a woman as a main character) gets labeled "chick lit" and dismissed.

But "chick lit" used to mean something, and something that I think is useful. The same way that we use steampunk, high fantasy, cozy mystery, or bodice-ripper historical romance, chick lit used to mean something very specific. It was a term coined to mean a rather formulaic romance that featured the following

1. A modern setting, usually in a large city (usually New York or London)
2. A female protagonist who is late 20s/early 30s and single. She has a job, usually entry-level or administrative support, often in media/publishing
3. A current boyfriend or crush who is all wrong for her
4. Another guy that she doesn't like, but will end up being her one true love
5. Sexy times, but mostly off-page
6. A little bit of adult language
7. A lot of heart and humor
8. Overall a light, "fluffy" mood and tone.

Many people look at Bridget Jones's Diary as starting this genre. (Although this one is a bit smarter than many of the others I've read (and enjoyed) as Fielding seems to have some of Austen's gift of observation of society's foibles.)

Which is my way of saying, when I say "chick lit" (and we probably need a better term than that) I'm talking about something very specific. It's a genre that I do enjoy. Which brings us to today's review...

Highland Fling Katie Fforde

Jenny Porter is self-employed as a virtual assistant, determined to never have a boss again, after the dot-com she worked for went bust, with managers making out like bandits but the workers didn't get severance, or even their last pay check for hours they had already worked. One of her clients wants her to check out a failing woolens mill in the Scottish highlands.

Jenny can immediately see the mill is in dire straits, but after meeting the workers and the family that owns it, she's determined to find a way to save it, not wanting the workers there to go what she went through. Of course, this is all complicated by Ross Grant, a tourist who keeps showing up at the worst times and makes her go weak at the knees-- when she's not throwing cups of coffee at his knees. And then her boyfriend Henry shows up, determined to undo everything she's been trying to do.

I didn't like this one nearly as much as I wanted to. I liked Ross, the "tourist" who is OF COURSE Jenny's mystery client. But the problem was with Jenny and Henry. I could never figure out why Jenny was with Henry. Their relationship is on the rocks at the beginning of the book, but there's no sense of why she ever started dating him. Supposedly he's hot, but there's never chemistry or anything. Which brings us to Jenny. Jenny's really really really nice. And that's all I can really say about her. She's just really really really nice. There's not a lot else going on besides being really really really nice.

The supporting characters are all crazy characters (because all small towns are filled with crazy characters) but they were very enjoyable and are what made me finish reading the book.

Overall though, instead of rooting for the romantic ending I knew was coming, my reaction was "oh, finally" and not in that happy FINALLY! way I felt at the end of the Downton Abbey Christmas Special (you know what I'm talking about.)

Ah well.

Book Provided by... my local library

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MotherReader said...

I totally agree with your definition of chick lit as a genre and a fine one, for what's it's worth. It's a very particular escapist kind of fiction and I'm not sure how the label drifted to cover anything by and/or for a "chick."

sonetka said...

Exactly -- to me, at least, "chick lit" means I'm getting something very specific (maybe a little too specific -- do they ALL have to work in publishing?) and really, it has as much to do with the overall tone as with anything; books which are lighthearted or funny in general tend not to be taken seriously as Capital-L literature and are demoted to a particular genre (look at George MacDonald Fraser; his books are absolutely brilliant historically, sold like hotcakes, and never won a single literary award; they weren't serious enough).

Thanks for the nice words about my blog, by the way! (I felt sort of weird about commenting on the actual post). I'm trying to work up a slightly more attractive template than the starter one I've got right now and am trying to think of something besides the inevitable head shot, so to speak!