The first time I saw the cover of a book in this genre was ‘The Confessions of a Shopaholic’ by Sophie Kinsella. I was 15 years old and Becky Bloomwood became my new best friend with the most atrocious spending habits along with the best sense of style. I obviously didn’t want to get into trouble the way she did but the idea of being able to buy that Denny and George scarf, have such a thoughtful and kind girlfriend and meet the man of her dreams in the cutest way occupied my thoughts as I devoured the series. After the Shopaholic series, I read The Undomestic Goddess by her and then gave it a rest.
I picked up the books again recently and started to realize how different they seemed now. I’m talking 14 years later and I am now a woman with a few relationships under my belt, a good set of loyal and kind girlfriends and in a steady, no giddiness involved relationship with a boy who I love playing Scrabble with. Would this genre appeal to me? Had I become severely disillusioned with how love feels like and the chick lit concept of it? The twist of fate, the ‘nearly always awkward around men’ working woman who is super-efficient with no time for love but manages to meet a man who she doesn’t think is the one until some big moment of realization? The makeovers, the travel, the drinking, the coaxing mom who is so heavily invested in relationships, the beady eyed friend who knows there’s something going on and the makeovers that suddenly give you confidence.
You’re looked at critically and not considered a ‘serious reader’ when you mention you enjoy chick lit. Your taste in literature is considered unrefined. Apparently, chick lit is fluffy, glib, superficial and thoughtless and the books don’t deal with real, hard core issues. Critics call it a dead genre and it is often dismissed as a trashy read with little or no plot. The genre is easily identifiable because of the pastel covers, the swirly font, the shopping bags with a hint of glitter and cartoon women wearing heels.
I must admit that I pretty much still love them. What is it about this genre that has dominated bookshops for more than 20 years around the world and is still appealing?
It’s usually a story of a women’s personal growth. It’s not always about finding the right man. I read a ‘chick lit’ book recently of a woman who had lost her husband in a car accident and 14 months later decides to move to a new job because she was tired of people pitying her. Jill Mansel’s ‘To the moon and Back’ is perfect because it makes you feel like your heroine has dealt with grief and is now in a better place than what she was when you started reading. The characters are flawed too but very normal which makes their problems easier to understand and relate to. But I feel like the genre has evolved. It has gone beyond women in her 20’s accidentally finding the model and always irresistible man. There are re-marriages, step children, divorce, death and addiction that the genre is now dealing with despite the main protagonist still being a woman.
It’s the kind of book I read when I decide I need comfort, a book that will make me feel happy and content about someone’s life becoming better after a normal and very possible issue and by the end of the book, all those loose ends will be neatly tied up. We need books that we can escape into, that will amuse you making it an easy and quick read. We don’t want to read deranged, dark and twisted all the time. Sometimes, happily ever after is nice. Do these books give young girls a flawed idea of love? Tell you that you most definitely need a man in your life? Not really. I think there’s more than enough in the world to make a woman cynical and dispassionate about love and it’s realities. These books show that your pack of girlfriends have your back. That sometimes, your friends can understand you far better than your family does. That it’s okay to decide to pursue what you want to do and the change might just turn out to be the best thing you needed to come out of your shell. How lack of communication and jumping to conclusions are usually the cause of most rifts. And with all this, there’s that hope that there can be a Mr. Darcy for you even though you may think you are ordinary. He will find your awkward beautiful and he will respect and fall in love with who you are even without your Hermes scarf and Jimmy Choos.