Word Games

August 2, 2007 at 2:10 am (Uncategorized)

A friend of mine from post-grad (in her case post-doc) days, Bronwyn Rivers, reviews books on the side and is the author of Women at Work in the Victorian Novel. One of her items appeared in the Review section of last weekend’s Weekend Australian. I think it’s the first time we’ve managed to be in the same section at the same time – I had my own article in the ‘Art as Investment’ report – and I felt a little rush of pleasure at the coincidence. It’s Bron’s review I wish to talk about today.

The book is A Perfect Life by Raffaella Barker, and Bron makes the point that Barker is probably right to eschew the label of ‘chick lit,’ given that chick lit operates under fairly well-established precepts. Chick lit is predictable, and – oddly – this very predictability has proven an essential ingredient in its ongoing success as a distinct genre. Nobody, not even a half-wit, could pick up a Maggie Alderson book, for instance, and fail to grasp its intended audience. It’s a peculiar phenomenon, really, given that predictability is the death of so much light entertainment, with the exception of that other ‘chick’ money spinner, the chick flick. Knowing ahead of time in either case that the girl will get the guy in the end is the defining feature of our interest in it.

So it makes sense that ‘divorcee lit’ – what I suggested to Bron and friends yesterday might one day fly as ‘div lit’ – jars against that chick lit guarantee. It just ain’t chick lit if it ain’t no happy ending. Which is not to say that the ending won’t be sweet, cathartic, and profitable for Barker and her publisher. They may well have anticipated the next wave.

We leave our chick lit heroines bright-eyed, taut-tailed and high-heeled. We sigh happily, placing the book to one side of the banana lounge. We adjust our towels and reapply our sunscreen, lamenting all the while the end of the holidays. Then we look around for some other mild diversion. A snack, perhaps, or a poolside cocktail, or maybe even the attentions of our male companion. What we don’t do is think about the ‘ever after’ of our sassy little paperback pal.

Divorce statistics suggest Barker might be on to something big. The skirts tend to ride high in chick lit world, and one quick, wincing glance at the real world shows that the happy endings are just as short. Div lit might prove to be the companion piece to chick lit. The sequel. What’s going to be difficult for the reader, though, is exactly what Bron suggests is the problem with Barker’s book. Reconciling the expectations of a ‘chick lit’ good time with the harsh, embittered disappointments of a ‘div lit’ decline is going to take some doing. One day soon you might not be able to tell a chick lit book by its cover.


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