Good Reading : November 2008
last word happy endings DiAnne BlAcklock writes stories with humour and gentleness about the — hardly frivolous — trials and tribulations of ordinary women. Just don’t call it ‘chick-lit’. A pparently I write chick-lit, or according to one newspaper, ‘matron-lit’ (this is not only something of a misnomer – my characters are generally in their thirties – it’s also a little disparaging: show me a woman of any age who likes to be called ‘matronly’). I can’t help but feel that labelling women’s fiction in this cutesy, diminutive way is putting it, or us, in our place. As if they’re just frivolous little stories, and not very important, about childcare, division of housework, single motherhood, menopause and other ‘women’s issues’. But what could be more important, or relevant, than the everyday trials and triumphs of ordinary people? My books have dealt with separation and divorce, grief, infertility, infidelity, equality in the workplace, child-rearing, caring for elderly parents, and more. Other writers of the genre have gone to much darker places, such as addiction, abuse and depression. Hardly frivolous. Hardly relevant only to women. I have brothers and sons, and many friends of the male variety who have read my books because they know me. One old friend said he never would have picked up a book with a hot pink cover – as the first edition of Call Waiting sported – but he loved it, and he nabs all my books before his wife can get to them. Another friend, a straight married man with three kids, is now a convert to women’s fiction, reading everyone from Maeve Binchy to Marian Keyes. We constantly hear the cry that we’re drowning in American culture, in danger of losing our unique identity. Surely then, stories about average, urban Australian women (and men) are to 54 goodreading i NOVEMBER 2008 be applauded, or at least considered a valid expression of our society. Much of our iconic literature is set in the Outback, and often in the past. But women (and men) tell me they love reading a book with familiar contemporary settings; gone is the cultural cringe – they’re proud that their beautiful Northern Beaches were the backdrop in Almost Perfect, tickled when they come across street names they know in suburbs they grew up in, like Marrickville and Newtown, Balmain and Bondi, delighted to read dialogue in their own vernacular. What’s more important though, is that women tell me they recognise themselves, their friends, their families, their blokes. I was quite stunned by the number of women who related intimately to Sam – newly, painfully, separated, trying to get on with bringing up her three kids in Wife for Hire. One woman even said she felt as though I’d read her journals! Another strode into a bookclub where I was a guest, demanding, ‘How do you know my mother?’ Many women wrote that Almost Perfect helped them empathise with friends undergoing infertility treatment. And I received the most poignant email earlier this year from a cancer sufferer who wanted me to know that my books had got her through some gruelling days of treatment. As psychologist Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul, has put it, ‘Storytelling is an excellent way of caring for the soul’. Books written by women for women echo the way women talk to each other – there’s an intimacy, an openness, a vulnerability. To quote from an email I received only the other day: ‘… your books have helped remind me that I am not alone … many women would be grateful for the subtle lessons of letting go of pain, [trusting again] and embracing life.’ But it’s not all angst! The fiction that so often falls into this category is also characterised by warmth and humour, a hearty dollop of romance, and the ubiquitous happy ending, the feature most often derided by critics. After a year in a particularly literary bookclub, a friend of mine was driven to ask, ‘Do we always have to read books with unhappy endings?’ The thing is, people read to escape to other worlds, other times, other places, to be kept on the edge of their seats, to be challenged, or even confronted. So what’s wrong with ending on a hopeful note, with the characters in a better place, the girl getting the guy? And what if he is a little too good to be true? As Georgie says in Almost Perfect, ‘I want to be entertained, I want to care about the characters, to like them, to feel like I know them … And I don’t want to be able to put the book down … I want to be sad when I finish it, like I’ve had to leave a very special place.’ And there’s nothing wrong with any of that. Crossing Paths by Dianne Blacklock is published by Pan Macmillan, rrp $32.99.
December January 2009