Friday, November 18, 2005

BOOKS: In Defence of Chick Lit (Sort Of)

Number of books read to date: 46 (v.g.), Number of comfort re-reads: 14 (n.g.), Number of posts not even remotely about books but written in shameless ploy to distract site visitors from slow progress: Too many to count (bad)

You got me. I re-read
Bridget Jones's Diary. I have my reasons. But given the fact that this novel won rave reviews from both Nick Hornby and Salman Rushdie, I don't think I need to be too ashamed. Do I?

Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding (#46)
I haven't read this book since it came out in 1999, but you know what? It's got legs. In fact, not only is it holding its own against the clock, I think I enjoyed it a lot more this time around, without all the annoyingly distracting kerfuffle that seems required by law to surround each literary Next Big Thing.

Why did so many people dislike this book? Sure, it's considered by many to be godmother to the popularly hated genre known as chick lit, though I think this is arguable since Judith Krantz was plundering this terrain in the 1970s and 80s with single-career-gals-looking-for-love novels such as Scruples, Princess Daisy, and my personal guilty pleasure favourite, I'll Take Manhattan. So at best I think we can just give Fielding props/blame for reviving the genre. But to her credit, she also imbues it with a lot more cleverness than Krantz-era chick lit. (Though I'm not going to confess how far I got through Bridget the first time before I made the Pride and Prejudice connection. What? I don't have to tell you people EVERYTHING.)

Now that I think about it, though, if Fielding is responsible for the chick lit revival that brought us the irredeemably execrable The Nanny Diaries, perhaps she should be held accountable for her actions. (It bears mentioning that Bridget Jones's Diary, its fairly enjoyable sequel, and The Nanny Diaries are the only examples of contemporary chick lit I've read.)

I think Fielding also gets linked, in some people's thinking anyway, with Candace Bushnell, writer of Sex and the City, the book that launched the series. I've never actually read any of Bushnell's books (though I've watched every season of SatC on DVD), but from what little I know of her work, it strikes me as unfair to compare the two. Bushnell's stock in trade seems to be brittle, neurotic uber-urbanites who seem to be genuinely looking for love, in addition to shoes that cost more than any given outfit in my wardrobe (and that's including jackets). Fielding, on the other hand, gives us Bushnell's antipode: goofy, hapless, relatably cellulite-ridden Bridget.

(Why is it that some people have such a virulent reaction to Sex and the City, anyway? Rusty has an aneurism every time he sees even a few minutes of the show. He says he hates that the women are so shallow and greedy and manipulative. I point out that so are the Ferengi, but that doesn't stop him from watching Star Trek. He counters with the fact that the Ferengi are aliens. I reply, but so are these women! This argument usually goes nowhere.)

Ultimately, I think that Bridget Jones was a victim of the media's tendency to seize upon and outrageously conflate social trends identified in novels (i.e. Fielding's Singletons and Smug Marrieds). The next thing you know, the Lifestyles section of every major Saturday paper is flogging the theme (along with fashion tips on how to dress for your role) until anyone with any self-respect is hard-pressed not to get all reactionary. It's simple human nature.

(This is the same tendency that earned Douglas Coupland a lot of undeserved wrath after Generation X. Poor Doug. Your book didn't bug the living shit out of me, but your press coverage sure as shootin' did.)

So... where am I going with this? I guess I just want to say that, yeah, I re-read Bridget Jones's Diary. And I feel pretty good about it. Though this is probably not the route I should be taking if I want to increase my LQ score.


Tamara said...

I love that you compared SJP and her crew to the Ferengi. LOVE.

Anonymous said...

Scruples, Ah. Another fav of mine is Mistral's Daughter. Both of which I stole from my Mom's stash in high school. Thanks for the flashback...

Lisa said...

What annoys me is that this blame is only attached in the world of chick lit. No one blames Tom Clancy for all the terrible espionage/spy thrillers. You don't hear about Shakespeare taking the heat for hundreds of horrid romances about star-crossed lovers from different sides of the tracks.

BJD is a good book. Some other books with similar plots or themes are not so good. That's not really Fielding's fault.

Rachel said...

I confess to watching and reading Bridget Jones' Diary more than once each (though not the sequel). But thank you Nora Ephron for making the outrageously conflated social trend a themtic staple of romantic comedies and chick lit. Ick.

Rebecca said...

I feel like I'm betraying my gender when I admit to having the same feelings towards SatC as Rusty does. To me, they're like the "Seinfeld" for trendy-chic women - a whole lot of hot air about a whole lot of nothing.

Caro said...

Correct me if I'm wrong (and I'm sure someone will) but I think BJD started as a series of articles by Fielding as a send up of a certain type of young, neurotic and shallow career gal. But in the book version she couldn't seem to let her hero fall flat on her emotional ass . . . literal ass, no prob, though.

As for Bushnell: HAAAAAATE the EEEEEEEVIL! Never has a gift book like 4 blondes caused me to consider breaking off a familial relationship.