Thursday, September 20, 2007

Guest Post: A Female Perspective

What's it all about, Alfie? Well perhaps it is about Alfie. If Chick Lit is a term used to denote genre fiction written for and marketed solely to women -- shallow, girl searching for Mr Right while shopping for the perfect diet and shoes--then I guess boychiklit or fratire would be exactly the same thing but written for and marketed to young men. So, cliché being what it is, boy avoids Ms Right while shopping for beer and sportscar. Don't all men want to be like Alfie? Don't all women want to be like Carrie? Only on TV surely. Is the gender divide so clean? Are we always so true to our stereotypes?

We're all from the same species after all, so surely I can enjoy a good, lusty read about boy things. Many of my favourite all time writers are male: Salman Rushdie, Umberto Eco, James Joyce, Cormac McCarthy, Peter Carey, Julian Barnes. Barnes'
England, England for example has some pretty racy male scenes, and we all know about Joyce. Does the fact that he can do such rich beautiful female characters like Molly make him any less 'male' in his writing style? Other writers like DBC Pierre, Mark Haddon and Martin Amis are all known for their vigorous, male oriented humour, and have the kind of rich blokyness that would make them number one on my recommended list for male friends looking for a fun read. What about Hemingway, or Steinback? Surely these writers are the epitome of strong, robust, male perspective literature.

Or is there something else behind the notion of a genre designed specifically to denote a book that is not substantial: maybe a bridge between a magazine, a TV show, and a book. Maybe it's like shed time. You've got to get away from all that introspection for a while and just mess about in the sheer mindlessness of blokeland: where women are delightfully simple, and men just wanna have fun, before all that responsibility comes crashing back down on you again.

This is probably the time to admit that I haven't read all that much in this genre. Nor do I want to reveal just what a quality snob I am. It may well be an affliction associated with my gender (I do after all like shopping for shoes), but give me a book with too many girl-chasey gratuitous boob scenes (
Bikini Beach: the book) or any kind of stock formula, and I'm afraid I'd be shelfing it faster than you can say puerile. Different strokes and all that. If the formula works and the audience is buying and enjoying the book, what difference does mindlessness make. But...surely a book can be lighthearted and funny, without resorting to cardboard characters, cliché heaped upon cliché, and tired, stock situations. How about, just say, a latelife crisis coupled with a strange mole on the leg and a pair of scissors (Haddon)? What about a successful Casanova who suddenly discovers his womanising is strangely flat and what he really needs is to find his missing father (Irving)? Surely there are male oriented subjects including things like beer, baseball, fast cars, pretty girls and even large breasts, that have universal appeal. Surely books can make us laugh and forget our responsibilities without diminishing the whole notion of what it means to be a human being. Why typecast ourselves? I would have thought that even the most male oriented plot (and to be honest, I’m not all that sure if gender distinctions like male/female are that helpful either – good writing is always interesting to me, regardless of the plot) can aspire to a deep theme, rich and powerful characters, complex plots, and exceptional writing skills, without losing the lightness, the sense of fun, or even the mid-life crisis, the beer or the sportscar. Just ask DBC Pierre. Or, for that matter, Bill Naughton (Alfie’s creator).

Magdalena Ball runs The Compulsive Reader. Her stories, poetry, reviews and articles have appeared in many printed anthologies and journals, and have won several awards. She is the author of The Art of Assessment, Quark Soup, and Sleep Before Evening.

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