Chick-lit is one of my go-to choices for holiday reading. These novels are easy to read. I’m happy to read them by a pool or to shove them in my bag. On the surface, they’re fast and frivolous and often hard to put down. There’s always a strong theme, a fast-moving plot and some lovable characters. The novels are, in a word, entertaining.
The use of ‘chick’ to refer to a young woman comes from 1920s African-American slang. Some people find the term offensive. Women like me who were part of the Second Wave Feminist in the 1960s and 1970s know how sexist language demeans women. Yet here I am, using a very sexist term because as yet there seems to be no other that quite picks up the flavour of what chick-lit manages to do. The title ‘contemporary women’s fiction’ doesn’t quite work.
Chick-lit can be defined as a category of genre fiction which examines some of the issues of modern womanhood. It is mostly written by women for women. Although the themes are serious, the novels themselves are often humorous and apparently lighthearted. These novels can be a useful tool for educating women about available possibilities and options.
The term was coined in the 1990s when the genre first appeared. A fore-runner was Helen Fieldings Bridget Jones’ Diary, published in 1996. As most people know, the novel is written in the form of a diary of one year in the life of a thirty-something, single woman.
Now protagonists in chick-lit range from their early twenties to their late sixties. I don’t know if women that old would identify as ‘chicks’. No books in the genre about women in their seventies. Or eighties!
Chick-lit is sometimes compared with romance novels The difference is that chick-lit deals with more serious social themes of concern to women. In those I’ve read, there has been evidence of considerable research and attention to detail. They often pack a strong punch.
Chick-lit is rarely reviewed by mainstream reviewers and publications. It’s authors are unlikely to be invited to mainstream writers festivals, except, perhaps, Cathy Lette. The much acclaimed Elizabeth Gilbert, who charmed audiences at the Perth Writers Festival 2015, says that her books are sometimes described as chick-lit. You might like to listen to Elizabeth Gilbert as she discusses the label.
Here are two examples of authors who also write chick-lit
Kathy Lette, in her book Courting Trouble, deals with domestic violence, gender bias in the legal system and mother-daughter relationships. A barrister, sacked from her job, finds her husband in bed with another woman. She takes her child to live with her mother, also a barrister. The women set up a law firm which specialises in working with women and their issues.
Anita Heiss is a member of the Wiradjuri nation of central NSW. She writes delicious stories about Aboriginal heroines. They have interesting careers, travel and enjoy the friendship of other women. Anita Heiss’s stories resonate with me because of my interest in the welfare of Aboriginal people. But they could make interesting reading for anyone. I have learned much from Heiss’s novels.
I’m looking forward to reading more chick-lit this year. My reading usual material has been drawn from a predictable range for a long time. When I was thinking about the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015 way back in January, I created a blog with a less conventional ‘to read’ list. You can see it here, The list includes two books from the genre of women’s fiction that is sometimes disparagingly called chick-lit. It also includes books from other genres than those I usually read.
Now I think about it, it would be a challenge to rewrite one of my unpublished novels as genre fiction – to attempt to turn it into chick-lit.