We don’t actually live in a chick lit world

Every now and again, something like every 15 years, I get so sick that I am bed-bound and useless. I’m talking so sick that I can’t even read.

Yeah, that time has come, and thankfully now gone.

It was a horrendous virus that, according to social media, has spread its misery nationwide. I personally lay in bed for three solid days, wishing I was dead, and have only now (two weeks later) started feeling human again. During the three days of death, I had to make a couple of excursions to the pharmacy for DayQuil and Kleenex and soup and tea. The first outing was okay and I slept for like, eight hours afterward to recover. The second was a terrible exercise in staying vertical, and I ended up in tears in the Shopper’s Drug Mart parking lot from exhaustion.

I also had a headache that sat squarely behind my eyes. Keeping my eyes open for any length of time hurt, touching my eyes hurt, looking at things hurt. So I lay in bed and slept and read nothing. For those who know me, you’ll appreciate how impressive this truly is. I have a hard time eating a meal and not reading. Multiple days without the written word is almost unheard of.

When my illness hit, I was reading David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas and The New Penguin History of Scotland (see my previous post if you’re curious regarding the latter). Both of these volumes have fairly small fonts and thus, I was stalled in my reading for about a week (even after I was ‘well’ enough to return to work, that headache remained). About five days after the initial illness hit, enough was enough: I wanted to read a book. The tiny type of my two on-the-go books became fuzzy quickly, and I turned to something lighter, fluffier, and with bigger type.

Enter Sophie Kinsella. Most may recognize the name of the world’s leader in chick lit. This is the woman who has given us the Shopaholic series, as well as a few stand-alone novels. She has also perfected a plot formula that has likely made her a very rich woman.

Now, I know in the past I’ve criticized people who review books by simply summarizing the plot. But really, this formula is actually my point and must be laid out for you.

Standard Kinsella Plot: Heroine is a young woman. She is loveable and in her mid-20’s. She is a bit of a fluff-brain but has so many endearing qualities that you can’t help but like her. She is often unsatisfied at work, and if she wears expensive shoes, she often can’t afford them. She is in a relationship, usually, with someone who doesn’t quite get her quirky personality. Then, there is the Other Guy. OG is unsuited for our heroine, for some reason or another, but their paths keep crossing. To move the plot forward and show us how wonderful the heroine is, there is some sort of large-scale, work-related crisis. Our heroine fixes this, usually with the help of OG. During this period, OG and our heroine realize they love each other, are perfect for each other, can’t live without each other. Cue happy ending.

Seriously. I read two Kinsellas, back-to-back, Remember Me? and I’ve Got Your Number. Halfway through the second, I realized I was muddling the names of the characters, possibly due to cold medicine, though more likely due to the fact that they were the exact same people. No wonder they always got the same ending.

As I finished the pair of books, I had a baby fit of rage (I was still feeling pretty awful and incapable of my usual level of indignant pique). Here I was, lying in a bed that looked like baby goats had frolicked across it, trying not to breath too deeply in case it triggered a case of coughing that made my head feel like an aneurysm had burst. If life was like a Kinsella novel, my friends and family would have been checking in on me and bringing me soup (or similar), and my pyjamas would’ve matched my neatly made bed. I would have solved some business crisis and won the heart of some previously unsuitable suitor, all the while delicately blowing my nose on lavender-coloured tissues. Oh, and I would’ve been completely loveable instead of a grumpy, whiny hag.

Kinsella! You liar! Life just isn’t like this!

My rage quickly subsided. Let’s be honest for a minute. We read (or watch movies or listen to music, or reach out for art in any form) in order to escape, if just for a little while, from our day-to-day life. Something to give us a break. Sometimes we want gritty, realistic, honest. Sometimes, we just want that fairy tale ending. Personally, I prefer 10 minutes with some fiction (ideally well-written, but I’ll settle for moderately literate and riddled with clichés and proliferative adverbs) to 10 minutes with a newspaper or even a gossip magazine. Why? Our world today exhausts me. And fiction gives its reader a door out of our world and into another one (speaking of clichés . . .).

So I suppose that’s why we have the successful genre of chick lit. It’s the ultimate escape. Similar to watching sitcoms, with tidy solutions in 30 minutes or less, or even Disney movies with their sanitized fairy tales, Kinsella and her ilk give women a glimpse into the life of a flawed peer who finds a happy ending, despite said flaws. The language is easy and accessible, the themes far from complex, the characters easily imagined. Ultimately, who cares that life isn’t like this? Isn’t that — ultimately — why we pick these books up in the first place?

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