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‘Chick lit’ label a curse for female authors?

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Summary of story from The Guardian, July 22, 2011

Conservative MP Louise Mensch evidently took columnist Bagehot by surprise during Tuesday’s grilling of Rupert Murdoch in the House of Commons over the recent News of the World phone-hacking scandal.

Bagehot, the Economist magazine’s political columnist, had not, he said, been that impressed by what he had seen of Ms Mensch previously.

‘But after her waffling, pompous colleagues it was a relief today as she asked sharp, precise, coolly scornful questions’ he wrote.

‘She asked about pay-offs backed with confidentiality clauses, about when precisely the Murdochs had known that phone-hacking involved victims of crime like Milly Dowler, and about whether, given the enormous reputational damage being done to News Corp, it might be time for James Murdoch to read through all the emails from an archive appearing to show rampant law-breaking among some employees, rather than referring to a sample he had seen. James Murdoch was left stammering by that one.’

Bagehot also, though, called Louise Mensch, aka Louise Bageshaw, the “author of breathless chick-lit novels” the “surprise star” of the trial, who apparently stepped out of the shadows, “looking and sounding like a clever young barrister” as she challenged Rupert Murdoch.

These comments have clearly irked The Guardian’s arts correspondent Laura Barnett.

According to Ms Barnett, Louise Mensch has struggled to be taken seriously, her career as a bestselling author continually bandied about as an indication of her lack of gravitas since her election last year.

Mensch is a former Young Poet of the Year  who studied ‘Anglo-Saxon and Norse at Oxford’.

Such sneering persistently dogs female authors of commercially successful novels – 12 published in this case – that appeal predominantly to women: the genre dubbed, in a vastly unsatisfactory and reductive term, ‘chick lit’, Ms Barnett points out.

Ms Barnett goes on to point out that no equivalent term currently exists for male authors. ‘Lad-lit’ appeared for a while in reference to writers like Nick Hornby and Tony Parson, but apparently didn’t stick.

Meanwhile, says Ms Barnett, authors such as “David “One Day” Nicholls and Christos “The Slap” Tsiolkas …see their emotionally cogent, accessibly written novels feted as chronicles of our times, rather than dismissed as insubstantial froth.”

Is it time for female authors to get their own back?

  1. How would they get their own back? I’d like to see those sneering read Anglo-Saxon and Norse. Hard going!

    Do we need plaudits though? Must all novels by women be seen as worthy and heavyweight? What exactly is wrong with someone writing froth or ‘chick lit’, especially when she goes on to surprise people by being – shock, horror – intelligent and well-educated? I’m sure Louise Bageshaw could write exquisite literary novels, but I’m sure she also knows what sells these days.

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