I’m trying to write a feature for Novelicious for International Chicklit Month. And I’m having trouble getting started.
Because the topic is Humour And Chicklit.
What right do I have to write about humour and chicklit? Fuck all, honeynuts. I mean, I try to write humorous books, but everyone thinks they have a sense of humour, just like everyone thinks they have good dress sense. So the little voice in my head reminding me that everyone’s idea of humour is different and asking who the sweet hell I think I am to write about this subject is stymieing me, for a start.
For me, for any book – fiction or not - to be humorous, it has to be surprising. And original, smart, irreverent, sharp, confident, quick, honest, compelling, emotionally real, well-written and tightly edited, with characters that I care about and a storyline that has realistic-yet-unexpected twists... it all goes hand-in-hand, because humour needs structure and structure needs a point and that point needs to be emotionally resonant for me to care enough to keep reading. David Sedaris is deeply funny: I laughed so hard reading Me Talk Pretty One Day that I started hitting the seat next to me, and I was on the tube (underground, subway, metro, MTR) at the time. Kingsley Amis is also hilarious: Lucky Jim is one of my favourite books ever (Fox wooed me with a first edition, the smooth bastard). Wodehouse, Stella Gibbons, Nancy Mitford, Nora Ephron... all brilliant and funny. But they're not modern chicklit.
So what makes a book in the chicklit genre particularly funny? That’s what I’m asking myself. And I don’t know what the answer is. Not all my favourite chicklit books are particularly funny. Or they might make me smile but not chortle, grin but not guffaw. Doesn’t mean I don’t like them. Just means they’re not that funny. I also love Thomas Hardy, Ernest Hemingway, Julian Barnes, Mary McCarthy, Bret Easton Ellis, Stephanie Meyer, yes I said Stephanie Meyer, and they don’t make me laugh out loud either.
Recently I read I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crossley, and The Heart Says Whatever by Emily Gould. Both are very well-written and very, very funny memoirs from quick, smart, perceptive twentysomething women, and I laughed out loud several times. When I finished, I wondered: why the hell didn’t they turn their razor-sharp gaze away from the mirror and write fiction? There’s something un peu self-absorbed about writing about yourself all the time, isn’t there? (I can’t even bear to write about myself on this terribly neglected blog, and shit, that’s the whole point of a blog, right?) Then I wondered if the reason they wrote memoirs was because any novel about being a female career-and-love-focused twentysomething, with bits about fashion and family and friends and flatmates, would be labelled chicklit and given a cover that looked like a Disney animator had thrown up on it. And Emily and Sloane are both, quite frankly, too cool to fall for that.
You can see how my brain is having trouble processing what should be a very enjoyable feature to write.
Twenty minutes ago I decided, fuck it, write about what makes the funniest chicklit books funny, and choose a book everyone will agree on. The answer is, of course, Bridget Jones’ Diary.
But I can’t just write that, can I? “Read Bridget Jones’ Diary. It is perfect.”