Enough with the chick lit

// 14 August 2006

At last, someone who actually works in publishing has wised up to the paucity of shelf space the mainstream gives to serious female writers. And by serious female writers, yes I do mean not chick lit.

AlterNet carries a great interview today with Elizabeth Merrick, the editor of a new anthology called ‘This is not chick lit: original stories by America’s best women writers’.

The fictional empowerment of chick-lit heroines, it seems, comes with a real-life cost: less attention paid to serious women scribes. Merrick points out that as the Jonathans — that’s Jonathan Franzen, Jonathan Lethem, and Jonathan Safran Foer — saw their careers take off for the literary stratosphere, many of their female contemporaries found their own work languishing, receiving less press and sales than their male counterparts.

Meanwhile, Sarah Waters is one of the top three contenders to win the Man Booker prize for Night Watch, according to the Guardian. David Mitchell, though, is the bookies’ favourite to win for his latest novel Black Swan Green.

Irvine Welsh, on the other hand, did not appear on the shortlist for his latest novel, The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs. Which could not have improved his mood after he was reportedly savaged at the Edinburgh festival last night, for his misogynistic depiction of women.

At the session he read passages from his new work – The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs – including a lurid scene in which a man in his 20s has sex with an ancient woman, called a white witch, whose physical attributes are described in grotesque and lavish detail. These range from the “sagging corrugations” of her body to her “ludicrously extended clitoris” to the smell of the “slimy golden-brown fecal matter that lay saturating the incontinence pads below her”

n the book this character, Mary, has refused to give the young man, Skinner, her advice without the payment of “a good cock”. One of the first questions Welsh – whose previous books include Ecstasy, Glue, Filth and Porno – took from the floor was on whether he considered the passage misogynist, and he took no fewer than four others, with only one woman speaking out to defend him.

Of course, far be it from me to judge a book before I’ve read it, but Welsh’s response to the criticism does not convince me that his attitudes to women are… well… very healthy:

“I describe her fingers as going into Skinner’s buttocks like meat hooks – I think she was enjoying herself.”

He says that this was just a depiction of ‘old age’, but did the novel also deal with any male characters in the same way? Have any readers actually read the book?

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