It’s not that often nowadays that I read a book purely for pleasure. Usually I’m reading pencil in hand, ready to make notes, so even though I read a lot of pleasurable books I’m always reading them with my reviewing head on. Anyway, I had a book token to use up the other day, so as well as getting myself the latest Mma Ramotswe paperback for my collection I threw a couple of others onto the ‘to read’ pile – One Day by David Nicholls and Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby, both of which had been recommended to me.
I read One Day really quickly, over just a couple of days (which is fast when you’ve a bossy toddler hanging off your leg much of the day). It comes with a gimmick, since the entire book takes place on just one day, or rather one date, over twenty years. I find that I tend to groan inwardly over writerly tricks like this, but this one was actually very interesting. Somehow the author was going to have to create and maintain the two main characters in the space of just one day for twenty years, and manage to convey what the reader has missed each year without it becoming dull or annoying. I thought David Nicholls worked it well. I felt involved from the start, even though for most of the book I wasn’t entirely sure I really liked the two leads, but the format didn’t become old – perhaps because he uses a variety of narrative styles, writing letters, lots of excellent dialogue, narrative exposition…I enjoyed the fact that we only got a glimpse, a snapshot, of each year in their lives. There was enough information to see how things had been going, but enough left to your imagination too. And it’s fascinating to track two characters over such a long period of their lives.
The story raised some questions, for me, about chick lit. My husband was waiting to read it after me, and I commented to him that it was a bit like chick lit, only not…then I found myself in a tangle as I wasn’t sure what I’d meant by that. Was it chick lit because it deals with love and relationships? Was it chick lit because it was easily accessible? What the hell is chick lit anyway? I used to be very dismissive of chick lit as a genre…post Bridget Jones it felt like there was a run of formulaic stories that all got packaged and published in the same way, with curly font titles and pictures of scatty looking girls in heels with shopping bags/bridal gowns/babies…It became very, very popular and that made me suspicious and, I admit it, a little bit dismissive.
So why was I describing this book as a little bit chick lit? I think because it was the story of a boy and a girl and whether or not they would fall in love with each other, and find happiness. But it wasn’t empty-headed. And actually, honestly, I’ve read some really, really good books recently that fall under the chick lit category, and because they were good – compelling and funny and moving and intelligent – I’m much more careful about what I say. Just because something is easy to read doesn’t make it bad. Just as much as something written cleverly and with lots of use of a thesaurus and several literary award nominations definitely doesn’t make it good. It takes skill to write a good story, to make the reader want to invest their time, and their emotions, in what’s happening. It may seem like it’s an easy thing to do, but it really, really isn’t and it takes a lot of work, and skill, to get it right.
Is there a male version of chick lit? Maybe Nick Hornby novels? Perhaps that falls into that little category (which is funny since the other book I bought was Juliet, Naked by Hornby). Probably I should stop trying to squish books into singular categories since they almost always fall into more than one. Or none. Anyway, where was I? Oh, right. Well, One Day was good. I found it moving and funny, well observed and well written. And as soon as I finished it disappeared off onto my husband’s reading pile. One to recommend.