Monday, 12 September 2005
Fiction has fallen off my reading radar in recent years – unless you count the latest Harry Potter – and when I do seek out modern novel, it is probably written by Ian McEwan or Peter Carey, or I might pull an early John Le Carre or Eric Ambler off the shelf for a re-read.
Which undoubtedly accounts for my tardiness in realizing there is a hot, new genre of chick lit.
Labeled matron lit, hen lit or lady lit, these books, apparently an extension of romance novels, are aimed at women age 49 to 69, so the women protagonists are dealing with such decidedly non-bodice-ripper topics as hot flashes, aging parents and widowhood, conveniently packaged in large-print editions.
“Not everything has changed on Planet Harlequin, though. The heroines of Sandwiched and There’s Always Plan B still find Mr. Right. In Riggs Park Barbara’s already found him – Jon, her old high school sweetheart, graying but still buff. Through much of the novel, though, she has to struggle to hold onto him.”
- - Wilmington Star News, 17 July 2005
There is even a sub-genre someone has dubbed “granny lit” written by people over age 60:
“[These authors] are creating a growing cast of midlife and older characters who serve as counterpoints to the hip young singles romping through popular novels…The Ladies of Covington Send Their Love…about a group of women in their 60s who begin new lives together at a North Caroline farmhouse” has spawned a popular series.
- - The Christian Science Monitor, 3 February 2005
Even Lonesome Dove author, Larry McMurtry, has jumped on the bandwagon with his new novel, Loop Group about two “feisty 60-plus women on a road trip to Hollywood.”
Some of the titles leave a bit to be desired:The Hot Flash Club, Julie and Romeo and one that I’m particularly unlikely to dip into, The Red Hat Club.
But that doesn’t make this a bad idea.
“Referring to the potential of matron lit, [literary agent, Nancy] Coffey says, the climate is changing a little bit, but it will take a little more magic for the doors to open completely. Someday it’s all going to click. These books are giving women ideas, giving them hope for something that is available for them for the last part of their lives.”
- - The Christian Science Monitor, 3 February 2005
Hope for something more, I assume, than what romance novelist Rexanne Becnel serves up:
“It was just such a pleasure,” she says, “to write about thunder thighs and varicose veins.”
- - Newsweek, 12 September 2005
It’s good to have some older literary heroines, but Ms. Becnel goes too far.
I cannot imagine why anyone would want to write about thighs and veins or that there is anyone interested in reading about them.
None of those books you mention has come onto my radar yet, but "The Ladies of Covington" looks interesting.
Posted by: kenju | Monday, 12 September 2005 at 06:41 AM
More older heroines - yes.
More degrading tasteless as cold day-old oatmeal fiction - NO!
I just started a really promising new historical fiction book and will review it shortly at TT. Appears the heroine will be exactly the ticket...
Posted by: Cowtown Pattie | Monday, 12 September 2005 at 07:36 AM
Matron Lit has such a horrid sound...
How about "Hen Scratchins'"
Or "Rooster Tales from the Pen"?
*that last one sounds like a prison saga.
Of course, "Chick Lit" is another airheaded moniker...
Posted by: Cowtown Pattie | Monday, 12 September 2005 at 09:39 AM
As far as I know, this type of literature hasn't come our way yet.
Or maybe it has, but it hasn't come my way.
It set me wondering why "matron" lit would only target women age 49 to 69?
I am about to turn 61, does that mean that I have only eight more years of reading? And then I would fall into an age group that would not be interesting to publishers or writers at all? ;)
Posted by: Claud | Monday, 12 September 2005 at 04:43 PM
I think it's as we are aging, the world changes with us. So as Gloria Steinhem said when she turned 50, this is what 50 looks like; so as women stay more active, more interested, more exciting, they make good heroines as well as they are used to buying such books. (I have bought a few of the chick lit for the mature to check them out but so far haven't started one. Some week-end, I'll make it a marathon.)
and on what to call them-- crone lit works for me :)
Posted by: Rain | Monday, 12 September 2005 at 08:42 PM
Last Friday my book club discussed Margaret Atwood's "The Blind Assassin." I was struck by the descriptions of the aging of the main character - from physical constraints to hard-earned wisdom to humor, the pathos of not being able to do her laundry to comparing a face to a testicle. I noticed Atwood was 60 when she wrote this book (much older than when she wrote "The Handmaid's Tale"). Perhaps I was more attuned to the aging theme because of reading your blog, but I highly recommend this book.
Posted by: Earth Girl | Monday, 12 September 2005 at 08:47 PM
I hope "hen lit" is more engaging than some of the chick lit genre!! I found the second Bridget Jones all but unreadable...
But on a more positive note, have you ever read Mary Wesley? She wrote the most fantastic novels, usually following her female protagonist from a youthful to an advanced age and her stories were always not-quite-what-you'd-expect: the good, proper wife who carries on a clandestine affair for most of her life; the chef who is also an upmarket escort etc etc. And all beautifully written.
Why do you care? Because Wesley only had her first book published at age 70 or thereabouts! Sadly she passed away in 2002, aged 90 - read about here here
Do yourself a favour and read one of her books, if you haven't yet. She was my mom's favourite.
Posted by: Jeanne | Tuesday, 13 September 2005 at 06:19 AM
When I was growing up, I think there might've been more fiction that took women from their youth to old age. As a young woman, one of my favorite authors was Elswyth Thane Beebe who wrote historic novels taking one family through the generations. It let you see how women could age, how life changed. In the last years, I have stuck with reading memoirs and biographies of women. I will see if I can find books by Mary Wesley. I am always interested in authors who write well and more accurately about how women really live.
Posted by: Rain | Tuesday, 13 September 2005 at 09:05 AM
I would like to add a comment about what is commonly referred to as "hen lit." I am a hen lit writer. While my book has not been published YET, I have had two prestigious agents ask for the partial and the full. So while I cannot speak for someone who has already been published in the genre, I can speak for someone who is experienced in what hen lit is all about. Just as in any genre, there will be good ones, and bad ones. Just as there are different kinds of readers, opinions will vary. But, I believe that this type of book is going to appeal to those "of the certain age" because they can relate and also will appeal to the younger crowd, if the author can pull it off. That's the key and that's what emerging hen lit authors ought to think about when writing their books. It's sometimes hard to appeal to everyone, but there is a way you can please the majority. We will see some hen lit books that are merely to entertain, and there's nothing wrong with that. And, we will see some hen lit books coming in the future that are going to knock your socks off. Hopefully, mine will be one of them, lol. But, anyway, pay close attention to these emerging books. While they may not turn out to be classics, there will be messages in them that will be universal.
Posted by: Dorothy | Sunday, 25 September 2005 at 08:41 PM
I do not think that the book on The Red Hat Society has anything to do with literature. It is about how to create fun interactions with other women who refuse to be of less value because they are young. It is about being outrageous, having fun and going for the zest in life. As to what would be called literature (and I have to admit that looking at what is available in my bookstore that this is an arcane art to say the least) being defined in a new genre(s) so what? No big deal unless you write it, you sell it, or you buy it. I am actually waiting for erotica for women over seventy plus whose husbands can't get it up anymore.
Posted by: Myriam Maytorena | Monday, 26 September 2005 at 07:04 AM
I'm working on my first novel (hi, Dorothy!) that I consider mainstream with romantic elements but which will probably be tagged with one of those icky descriptives like Hen Lit or Matron Lit or, God forbid, Old Biddie Lit. And my main character is 37 years old! I believe it is part of that same conspiracy that relegated Size 12 jeans to the Plus Size racks and brought you Size Zero and smaller (Less Than Zero?) for the under-endowed -- actually, elementary school girls who wanted to look like twenty-somethings but don't have the hips yet (I am not making this up).
A literary genre that appeals to 40+ women has a built-in demographic and very real potential because it will offer, among all the life lessons and humor and drama, some AMAZING sex. C'mon, you didn't really think the Love Generation was going to stop having sex at 50, did you?
Posted by: Eileen | Thursday, 13 October 2005 at 02:27 PM
What a fun site! I didn't realize until I was half way through my current novel manuscript that I might have dived head first into paranormal hen lit. Holy moly, hot flashes and horny werewolves? Was there ever a better match made in heaven? Finally a man whose ugly mood swings can give my heroine's hormone swings a run for the money!
Posted by: Liane | Friday, 08 September 2006 at 01:26 PM