Scratching my own funny bone for shits and giggles. Lampooning books, music and being a single woman over 40. Recording observations with an almost Seinfeldian obsession for the minutiae of life. Things can get sweary around here. You understand.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


You can always tell when I’ve been shut up indoors too long without the company of a good man. I reach for the trash on the supermarket shelves. I’m one of these people that always has a healthy stock of unread material on the bookshelves so I don’t know why I felt compelled to do it, but in a moment of weakness just recently, I purchased two novels at Sam’s Warehouse in the bargain bin: two new titles from Jackie Collins and Danielle Steel. Much of supermarket chick-lit is harmlessly formulaic if you’re into that type of thing. Jackie Collins’ stories have their stock characters and predictable climax with a drugged up revenge seeking lunatic going ballistic on the beautiful people of LA with an assault rifle. You can also rely on her to give you a decent serving of dirty raunch and not just that hopelessly delicate and contrived stuff. Danielle Steel I was not familiar with, so with that glazed expression Spaniels get when they lick their balls (perhaps one of Jackie’s movie boy studs was already having his way with me right there in Sam’s?) I dropped ‘Big Girl’ into the trolley based on the quality of the embossed red lettering, the way the glitter played in the overhead light on the front cover and the whiteness of the model's teeth. Naturellement.

Anyway I’ve read it. And it was bad.

The entire book is weighed down with the dilemma of the central character and rather than give her the strength to overcome her penchant for doughnuts, instead, fills it with the maddeningly repetitive inner dialogue of woman addicted to the drama. This is probably not the first time Danielle Steel’s been accused of writing in a redundant fashion, nor will it be the last. If the book were written as a series of tweets, it would moronically read like this:


My parents named me after a queen. I must be beautiful.

OMFG! My prettier, younger sister just showed me a copy of Woman’s Day circa 1990. The Queen Mother is like really ugly.

I don’t look anything like my parents. I’m fat. They’re ashamed of me and don’t love me. I’ve gotta big nose and wall of tits. #FML

No guys want to go out with me because I eat my body weight in ice-cream every night.

I don’t look anything like my parents. I’m fat. They’re ashamed of me and don’t love me. I’ve gotta big nose and a wall of tits. #FML

My prettier, sexier sister gets all the love and attention in our family. I order pizza with five different kinds of cheeses.

I don’t look anything like my parents. I’m fat. They’re ashamed of me and don’t love me. I’ve gotta big nose and a wall of tits. #FML

I got a nose job and instantly found a boyfriend. He’s just as broken as me. We have sex with the lights off. I eat enough bread to feed a starving nation.

I don’t look anything like my parents. I’m fat. They’re ashamed of me and don’t love me. I’m pretty now but still have this wall of tits. #FML

My boyfriend says he loves me even if I am fat and I look it in this dress. Is that an eclipse? Gosh that pavlova looks nice.

I can’t believe what a glutton for punishment I am! I really am lovable. I can't believe it took me a whole book to work that out.

As a regular on the New York Best Sellers List, Danielle Steel is apparently the seventh best selling writer in the world. Well blow me! After getting through the first quarter of the book I remember thinking to myself ‘OK...Roger that. It’s going to get good now’ I trudged on...waiting and waiting...Nuh. Not even a decent sex scene to get me through the dry patches (of which there were many) not even a decent ‘you’re not our real daughter!’ drama. Zip. Zilch. Nada. I have come to the conclusion that Danielle Steel is like a total scam artist! Not having read any of her stuff before, this felt totally disingenuous and I was both seething and embarrassed. Good thing I turned all that ill will into the courage to continue writing each day lest I go mad knowing that Danielle’s laughing all the way to the bank.

Often authors get criticised for being too formulaic but in this case it’s as if Steel has never heard of the word. There is no formula. Just a bunch of pissing and moaning from the central character about how hard her life is because her sister is prettier and thinner than she is. Steel wouldn’t know a formula if Newton hit her in the head with his second law of motion (you should see what that man can do with a salad spinner and his strides 'round his ankles!) Wikipedia says her formula ‘tends to involve the characters in a crisis of some sort which threatens their relationship’...threatens to turn me into a raving mental patient more like it. Well crisis is hardly a formula is it? More like a staple of any basic story. Steel doesn’t give the character a lot of strength to tackle these so-called ‘threats’ and despite character development, maturity and age (not to mention years of therapy) Victoria continues to piss and moan about until she finds Mr Right. ‘Happiness comes to those that wait’ is the moral of the story, Steel may as well have castrated the heroine. The Prince saves Queen Victoria! Hardly the stuff of post-feminism or modern romantic drama is it? Maybe if this Victoria had have had a Twitter account she might have seen the pattern forming. Who knows? I had in some way, been expecting upgrades in the world of chick-lit but no it was not to be. I really don't know how that woman sleeps at night! Yeah thanks a lot Danielle Steel. Thanks...for nothin’!

Oh. The only thing I can truly give the book credit for is for reinvigorating the adverb ‘blithely’. Great word that. Describes my daughter's present state of mind :D


jennicki said...

At family parties I used to sneak into my Grandmother's bedroom and read her collection of V.C. Andrews novels. If I recall correctly it always ended up in some kind of weird incestuous relationship with the boyfriend who turns out to be a long-lost-brother.

Natalia the Russian Spy said...

Oh we could have a very long conversation about Ms Andrews my darling girl. Flowers in the Attic? I know it well indeed. The incest formula. Yup. Quite lucrative that topic :D

Bondiboy66 said...

Now I know why I've never read any chick-lit books...or those other ones a friend describes as 'colour books' - light chick-lit that has covers in attractive pastel shades and bright colours.

Hmm V.C. sister read those books eons ago. After reading the back covers and asking her what hey were about I was sufficiently creeped out to avoid those titles like they had been dipped in plague and smallpox soup.

Natalia the Russian Spy said...

BONDI: I remember my teenage brain was fascinated with the incest formula. Oh the outrage and despair! The shame and the guilt!

Natalia the Russian Spy said...

I would be interested to know if anyone else has been caught out in a similar situation. Which authors are the biggest sluts?

yankeedog said...

Got nothing. Harold Robbins wrote some fairly tawdry stuff, though. Possibly a step or two beyond what you're looking for though.

Bangar said...

You've certainly made certain that I won't read any chick lit Nat.

Dr Yobbo said...

*puts hand up sheepishly*

Dr Yobbo said...

As distinct from 'puts hand up sheep', they threw me out of vet school.

Anonymous said...

I reckon many of the top-selling authors in most genres today to be formula-whores.
Chick-lit hit its peak with the Bronte sisters I suspect, before washing up on the shores of mediocrity we see today. You wouldn't picture a Danielle Steel action figure now, would you ?

The Rhino said...

Don't read chick-lit. My life is already full-up with stuff trying to reduce my testosterone levels (being married to the HLDW and all) and I don't dare tempt fate in my literary choices.

Natalia the Russian Spy said...

Right you lot! I know. I know. My bad. I realize I'm preaching to the converted here but I'm still pretty pissed at parting with my cold hard cash.

DRE: That video gave me a giggle. Loved the boomerangs.

RHINO: But the naughty bits Rhino. Think of the naughty bits!

YOBBO: Tell me more.

BANG: Yup I guess I'm preaching to the converted here!

YANKEE: What's old man Robbins' formula?

Anonymous said...

Ha! I stopped in at Paperchain on the way home tonight and lashed out on 3 books.

I bought: Shitstorm, by Lenore Taylor and David Uren; Power Trip, by David Marr and some pulp called He Died with a Felafel in his Hand, by some guy called John Birmingham.

Not much incest but plenty of ratfucking from all accounts.


jennicki said...

Not all chick lit is bad. Jennifer Weiner has a couple of good ones out there. And Bridget Jones's Diary is my bible.

Bondiboy66 said...

Biggest slut? Xaviera Hollander author of 'The Happy Hooker'. I recall flicking through that as a teenaged ball of hormones (and luckily avoided sticking the pages together). Man, she'd shag ANYTHING. Blokes, women, rubber substitutes, and if memory serves a German Shepherd.

Steve said...

I've heard nothing but high praise for John LeCarre, and how wonderful his novels are, and how full of intrigue they are. So one day, I bit the bullet and bought "The Tailor of Panama," expecting it to be a spy novel on par with something Frederick Forsythe would write.

It turned out to be a steaming pile of shit, a waste of a good tree, and absolutely boring. Nothing happened. It was like watching "Remains of the Day." I kept reading it only because I kept thinking, "this is John LeCarre, surely SOMETHING will happen, right?" Nada. Nichts.

I then saw "The Russia House" and realized that was LeCarre's formula. Stories where nothing happens.

Natalia the Russian Spy said...

ABE: Ratfucking. Ha. Great expression :D

JEN: No course it's not sweetie! I only switched to boy books about six years ago :D I read this great one written from a widower's POV and it was really enjoyable getting the male voice into the mix.

BONDI: I meant the biggest formula-slut author gorgeous but that Happy Hooker sounds like fun :D

STEVE: Great comment. Cheers!

Dr Yobbo said...

Le Carre is boring and depressing. Read a couple of his George Smiley series and the Night Manager. Wished I hadn't. Much preferred Ian Fleming, Len Deighton or Freddy Forsyth for the spy-assassin-explodey-shite category.

Does Nick Earls count as chick-lit? Seriously, the 'hero' of Zigzag St was wetter than Cristiano Ronaldo's hairdo. There's a man who loves a formula. Nick Hornby too. Might be a Nick thing. And one of my favourite writers Carl Hiaasen has written the same book about 13 times, set in the same place. It's a fucking good book though. Double Whammy and Native Tongue are particularly good, in which dodgy TV evangelists, property developers and Walt fucking Disney get their respective what-fors.

Dr Yobbo said...

Re Drej's call on the Brontes, would back that in. Interestingly that had overtones of incest too, given a string of couples who grew up as pseudo-siblings end up making with the monkey love (off stage at least.) And DH Lawrence wanted to boink his mum in Sons and Lovers. FACT.

Flinthart said...

I once tried to read a Jackie Collins novel. It was 1992. The day before, I'd walked from the top of the Grand Canyon to the bottom, and back up again. Logically, the next day my legs hurt and I didn't feel like going anywhere.

The only book I could find in the goddam hostel in Flagstaff was some piece of incipient toilet paper with Jackie Collins' name on it.

Prior to that, my 'gold standard' for shit-house writing was L Ron Hubbard, because Battlefield Earth is epic shit. But Jackie Collins fucking STORMED her way into first place that day. It took many years before one attempt at reading Matthew Reilly showed me there were people out there who could match Collins and Hubbard in the Big Greasy Shit-Stain Of A Novel department...

I never finished the Collins novel. Couldn't do it. I think I threw it out the window of the Nissan Sentra a day or two later.

Natalia the Russian Spy said...

YOB: Ergh. The Oedipus complex. I've only read Lady C's Lover so thanks for the heads up. Hiaasen must be good...13 times? What makes it tick?

FLINT: It pains me to admit my affiliation with Ms Collins but I may be able to redeem myself by telling you of the time my flatmates and I burnt Hubbard's book in the backyard of a house in for Reilly I always find it intriguing how he's so popular, yet I've known for some time how much you loathe him. What gives?

Dr Yobbo said...

Nat - what Hiaasen writes is what he knows, which is dodgy political/environmental shit in Florida - day job for last 20 yrs was columnist for the Miami Herald. But his action is action-packed and his comedy is funny, and he has a way of absolutely eviscerating his bad guys and their cartoon-munter henchmen that just makes you love it. Style's a bit like Robert J Barrett on the Everglades, but perhaps a bit cleverer. Worth checking out. Probably find the older ones in 2nd hand bookstores. They're the best ones anyway.

Bondiboy66 said...

Ah. Right you are Nat. NOT literally a slut. Gotcha.

I'm glad Dr. Yob mentioned Robert G Barrett - his Les Norton books are hugely formulaic. Alwasy has Les getting into som weird strife not evident in the opening chapter(s), he ends up rooting gorgeous sheilas, eating food fit for a kind, sinking copious amounts of piss, belts seven shades of shit out of anyone who crosses him, and finishes up with a fucking motza at the end of the book. Now despite these books being the literary equivalent of a feed at McDonalds, I still like them. Mostly because of the locations and characters I recognise!

Actually Barrett's non-Les Norton books (I think there is three or four) are pretty good yarns.

Girl Clumsy said...

VC Andrews! My goodness. But isn't she the one who's kept pumping out novels even though she's been dead for 20 years? It's all that "From the estate of..." type crap. Cashing in more crap novels based on the already crap name.

I don't think I read Flowers in the Attic, but I do have a clear memory of some incest-based VC Andrews "horror" (an apt description, for a different reason to perhaps what the "estate" wanted).

It kind of straddles the chick lit/crime caper categories, but I really do enjoy the Janet Evanovich Stephanie Plum novels. I'm just reading the most recent two at the moment. They're good fun, with great characters. Fantastic escapist reading (without being fantasy, of course).

yankeedog said...

Harold Robbins (Harold Rubin) was known for the (at least for the time) graphic sexuality in his novels. His novels vary in topic, but most of them parallel the lives of various and sundry famous Americans of the postwar era (industrialists, actors, etc.) His style was similar to Steel, or Susann, or Metalious.

Flinthart said...

About Reilly? Popular is popular. Not good. Tragically, I've been writing so long that I genuinely cannot enjoy a story if the characters are cardboard thin, the pacing is shit, the sentence structure is shit, the plot is totally fucking unlikely, and the author's only tool for getting from one scene to the next involves explosions.

Matthew Reilly's not a writer - unless he's really lifted his game since I read his work, of course. But that first novel (the Antarctic one) was so piss-poorly written that I just don't have enough hours left in my life to waste in finding out if Reilly has learned anything.

To each their own. Some people thrive on explosions and bullets on every page. Me? I like structure and pace. I like characters with backstory and motivation and complexity. I like solutions that don't necessarily involve explosions. I like plots that have a few layers, and if there are red herrings, I like 'em to be less obvious than Tony Abbott's ears in a windstorm.

My idea of a brilliant novel - if you ever want to take a look at the other side of this discussion - is 'The Master and Margharita' by Mikhail Bulgakov. I like the Michael Glenny translation best, because I like the humour.

Steve said...

Flint, it should have been a HUGE hint that the book was shit....if it was any good, it would have been taken with by the owner. The fact that it was left behind should've been a clue.

Tom Clancy is another one who fell into a disappointing formula. There was a very egotistical bent to his writing for a while, and I couldn't put a finger on it until I heard a radio interview with him, where an Atlanta DJ (who professed to not being well-read and just waited for the movies), asked Clancy who he thought should have played Jack Ryan, since all Clancy does is bitch about the casting choices for Ryan, and Clancy said, and I quote, "it should be obvious....Jack Ryan is ME!" At that point, I stopped reading Clancy books. Plus, in Red Rabbit, he made the mistake of saying that Budapest was 3 hours ahead of Moscow (it's 2 hours behind). Such a mistake, for a man that could once diagram a strategic nuclear submarine, is simply unforgivable.

Alistair MacLean did it a bit too, you can tell where he somehow identifies with his main character a bit too much. MacLean was also a raving, drunken lunatic.

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