The first chick-lit book I read was Janice Gentle Gets Sexy, by Mavis Cheek. I spotted it in Oxfam, and the combination of the title with the author’s mildly amusing surname persuaded me to shell out a quid or two. I have no idea what the plot was, but I do remember that reading it felt like scoffing a bar of Dairy Milk – sweet and sickly, temporarily satisfying, but leaving a faint aftertaste of something not-quite-right. I’ve read a few more since then, and had pretty much the same reaction. Girl is desperate for bloke (usually the wrong one), girl has lots of hilARious misadventures, girl drinks lots of white wine, girl eventually (often accidentally) falls into arms of right bloke, everyone lives happily ever after. I have so many problems with this type of book, but I have to admit I usually enjoy reading them.
I went to the Five Leaves Bookshop writers’ party last month, and had a lovely time. I couldn’t decide what to buy. (Of course I had to buy something, I can’t go into that shop without buying something. It’s a rule.) So I asked Ross for a recommendation – an easy-read novel. I didn’t hold out much hope. Ross doesn’t do fiction often, and doesn’t really do easy-reads either. So I was surprised when he leaped over the counter (no, of course he didn’t) and picked out this gem.
I read it over Christmas, in three greedy chunks. Yes, it’s an easy read, but it’s also clever and funny. Whether or not you’re interested in chick-lit, if you like smart, well-observed mainstream/romantic fiction, you’ll probably enjoy it. The story is about Delia Moss. She proposed to her longtime boyfriend, who then sent a text to his girlfriend saying he didn’t know what to do. Only he sent the text to Delia by mistake. End of relationship… you’d think. Delia spends the rest of the book working out that it wasn’t her fault that Paul was shagging around. Oh, and having hilARious misadventures too. Slightly more chewy than run-of-the-mill chick-lit, and leaving a much more pleasant taste in the mouth.
So. Why am I writing about this book? I guess it’s the title. It’s been racing round my mind for the last week or so. I thought I might share some of my thoughts – and these are thinking-out-loud type thoughts, rather than analysed-and-fully-thought-through thoughts, so might well not represent the final destination of my little whirring brain.
It ought to have been obvious to Delia that it wasn’t her bloody fault her bloody boyfriend was having an affair. She shouldn’t have had to go through all those misadventures to get to that conclusion (although how would she have met the gorgeous but initially irritating journalist otherwise?). It seems to be a common reaction to something going wrong… “What could I have done differently?” … “If only I hadn’t said such-and-such.” … “I shouldn’t have done this-that-or-the-other.” It’s a very self-regarding attitude, in some ways. As if “I” am the only person who could have influenced events, the only person who could (or should) have made a difference. I suppose it’s the opposite of the denial position exemplified by “I’ve done nothing wrong, it’s everyone else who should have behaved differently.” And I suppose it’s a continuum of blame-assignment – somewhere along the line connecting “It’s all my fault” to “It’s all their fault” is the point representing the true state of affairs, the location of which may or may not be easy to determine, or to agree upon.
There are two questions chasing that around inside my skull. First, what if it’s someone else’s fault? or no-one’s fault, just pure chance? And second, what good does it do to assign blame in the first place? Oh, and third… what if it’s all much more complicated than that? What if the blame is not 50-50, but 60-60, or 110-95, depending on your point of view?
I think it’s kind of like trying not to get angry about things you can’t do anything about, because it’s only yourself you’re hurting. Very hard to do, but mostly true. And thinking about it a bit more, the act of blaming someone (yourself, a specific someone else, or the universe in general) for things going wrong is often a significant cause of anger – in my little head, anyway. So perhaps the answer is to avoid trying to assign blame. Or to assess the situation calmly and accept the results. Or at the very least to be self-aware enough to know if you’re a self-blamer or an other-blamer, and to take any conclusions on blame you might come to with the appropriate level of scepticism.
I guess the most healthy response is to simply accept the situation and work out the best way to move on. Which might, of course, involve working out that the bastard man is the one to blame, and getting back together with him is probably not a good idea. There you go, the whole premise of a novel covered in a few hundred words. You’re welcome!