I write what would be classed as commercial fiction aimed at the women’s market but my last novel featured dark ethical themes as opposed to simply fluffy chick lit. I’m proud of my chosen genre and yet I’m very aware that there’s a certain snobbery about the label ‘commercial’ fiction. I’d love to be a bestselling author and would be chuffed to bits if my writing had mass appeal. Of course, not all bestsellers are well written and I’ve never been tempted to read anything ‘written’ by Katie Price or the infamous Fifty Shades of Grey. However, I do like a number of ‘commercial’ writers and don’t believe that a book which sells lots of copies makes it somehow less worthy than literary fiction with a capital ‘L’. In fact, although I like to think I’ve got a varied reading palette, I’m a bit wary of picking anything up with the ‘literary’ tag for fear of there being no real story and the arty farty concepts going over my head.
Doesn’t everyone like a page-turner? I know I want to be pulled along by a plot that leaves me guessing. That’s why I enjoy Jodi Picoult’s books. She knows how to tell a damn good tale. I’ve read a number of her novels but I do admit to needing a break between her books as the formulaic nature of her writing can get a bit repetitive. But it’s a winning formula so you can’t fault her for milking it.
I didn’t fancy her last book, Lone Wolf, but her latest, The Storyteller sounded much more interesting as it tackles a subject matter I’ve always be drawn to- the Holocaust, so I was keen to go along and hear Jodi on the Scottish leg of her promotional tour with my good friend Anne. I’d seen Jodi before, when she launched House Rules and I knew that she was an interesting and entertaining speaker. And she didn’t disappoint on this occasion when she outlined the concept of The Storyteller.
The book tells the story of Sage Singer who is a baker, a loner, until she befriends an old man who’s particularly beloved in her community. Josef Weber is everyone’s favorite retired teacher and Little League coach. One day he asks Sage for a favour: to kill him. Shocked, Sage refuses—and then he confesses his darkest secret – he deserves to die because he had been a Nazi SS guard. And Sage’s grandmother is a Holocaust survivor. How do you react to evil living next door? Can someone who’s committed truly heinous acts ever atone with subsequent good behavior? Should you offer forgiveness to someone if you aren’t the party who was wronged? And, if Sage even considers the request, is it revenge…or justice? That’s got me hooked!
It could be argued that Jodi is at the top of her game as the queen of commercial fiction and is clearly an accomplished operator. She seemed to have a set of polished anecdotes for the event which she knows are guaranteed to entertain her almost entirely female audience. Before the event, I’d read Lesley McDowell’s review of The Storyteller in The Herald. Lesley challenged Jodi to elaborate on the controversy the writer sparked when critising the lack of critical acclaim for female writers of commercial fiction in comparison to writers such as Jonathan Franzen. I was pleased to hear Lesley raise the issue with Jodi during the Q and A session. Jodi responded with a well practised answer which got a belly laugh when she told the audience that she’s at a disadvantage of ever winning any prestigious literary awards because she “doesn’t have a penis”. Jodi said her claim can be backed with hard facts and urged the audience to check the VIDA site for statistics on the bias for male writers, especially as women make up 60% of book sales. Fair point, well played!
Do you think commercial fiction deserves to be reviewed and recognised in the same way as literary fiction? Have you experience of being shunned as a female writer? Are you willing to admit to being a literary snob?
P.S. In a far shallower vein, I wasn’t brave enough to ask the question I was hoping someone else might, and that was, ‘What is the secret to your successful weight loss?’ She looks amazing! The last time I saw Jodi, I vowed that if I was ever lucky enough to be published, I wanted the same photographer. The woman I saw on stage didn’t match the book cover photo so there was either a few photo tricks used or the pic was taken several stones ago. Alas, no one in the audience either cared or dared to ask about such trivia and I’ll never know whether she has Scottish Slimmers to thank for her new look, so now I’m left with another book on my TBR pile and finding my own miracle diet plan…