Considering how many books that are crowded onto the shelves of the bookshops, the libraries or the Internet websites it can be surprisingly difficult sometimes to find a novel we actually want to read, especially when we are an older woman reader.
When we are looking for a book to relax on the beach, or indeed just in bed, many of us may not always want to give the levels of concentration that a literary novel can demand. On the other hand, neither do we necessarily want to scare ourselves silly, thinking about murderous stalkers plotting to kill in horribly imaginative ways, or to follow the tortuous routes of fiendish conspiracies threatening to bring death to half the world’s population; foiled, of course, on the penultimate page, by a romantic hero.
There is, of course, the ‘Chick Lit’ genre. Their bright, cheerful covers promise light reading, with maybe a good laugh, the warmth of female friendship and often a protagonist, who improves her lot against all the odds – on her own, without a man riding to her rescue. A novel from that genre might suit us perfectly, but as we quickly skim read of the first few pages we can quickly tell that we will find it hard to identify with their young characters, or the issues that they face. The t-shirt from our own similar experiences was resident in our wardrobes once, but it has since been thrown away after being used as a rag.
It certainly seems to have escaped the notice of publishers and booksellers that there is a potentially large audience of post-menopausal baby boomers, who have the habit of reading and the leisure time to indulge it.
We are not interested in many of the traditional female genre novels. Romance, that old cliché, no longer fools us. We do not cheer when the rakish hero is finally conquered by a feisty female character and offers up his heart, along with the opportunity to look after him for the rest of his life. We already know how such romantic notions end up. Worse, we cannot even turn to that old default genre for the older women ‘the crime novel.’ Far from the old-fashioned gentle brain teasers of Agatha Christie, the books published under that label these days appear to compete in offering the most sickening violent potential ends to, or indeed characters of, the young female protagonists. They have also become somewhat formulaic.
And the latter is very important from the point of view of publishers and booksellers. In this difficult economic climate as they, just like other businesses, struggle for their profits, there is an obvious tendency to stick to the tried and tested generic formulas and obvious big turnovers. Older women readers are admittedly a niche audience, but surely no smaller that the young adult reader and that is regarded as a growth market. Indeed, as I mentioned, the older woman is actually more likely than her grand-daughter to be a reader by habit.
It is true that since about 2005, the ‘chick lit’ genre has included books, which have also been dubbed ‘hen lit,’ ‘grey lit’ or ‘matron lit’; none of which labels are, by the way, likely to bring women rushing to the bookshelves. At present ‘Hen lit’ books seemed to be targeting women in their mid-forties and early fifties as their protagonists are typically in that age range. These books open with a bereavement or divorce. The sad and confused woman does not stay lonely for long. She soon has a chance meeting with new love in the most unlikely of circumstances. This of course will lead to a new marriage for a ‘happy closure.’ The message is back to being formulaic and it is clear - you cannot be too old for romance. It does not satisfy. It certainly does not take into account that, just like a typical chick lit reader, women in their sixties are facing a whole new stage of life and are looking for aspirational role models, women of their own age, who are facing the similar problems and concerns, but are quite capable of defeating their own dragons, with perhaps a little help from their friends. Hen Lit can and should offer that. There are too many older women demanding something especially written for us to read.