the gone girl who was on fire

There are always trends in books, especially crime books. You’ll notice everything released one month suddenly comes from Norway, or has a misty tree on the cover, or has the same plotline as the book you just started writing the other day and was convinced was the most original piece of literature to ever exist. Well, let me become unnecessarily enraged about a recent trend: The Girl Who Was In This Book.

I’m sure there were other books with this type of before, but let’s blame Stieg Larsson and his multi-kazillion-copy-selling Millennium Trilogy: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Played with Fire, and The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. Fine, they’re part of a trilogy, it’s understandable that they share similar titles. But then what happened? This happened: The Girl with a Clock for a Heart, The Girl with all the Gifts, The Girl on the Train, The Girl who Wasn’t There, The Girl in 6E, so many more that you’ll get bored before I finish listing them. That’s what a successful series will get you. Endless imitators, not of content, but of titles. It’s almost like when you send your grandmother into the video store to pick you up a copy of Guardians of the Galaxy and she comes home with something with a name like Galaxy Guardians, the knockoff version immediately filmed on a budget of $11.70 in the hopes that people who aren’t paying attention pick it up accidentally.*

But, of course, these books aren’t cheap imitations of Larsson, or of anything—they are good. The Girl with all the Gifts is an unnerving zombie/vampire (zompire?) thriller with an ending that made me almost chew the book in a frenzy of emotion. The Girl with a Clock for a Heart is a shifty little number with disorienting characters and a whole lot of twisty moments. I almost threw The Girl who Wasn’t There across the room when I saw it, so frustrated I was with the title alone, but instead was caught up in a completely original and bananas plotline that I immediately tried to share with everyone who came near me. I continue to learn my lesson about not judging books by their covers. (I’m a slow learner.)

What does genuinely bother me about these titles is the word “girl”. Only in The Girl with All the Gifts is the girl actually a youth of some kind. The other women these books are named after are all adults, yet here they are, consistently referred to as girls. Larsson’s prickly twenty-something mega-hero Lisbeth Salander fights the whole way through her series to be an adult deemed capable of making her own decisions; the titles don’t even give her the benefit of the doubt. In contrast, could you imagine Raymond Chandler’s incredible Phillip Marlowe books with names like The Boy who Looked at Gams? Or Poirot starring in The Boy with the Grey Matter? No, it’s just women left to be infantilised and nameless in covers. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is indeed a boy; The Boy who Could Tickle Clouds, who spends the majority of the book as a growing boy before becoming an adult, getting up to shenanigans, losing his dad and making me cry. I hunted for more, but they seemed, essentially, to be about children.

Book fashions come and go, but like the mullet, this one needs the chop. Women are not girls. Marketing departments: you’re doing an ace job, guys, keep it up—but we need new titles. And to my fellow readers: continue to not judge books by their covers.

Regards, The Woman at the End of her Rope.

*Analogy may not work in 2014.

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2 thoughts on “the gone girl who was on fire

  1. Great rant Fiona – I do love a good rant. I hate the way the word girl is used like this too.

    To be fair to Stieg Larsson two of the original titles didn’t have girl in them – the first book was called Men Who Hate Women in the original Swedish and apparently the third book translated as something like The Castle in the Air that Blew Apart. True the second book was called The Girl who played with Fire in the original though apparently had more to do with Larsson’s fascination with the Pippi Longstocking character and his imagining of Lisbeth as a grown up version of her than a specific desire to demean women. So I’m blaming the English publisher who decided we couldn’t be having that kind of “men who hate women” sentiment on display and instead to thought to completely infantalise Lisbeth and thus start a new, trendy way to demean the female of the species. Like there wasn’t already enough of that happening

    • Ah, I had forgotten that about the Larssons! I also give him a pass as I hadn’t noticed it being as prolific before his books were released. Also, I enjoyed your rant back too. 🙂

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