on girls in titles

Well, you’ve heard my feelings before about the ridiculous amount of books with Girl in the title that are about grown women. One of my many friends who have suffered though my in-person rants sent me a link to this LitHub article by young adult author Robin Wasserman on the topic, which you can read here. It’s a pretty interesting analysis, but I wish she’d touched on the part that bothers me the most – that there’s no male equivalent, that you never* see books called The Boy on the Train that are about middle-aged men in business suits. But an interesting piece, nevertheless!

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.

opinion: women in boxes.

While I love crime fiction—always have since my days of Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden, and always will—like any relationship, there are faults. Occasionally I’ll bring them up as topics of discussion, and I’m happy for the opinions of anyone and everyone, though I am obviously always going to be right.

 

One thing that I am most frustrated by in crime fiction is the ridiculous lengths some authors will go to in perpetrating violence against women. Now, most people are reading crime for the mystery, to find out who committed a crime, whether they like to try and figure it out themselves or just let it wash over them. In order for you to care, authors must make the stakes high enough for you to want a resolution. I guess, then, their theory is that the worse the crime, the more you will want the case solved. So authors create the most atrocious of monsters.

However, I think this misses a lot of other points. Readers go into crime fiction because they understand the law and that breaking it has consequences; there are many laws, and they’re mostly in place for the safety of others. Stakes are almost always high in breaking the law; that’s the entire point. Still authors skip some crime—car theft, property theft, tax evasion—to go for the blood and gore and, let’s face it, sexual assault. Too much of crime falls back on the lazy trope of women being held hostage/murdered/raped, while some brave police officer tries to outwit the batshit insane person at the heart of it. This isn’t to say books with this plot are never good—of course some of them are—but I’m sick of reading about it. It’s in the news all the time. This is boring. I’ve read it a thousand times. Try something new.

This was made excruciatingly obvious to me recently when I sat happily with my fresh pile of crime new releases, going through them to pick out the best-looking ones to read (as I barely have time to brush my hair with a kid, let alone read three books a week like I used to.) I decided on Pierre Lamaitre’s Alex, as it had been collecting a lot of hype and I am always happy to feed into such things. It was fine, but I didn’t finish it—I got maybe a third of the way through, but, sick of the chapters and chapters about the titular Alex being stuck naked in a tortuous wooden box suspended from the ceiling, I decided I didn’t want to give it any more of my time and put it down in favour of the next on my list, Koethe Zan’s The Never List. Just imagine my enthusiasm when, far too swiftly, another woman appeared in a wooden box, trapped in a basement. I put it down and took a few days off reading crime altogether. (I think that’s about the time I discovered Candy Crush on my phone and became trapped in a metaphorical box of chocolate-destroying.)

Now, I did finish (and enjoy) The Never List, and the person who requested a look at Alex said I shouldn’t have stopped and that it was a great book, but—seriously—when two books at the same time have this ridiculous and similar torture of women it just makes me so frustrated. (It is also worth noting, however, that from what I read, neither of the boxed women suffered sexual assault alongside the physical torture.)

Another book that took female-based violence to a different level was Australian Robert Gott’s The Holiday Murders. Having heard really positive things about him, but never having read anything by him before, I was glad to grab a copy, not knowing it wasn’t quite as light-hearted as his previous books. On the contrary, it was so gruesome that I felt almost physically sick sometimes; he absolutely did not hold back on any graphic violence that his main antagonist committed, and even remembering it right now makes me go a bit pale. I have quite a strong stomach despite the point of this piece, but I don’t remember being this affected since I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The book gets a fairly decent Goodreads score and was well written, but—and here’s the rub—I found it difficult to read past the violence to enjoy the story; I just wanted it to be over. (As I mentioned in a previous review, a fabulous antidote to this book is Maggie Groff’s Good News, Bad News—where the crime is a missing husband returning from the dead.)

This isn’t all to say that there can be no violence against women in books. We make up half of the population, so kill half of us off if you really feel it is necessary. But I, and other readers I’ve spoken to, now avoid a book if it contains the crime of torture or sexual violence against women, because it’s been done, and it happens in reality far too often. If you are a publishable author, you have the skills to haul in a reader’s interest without resorting to these overdone felonies. Every crime has its stakes; raise them with great writing, characters you almost feel next to you, and some original ideas. Go write a book about stealing persimmons from a neighbour’s tree. I promise you I’ll read it.