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Column: Why Irish ‘chick lit’ is the true barometer of our time

Following in the footsteps of Maeve Binchy, Irish female authors are capturing what really matters to people today, writes novelist Michelle Jackson.

Michelle Jackson

THIS WAS A sad year for Irish literature, as one of our greatest icons passed away.

Many readers will have been introduced to Irish contemporary women’s fiction through the work of Maeve Binchy. And there seems to be a renaissance amongst Irish authors this year who are following in the footsteps of Binchy – a lady who put Irish culture, life and relationships on our pages.

Maeve Binchy was very much capable of capturing family life and relationships, and that whole idea of ‘home is where the heart is’ is something that women writers are great at writing about. They strike a chord as to what really matters in life: love, friendships and relationships.

Nation of nurturers

Irish women writers do try and uplift people with their stories, but they try and do so by telling a story; a story that resonates with people and their lives. I think we are a nation of nurturers – you only have to look at the Irish mammies as an example of that. We do have this love of the land and the love of home, and I think that is something women are great at expressing.

Female writers write a lot about  home, the same way Jane Austen and Emily Bronte did all those years ago. They wrote about what they knew. They knew about social dynamics, the trouble with match-making, relationships and love. And Irish women writers are very good at doing the same. I am not saying that Irish writers are in any way superior to female writers across the way in the UK or the States, or even better than male Irish writers.

But Irish people are great at story-telling, we always were, so Irish women are great at capturing the trials and tribulations that women experience in life today. That appeals to a lot of people, especially those that have had to emigrate abroad. Like many other writers, I have tried to tap into the Irish diaspora. The background to my recent book was brought about because my friend emigrated and I went out to visit her. So this is just another story that shows where we are as a people.

Historical reference

I think that women’s literature will be looked back on for historical reference in the future. Irish women writers deal with a lot of issues that are central to people’s lives at the moment – like marriage break-ups, illness and abuse.

When you look at Jane Austen, how many male authors from her time can you reference? There were many male poets in the nineteenth century, but the truly great authors of that time were Emily Bronte and Austen. They wrote about the life they saw around them, in their social circles – they were social commentators. And that is what Maeve started in Ireland too. She started a legacy that I think is getting stronger. There are a whole host of authors now – like Cathy Kelly and Ciara Geraghty – new voices out there that are very strong, and they all have something new to bring to the table.

I think it’s a good time for women’s voices to be heard. When people look back in two hundred years, as we do with Jane Austen, I think women’s voices will tell a lot about our time and what was important to us.

The people who are critical about women’s literature, people who call it chick lit – I would suggest those people actually take the time to read it. Irish women writers put a lot of thought into their books, and although they are packaged in a way that makes it look like a nice easy read, when you actually delve into them and actually comprehend them, there is a lot more going on. Perhaps it doesn’t have the embellished prose in which Irish male authors are known more for, but that’s why I think the work of Irish female writers will stand the test of time.

Michelle Jackson is an author. Her most recent book is called 5 Peppermint Grove and is published by Poolbeg Publishers.

Column: Fifty Shades has changed lives – but not like the best chick lit>

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