But the title matters too, especially if it has the key word ‘Girl’ in it
It all kicked off with Steig Larsson, author of the Scandi-noir trilogy, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest. Lisbeth Salander, the dark and damaged ‘Girl’ of the books, became a cult heroine with her Goth make-up, elaborate tattoos, fiery intelligence, and take-no-prisoners attitude. Such was her popularity that even after her creator, Larsson, had passed, Lisbeth got another outing in The Girl In The Spider’s Web (written by David Lagercrantz).
Gillian Flynn was next up with the groundbreaking thriller, Gone Girl, with its unreliable narrator and bewildering shifts between points of view. Amy Dunne, the ‘Girl’ of this book, sells herself to us as the perfect girlfriend and wife before being revealed as a cold-as-ice sociopath. (No, I am not playing the spoiler alert game with this one; if you haven’t bothered to read the book or see the movie yet, I am assuming that you are never going to get around to it!)
Then came Paula Hawkins, with The Girl On The Train, with another unreliable narrator in Rachel, whose life is falling apart. Her marriage is over, she has lost her job and she’s drinking too much. So, she amuses herself on the commute to and from the office she no longer works in by spying on the backyards of the houses that run by the train line – one of which used to be her own.
Such has been the success of the ‘Girl’ books that it now seems impossible for a thriller/suspense/murder mystery novel to get on the bestselling list without including that word in the title. Apparently, while you are not supposed to judge a book by its cover, getting the title right – with that key word nestled somewhere in there – is crucial to capturing eyeballs.
Perhaps, it just comes down to subliminal association. You liked The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest? Then, maybe you will love Gone Girl? Are you a fan of Gone Girl? Then, perhaps, The Girl On The Train is just the ticket for you. And so on and on and on…
This sudden proliferation of ‘Girl’ titles makes me wonder if this is not (at least part) cynical marketing ploy to lure readers in. But even if it is, I am not complaining. And that’s because the ‘Girl Books’, as I have taken to calling them, are great reads in themselves. In fact, some of them are terrific reads, gripping you with their intricate plot twists and false narratives, and strong if damaged female characters (the ‘girls’ of the titles).
So, here, in no particular order of importance, are some gems of the ‘Girls Genre’ of popular fiction.
• Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll: The ‘Girl’ in this assured debut novel, is TifAni FaNelli, editor at a women’s magazine and writer of sex columns, who seems to have life all worked out – until we discover the secret she is hiding. She was gang-raped, and then slut-shamed, in high school, and has carried the scars ever since. The book is the story of her coming to terms with her past and confronting the demons that have plagued her ever since. For me, the story became even more poignant in hindsight, when Knoll wrote an essay (a year or so after the book came out and became an instant hit) revealing that the book drew heavily on her own experience of being gang-raped and slut-shamed in high school.
• The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood: The ‘Wicked Girls’ of the title are Bel and Jade who meet one fateful summer day and end up being charged with the murder of a child – even though they are really children themselves. This novel, written by the British journalist, Serena Mackesy, under the pseudonym Alex Marwood, is loosely based on the murder of James Bulger, who was just short of three years when he was tortured and murdered by two 10-year-old boys (Robert Thompson and Jon Venables) in 1993. But at its core, this is more than a crime story. It is more an investigation into child psychology, the randomness of events, the criminal justice system, and the tabloid culture. It is difficult reading at times, but well worth the effort.
• The Good Girl by Mary Kubica: When Mia Dennett leaves a bar with a stranger (because her boyfriend is a no-show), she doesn’t realize that she is signing up for more than a one-night stand. The story alternates between the past and the present, the narrative unfolds from the perspective of differing characters, and the reader often feels that she is negotiating shifting sands, not entirely sure where they are leading her. I won’t say more because, you know, spoiler alert. But, as Amazon would say, if you loved Gone Girl, you might enjoy reading The Good Girl too.
• The Good Girl by Fiona Neill: Yes, that’s right. This title is so popular that it has two books attached to it. The Good Girl in Fiona Neill’s version, is the teenager, Romy, whose family has just relocated from London to the countryside. This morality tale for the new millennials gets its impetus from a sexting scandal but uses it as a starting point to explore both the fragility and the strength of family bonds. The harried mom and dad of this book, Alisa and Harry Field, will strike a chord with parents of rebellious teenagers everywhere, and young adults of the porn-again generation may well see something of themselves in both Romy and her boyfriend, Jay.