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Contemporary Writing at University and the Chick Lit Novel
There is so much contemporary writing out there, and should be given more recognition and publicity than the dreaded chick lit book. Even in Asda. Writes Amy Ryan

In the past when I have thought of contemporary writing, I automatically used to
think of chick lit such as Sex and the City by Candace Bushnell, Confessions of a
Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella, or books horrifically written with a modern take on
Jane Austen. Without sounding like a ‘book snob’, these narratives where the heroine
lives in New York, has the perfect job, falls in love with the office hottie and is
whisked off for the perfect wedding has always only served to repel me.

I’m not completely sure where my stereotype of contemporary writing actually came
from. I suppose it doesn’t really help when I’m browsing the popular novels in Asda
and under ‘Books for Women’ there is shelf upon shelf of chick lit books. ‘Cents
and sensibility’ was one of the many that made me feel exasperated and I remember
thinking, is this the only offer of contemporary writing available to women? An
obvious alternative is to visit a store that offers a much wider variety of novels and
works, such as Waterstones or Blackwell. However the point is that to me there is
so much contemporary writing out there, and should be given more recognition and
publicity than the dreaded chick lit book. Even in Asda.

It wasn’t until I attended University did I realise that behind the typical modern novel
aimed at a specific gender, there are some truly beautiful and inspirational works,
giving me a whole new meaning to the words Contemporary Writing. One of my
favourites studied on my course was The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by
British writer Angela Carter. She beautifully and extraordinarily twists the traditional
fairy tale, creating a variety of stories that are dark, sensual and utterly seductive.
Some of the many fairy tales she explicitly bases her writing on are Bluebeard,
Beauty and the Beast and Little Red Riding Hood. If you have not already read
this collection of Carter’s works then I strongly urge you to do so, because they are

I also enjoyed Trumpet by Jackie Kay, which I have written a book review on in one
of my pervious articles, as well as A Pair of Tickets by Amy Tan. Although born in
California her roots extend back to China; feeling neither American nor Chinese, Tan
was unsure of whom she really was and struggled with her identity whilst growing up.
The theme of identity is paramount throughout her writing and she intricately explores
what it means to be yourself, and how you can find your identity if it is lost. I feel
that it was hugely interesting and beneficial to read both Kay and Tan. It helped me to
understand even more the conflict of identity in race, gender, class and background all
around the world.

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman was also a popular text on my university course.
I had read this ages a go as child when my dad encouraged me to read more than
just Animal Ark by Lucy Daniels; I enjoyed Northern Lights now as much as what I
did then. Comparing it with The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett which,
although not a contemporary text, was very interesting in light of how different the
two writers represented the natural world. In contrast to the more positive Burnett
who wrote The Secret Garden in 1910, perhaps Pullman presents nature as more
dangerous and violent as a true depiction of the world we live in today; a bit of a
bleak view to have in mind on a Monday morning, but there you go.

Consisting of violence, blood, talking animals, polar bears in armour and the age old
battle of good and evil, it is undeniably a very entertaining novel.

Although I have fully enjoyed the range of contemporary writing on my course, it
would have been brilliant if students could put forward their own recommendations.
An obvious one I would have chosen is Atonement by Ian McEwan. A beautiful,
touching exploration of love, war, guilt and forgiveness, the novel engages itself with
the reader on all levels and truly marks its writer as a Master of English prose. The
cultural settings in relation to the novel would have been interesting to study as well
as Briony’s narcissism, or even the scene between Robbie and Cecelia, which has
been described as one of the most provocative descriptions of sex in recent works.

Another contemporary text I would have chosen is Harper Lee’s To Kill a
Mockingbird. I absolutely love this American novel and Bildungsroman, as it is
essentially something that all readers can benefit and learn from. Simultaneously
retaining its sense of warmth and humour, it explores sensitive topics and issues such
as racial inequality, rape, prejudice and social injustice, and offers countless questions
and themes to be explored.

So I suppose now you know what contemporary novels I would stock on the shelves
in Asda.

Amy Ryan is a young writer based at York St John.