Podcast of the week: Sentimental Garbage

Caroline O’Donoghue reassesses great women’s writing often dismissed as ‘chick-lit’

Sentimental Garbage host Caroline O’Donoghue. Photograph: Gavin Day

Sentimental Garbage host Caroline O’Donoghue. Photograph: Gavin Day

 

On Sentimental Garbage, the latest podcast by author and journalist Caroline O’Donoghue, she has long conversations with other female writers about that most-maligned genre, chick-lit. O’Donoghue’s thesis is that because of sexism and marketing, the stories women write that are branded under chick-lit are lost to mainstream readers and undervalued critically because of their focus on female experience.

With humour, pace and sharp analysis, it ricochets from serious conversations about feminism to amusement at wild plots and stark perspective-checks at how readers grow between each time we visit a book, and how culture changes around it too.

O’Donoghue and guest Lucy Vine’s rundown of Marian Keyes’s debut novel, Watermelon, is a good introduction. The pair treat the subject matter with sincerity and talk about how powerful it can be as a teenager – as both were when they first read Watermelon – to realise that, as per the first lines in the book, a man can just up and leave you the day you give birth to his child. They also ruminate how, when reading this for the first time, the protagonist being 29 felt impossibly old to them. They discuss the acute portrayals of suburban life that Keyes builds: a particularly Irish one.

O’Donoghue keeps the tone conversational but asks sharp questions to further the analysis. She regularly pulls back the curtain on being an author herself: both women explore the process of storytelling as authors and touch on the regular assumptions made about women who write. The 20 minutes in which O’Donoghue has a chat with Keyes herself about writing the novel – where she was in her life at the time, how she wrote it, what it was like being a feminist in the 1990s – is a bonus.

If you had hesitated at chick-lit because of the stereotypes and cultural biases around it, this would make you reassess your assumptions about the kind of work women write.

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