Genres 101: Today’s Lesson – Women’s Fiction

Filed in Genres 101 , The Quirky Lover Posted on June 22, 2011 @ 12:00 pm 6 comments

I received an interesting e-mail the other day, asking if I’d like to review a book that was classified as “flit-lit”. It has been at the tip of my fingers for the last several Genres 101 posts to write about, well, let’s start off by referring to it by my main title of “women’s fiction”, but I kept hesitating, thinking there really couldn’t be all that much to talk about. Of course, the e-mail I mention just proves me wrong; offering another subgenre to what is probably a pretty huge list of them. But how different can, say, Chick-lit (the term we’re probably all most familiar with) be from Hen lit? Well, let’s delve in and see…

First to mention is the Romance Novel. This novel has some illustrious roots, with Jane Austen, then Georgette Heyer writing some of the earlier stories that led the way to the many wide ranging types in more recent years. The Wiki article cites a staggering stat: almost 55% of all paperback books sold in 2004″ fell within this genre; that’s huge! The big thing that differentiates the Romance Novel from other forms of Women’s Fic is that the story is about a romantic relationship, all other elements of the story must work towards this end; in Women’s Fic, other familial relationships can be just as important as any romance in a story. This seems like a tricky distinction, from what I can tell. Other authors attributed as Romance writers are Catherine Cookson, Kathleen Woodiwiss, and Nora Roberts.

Within that all too familiar label of Chick Lit, there seems to be quite a list different subdivisions. Really? I’m going to answer my own question here with: Really! Chick Lit itself is defined as a type of fiction “which addresses issues of modern womanhood, often humorously and lightheartedly”. Its off-shoots include Bride Lit, Brit/Singleton Lit, Christian Chick Lit, Ethnic Chick Lit, Hen Lit, Mommy Lit, Widow Lit, Workplace Tell-alls, Teen Chick Lit, and Mystery Chick Lit….holy smokes! Oh, and even though Wiki doesn’t list it, we’ll put Flit Lit in here too. So, what is the difference between Chick Lit and Hen Lit? Hen Lit is the more “mature” version, focusing on women slightly older than the 20 or 30 somethings in other types.

Examples here include Nora Roberts (again) that has a whole series of bride focused novels. Brit Lit includes writers such as Jill Mansell, Helen Fielding, and Marian Keyes. I’ve recently read a great example of Teen Chick Lit in Tish Cohen’s Switch, which has already released in Canada but will be available later in the summer in other countries. Within Ethnic Lit, Terry McMillan’s Waiting to Exhale and How Stella Got Her Groove Back fit the bill.
And the mysterious Flit Lit? Well, with books such as Under the Tuscan Sun, Eat Pray Love and the more recently release Tout Sweet, we can see that these books feature a woman that appears to have lost everything she loves. To cope, these heroines pick up and move to a completely different country, in an attempt to make a better, happier life for themselves. Ah, if only…
Now for the head scratchers in the genre: Yaoi, Yuri, and Femslash. These terms are completely unfamiliar to me and reveal little on their own. Yaoi and Yuri are respectively also known as “Boy’s Love” and “Girl’s Love”, they are both geared towards a female audience and are mostly penned by women too. Yaoi features “homoerotic or homoromantic relationships” between men, while Yuri is the same but highlight relations between female characters. These types of stories are frequently portrayed in Anime or Manga. These days, you can readily find many titles of Manga in bookstores. You can click the Wiki links above to get more info, including the latest addition to the Yuri trend called GloBL, which is apparently big in Germany.

Femslash immediately made me think of some female serial killer out to revenge a love gone wrong. I couldn’t be more wrong; it is more similar in theme to Yuri than any Wes Craven type story. It features romantic or sexual relationships between female characters, though these characters are usually heterosexual first and foremost. The “slash” obviously comes from some derivation of the bisexual ideal. Further clarification can be found when it is noted as F/F fiction…there’s the slash! Offered examples for this type of fiction come mostly in the form of TV or movie portrayals, like Willow and Tara in Buffy, The Vampire Slayer, though there are books that accompany that particular series, also.

My big question here: why are there so many slight variations within this genre, especially the Chick Lit category? Well, Ian McEwan is quoted as saying, “When women stop reading, the novel will be dead.” That’s a pretty big statement! But to understand how he came to this conclusion, you have to read more about his experiment and also the rebuttal of his method in this NPR article.

I have heard it myself many times; women read more than men, plain and simple. It only stands to reason that more books would then be geared towards a female audience. We’ll buy more 🙂
So, what’s your take on Women’s Fiction? Does Ian McEwan have a point about the fate of books being tied to female readership? Do you think there is a big difference between PNR and the ‘classic’ type of Romance novel? Do you have any other great examples from the types of novels mentioned?

About Jackie

Jackie is a quirky mom, living in Ontario, Canada. She's a bookkeeper by day and a book lover by night. She also blogs at The Novel Nation and writes occasionally for Heroes and Heartbreakers.

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  • Diana (Book of Secrets) June 22, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    This was a very informative post! I was not familiar with the term "Hen Lit." So many different subgenres to keep straight! I am looking forward to reading TOUT SWEET – my first Flit Lit.

    That is a great article by Ian McEwan. Wow – one in four American adults read no books at all. That's sad!

  • Jackie June 22, 2011 at 6:46 pm

    @Diana – It really is sad. I find my own vision slightly skewed by all the people I've met through the blogging/review communities, so I tend to assume everyone reads. An truly they should! I've got a sample chapter of Tout Sweet and may review it also 🙂

  • Wings June 22, 2011 at 7:45 pm

    I love this Jackie…well done on finding so many sub-genres!

    And its true lol…if women stopped reading…books would cease to exist lol

    I always to turn chick lit for my laughs…but for womens lit thats about as far as I go lol…

    Flit lit just doesnt appeal to me…nor does bride lit lol…unless its extremely funny hehe.

    I probably read hen lit though…

    I love those ones where they're thirty single and go on a really funny adventure to finding their prince charming…

    but so many off shoots! wow…sub-genres in sub-genres hehe

  • Sheree June 22, 2011 at 10:14 pm

    I tell people that I read romances but not women's fiction or chick lit (though I did read "The Starlet" by Mary McNamara). So thanks for stating the discreet subgenres!

  • Stella (Ex Libris) June 23, 2011 at 6:12 am

    Wonderful post once again Jackie! Love this feeling of taking notes in class (well we alraedy have the blackboard even if only in illustration ;-p)

    Anyway, I wanted to ask: what does flit lit stand for exactly? Maybe it's because I'm not a native speaker, but I can decode Chick and Hen lit, but what does flit stand for? Is it an abbreviation?

    Thank you 🙂

  • Jackie June 23, 2011 at 8:39 am

    @Amanda – I think that gives women a certain sense of power, knowing that an entire industry is at our mercy, lol. Mustn't let it go to our heads though :-p

    I have Eat Pray Love and I'm considering reading Tout Sweet. When times are rough and I'm down in the dumps, I think how nice it would be to pick up & move somewhere filled with romantic ideals. (I also own the film version of Under the Tuscan Sun *g*)

    @Sheree – I think the romance are linked with the other types of women's lit particularly because of the target audience, though I'm sure in content there are many subtle differences.

    @Stella – That's a self portrait of me on the blackboard *g* (not really, but could be). And I think you are the first 'student' to ask me a question, lol. Hen lit is a word more familiar to me from my Scottish roots, describing women. The same goes for the "flit lit": to flit in Britain usually means to move (homes). In this context, the flitting takes on a grander meaning by moving from one country to another.

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