Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is a really good read. The complexity of the plot, the depth of the characters and the dark psychology make it not just a page-turner, but a book that stays with you long after you’ve finished reading it.
So when I heard that India Knight and Lucy Atkins would be discussing this book – and the patronisingly-named (but what’s new?) ‘chick noir’ genre in general – at the Oxford Literary festival, I booked a ticket. Actually, two. I took Rich and he was one of only two men in the audience. Hail a genre CHICK noir, and what d’you expect?
I’m already delving into the sexist undertones of this talk – and I haven’t even got to the talking.
Knight and Atkins were being interviewed by David Freeman, who opened the talk by declaring that he had no knowledge on the topic and wasn’t sure why he’d been asked to chair. Before long, the audience were all wondering why he’d been asked, too. It seemed he hadn’t even read the book.
Freeman made a series of faux pas – firstly, the constant Fifty Shades references. Bar its publishing success, E.L. James’ erotic fiction bares no resemblance to Gone Girl – in the crime fiction genre – at all. But perhaps Freeman doesn’t realise that female authors’ best-selling novels span all genres.
Next up, he decided to throw some questions out to the audience, like: any book recommendations? How long does it take you to read a book? These mundane, irrelevant questions – akin to the questions a child might pose in a mock interview with an adult – didn’t deserve to be answered. But Knight politely decided to answer anyway.
Well, she said, I can read a book in a day if it’s as good as Gone Girl.
Oh, replied Freeman, so you might just put off your Sainsbury’s shop that day and get really stuck in?
Until an audience member shouted: NO – we put off WORK, as we have JOBS.
And we all thought: and why assume the woman does the food shop anyway?
But then in Freeman’s world, women are incapable of writing anything but erotica and men are probably incapable of chores and grocery shopping.
When a chair has no idea about the topic being discussed, the talk will inevitably lack structure and depth. And in this instance it was a real shame, because Atkins and Knight were so enthused about Gone Girl, and crime novels.
Incidentally, I’d been to a talk about music the day before which had also been chaired by Freeman and his knowledge shone through; complimented by all the research he’d done. It was offensive to Knight and Atkins that he couldn’t be bothered to do the same for this interview.
But the most poignant moment, for me, was when Knight and Atkins: two successful, intellectual, witty writers – and speakers – both agreed that they were “too dumb to write complex crime novels”. It was a lighthearted comment – but I just can’t imagine two men of similar success sitting up there and coming to that same conclusion. Or saying it out loud, anyway.
Being interviewed by men like Freeman must embed a feeling of inferiority and inadequacy in women. I’d be surprised if either Knight or Atkins came away feeling really boosted. The usual grand introduction to the speakers was absent, as were mentions – and understanding – of their work. They could have asked a woman who works in publishing, or a man who respects – and reads – female authors to lead the discussion.
I asked India Knight what she’d made of the interview and she said the Sainsbury’s comment was totally inappropriate but to react to it would have caused waves and taken the talk down another path. Maybe it should have gone down that feminist path because that’s all I could think about as I walked away.
I hope that I get to hear both women talk again. I bought both their books so will read them and look forward to hearing them answering intellectual, stimulating, informed questions next time round.