Harper, £5.99, ISBN 0-00-651485-5
Contemporary Fiction, 2000
“Sheer enjoyment – no batteries required!” Or so it says on the front cover. Sounds like some new radical vibrator thingie, doesn’t it?
With an A-list of who’s who in Brit and Yank women’s fiction, what can go wrong, right? The way I see it as I paid for this book, it can either be an all-out funfest or a painful marathon of nose-bleeding neuroses. If it’s the latter, I’m prepared to be in a smug “I’m smarter than these stupid chicks mode!” and laugh at their stupidity. Either way I’m determined to have fun. Besides, around £1.00 or so will go to the War Child foundation, so it’s for a good cause.
Unfortunately, I can’t take it. Thirty-one stories of drop dead gorgeous women beating themselves up (or scratching each other’s eyes out) over obviously scumbag men are way over my breaking limit. As I keep reading – there’s nothing else I can do when I’m stuck on a subway train ride – it’s as if my life is flashing before my eyes. Soon, no doubt, my nose and ears will start bleeding.
Let’s put it this way: Wendy Holden’s E-male of the Species sums up the entire mood of this anthology. It tells a story of a woman whose boyfriend is living off her. She doesn’t like it, but what can she do? She needs a man in her life. Pathetic, if you ask me. She smiles when her colleague tells her that she has found The Right Guy via an online personal site, all the while sneering behind the colleague’s back. In the end, she gets a shock when her leech boyfriend dumps her for – yup, the colleague whom he met online.
In the world of this anthology, beautiful women have no choice but to settle for third-rate men who cheat and scrub on them. The heroine in Freya North’s In and Out looks forlornly ahead at the end of the short story, blaming herself for ruining her friends’ as well as her boyfriend’s night even as the boyfriend watches TV, ignoring her as he always do 90% of the time.
And so they go. Women stabbing each other to get that prime post of editor in some women’s magazine (I should’ve known). Women lowering themselves and settling for lousy men, worse, fighting each other for the men. Jenny Colgan’s Dougie, Spoons and the Solarium Aquarium has a really, really moronic male as lead character, and this snake-loving weirdo has no problems getting laid (usually after dousing the woman with lots of alcohol). While at the same time beautiful, drop dead gorgeous and successful women in this anthology are so hard up that they’ll do any man – any man!
I can’t help but to wonder: do these authors actually look at their fellow women with so much contempt to make them the butt of their jokes? Am I supposed to have fun reading about these women? No matter how much I try to tell myself I’m sure glad I never turned out like these moronic bimbos in my younger days, I can’t muster up any laughter. It’s like laughing at handicapped kiddies – not nice at all.
Needless to say, every story here is a blur of neuroses, women magazine pop fluff, and stupid, dirty unhygienic men making beautiful women bark and jump through hoops for some meaningless, transient boinking. The only memorable ones are Marian Keyes’s The Truth Is Out There, which sees an alien observes a woman finally dumping her man when the man gets thick-headed about her success – at least she’s smart enough to do that.
Girls’ Night Out is as fun as listening to a best girlfriend calling to weep about her latest break-up with her married lover who just bilked her out of her life’s savings (or something to that effect). Some people find this sort of tragicomedy fun, they will no doubt love this book. Me, I think my one pound going to the War Child foundation is good enough to soothe my conscience as I throw this book in the air and swing my tennis racquet at it.