Unleashing the chick-lit tiger

I have a confession to make. I used to love reading chick-lit. But British chick-lit has the reputation of being full of stories of white middle-class women working in the City and finding their one true love who happens to be a banker or a corporate lawyer. I sickened of this Middle England reading diet a few years ago, assuming this was all there was.

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So I was intrigued when I came to review Lily La Tigresse, by Alona Kimhi, which is described as chick-lit taking inspiration from Angela Carter and classic horror movies. Lily La Tigresse opens its jaws and swallows you whole from the very first page when the female protagonist runs a decadently luxurious bath and masturbates to the sound of Schubert and noise from the street:

A bubble bath is a ritual, pagan event, whose purpose is to remind a woman that every bath is a return to the foam of the primordial waves from which the Venus inside her was born.

The nonchalance of a woman focused solely on her own earthly pleasure is something that is unfortunately rare in the chick-lit genre and yet strikes a chord of familiarity with all of us. This is the guilt-free enjoyment that we should see in these overly materialistic female orientated books but so often don’t. I don’t think I have ever read a book marketed as chick-lit where the heroine masturbates as nonchalantly as scratching an itch.

The heroine, Lily, a 100kg girl living in Tel Aviv, breaks the stereotypes of a chick-lit heroine. There is refreshingly no body shaming: she is proud of her looks and constantly pampers herself while waiting to meet the love of her life. Her best friend Ninush also breaks stereotypes by having a complex bittersweet storyline of her own, seeped in the darkness of domestic violence and manipulation.

Lily discovers the man with whom she had her first sexual experience is back in Tel Aviv and decides she must meet him, which pushes the novel into a crescendo of magical realism and metamorphosis where the tiger of the story emerges and tears the world from reality.

The style of writing wasn’t one I clicked with at first. I found it rather wordy and David Copperfield-esque especially near the beginning, juxtaposed with long, long scenes of almost too lush prose. I was afraid that the book was going to be pretentious and hollow. But as I read further, the pages turned faster and the prose melted into a dark dream of music and volatile emotions and awkwardness. The more I read, the more I got lost in the crookedness of this strange world.

Liquid time and cracked time

Sways down low and swirls up high

Owl time, mouse time, lizard time

The novel is in first person and Lily is our storyteller as she takes us to the past to see the reserved worried love of her parents and to the arrival of Ninush into Israel and then forwards through city of Tel Aviv all the way to a circus. I’ve never read a fictional book set in modern Israel before and Kimhi paints a portrait where gritty decadence sits alongside the mundane narrow world of Lily and Ninush. The culture of a city, that I have never seen in vivid colour, gave the book even more depth for me as a reader.

There were two elements to this book that jarred me out of the dream and means I will probably never read the book again: the irreverent treatment of the subject of Palestine, which due to recent events I was unable to look at objectively, and the sexual abuse of a minor as backstory which I felt was unnecessary.

This isn’t a novel on the scale of Angela Carter. It is exactly what it says it is. I wish more books as diverse as this were marketed as chick-lit. I wish more chick-lit was free from body shaming and sex shaming and focused as much as this one on female friendship. In a genre over-saturated with a particular office worker lifestyle, this is a breath of fresh air. A novel this dark and unusual being marketed in this genre is an overturn of the idea of chick-lit.

Aniqah lives in the intersections, the only place that accepts Queer Muslim Feminists.You can find her tweeting on geekery, politics and mental health at @aniqahc