Popular Fiction: The Logics and Practices of a Literary Field

By Ken Gelder | Go to book overview

6

Jackie Collins, anti-romance and the celebrity novel

If any readers still imagine (having got this far) that popular fiction and Literature are really not so very different from each other, then spend a few moments with Jackie Collins. 1 In Chapter 2, I had suggested that the thriller exemplifies popular fiction at its most pure: focused totally on pace and event, without distractions. Jackie Collins' novels are also examples of popular fiction in its purest form. Here, however, the logic of production is quite different. Her novels are character-driven; they build themselves around key events, but are not necessarily fast-paced. What purifies them, in the field of popular fiction, is their sheer superficiality. Distraction is the thing her characters compulsively pursue. Collins' novels are about light entertainment and are set in the midst of the entertainment industry: Hollywood, usually. Many of her characters want only three (not entirely unrelated) things, celebrity-style fame, lots of money and good sex. If there is any pace associated with her novels, it lies here: money and fame need to come quickly, and the sex also tends to be hurried along. Although she often casts herself in this way, Collins is therefore not an erotic writer, nor does she specifically write pornography. Her sex scenes are perhaps best described as 'zipless', an adjective coined by Erica Jong in her bestselling erotic literary novel, Fear of Flying (1973), about a young woman who leaves her loveless marriage to a psychiatrist and embarks on some sexual adventures. But even this word may overly romanticize the sex scenes in Collins' novels, which are quick, economical and utterly anti-romantic - radically different, in particular, to the kind of lusciously evoked, lingering sex scenes one finds in women's erotic romance fiction. This chapter looks at Collins as an anti-romantic novelist, or what is sometimes called a 'sex-and-shopping' novelist, who represents the entertainment industry precisely as a matter of (albeit melodramatized) superficiality. Indeed, superficiality is stubbornly defended here: her novels have no depth whatsoever, a feature which underwrites their purity as works of popular fiction. I shall say something about the 'celebrity novel' in this context, and I shall also talk about Collins in

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