I rolled my eyes and muttered dark words at this BBC story where Fay Weldon claimed that women read for “comfort”. Even forgetting the gender essentialism — and how idiotic it is to make any claim for half the world’s population other than they have vaginas — the idea that we need to be comforted like little children is pretty infantilising.
I’m sure both men and women have “comfort food” reads, books that always please. When you’ve given up on a couple of books in a row or found them disappointing, it’s good to go to a no-fail author you know will please. But the idea that’s all that women do irks me beyond belief. I like books that challenge, surprise, scare and thrill me. I generally read for anything but comfort, and I suspect there are many like me.
The other irksome comment was that she thought characters should be likeable too. What does it mean to be “likeable”? It sounds like the usual crap we’re given as women to make nice and not raise our voices. And smile because “it can’t be that bad” — you’ve got that, too? Every time a man tells me that (and it has always been a man) I consider telling him that my dog just died or I have cancer just to shut that smug face up.
Oh, look at me not being likeable! Many of my characters are not either. They tend to be likeable in romance, that’s part of the genre: good people coming to good ends after a lot of struggle. But I write noirish crime and horror, too.
The people are not always likeable.
Do you need characters to be likeable?
(Cover from my latest publication The Mangrove Legacy, which has mostly very sweet and likeable characters).