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Does "Women’s Fiction" Get Reviewers’ Short Straw?

Behind Every Successful ManBlood RoseMy Brother's BookPercy Zvomuya is an up-and-coming arts journalist who typically does not shy from difficult topics or prickly subjects. In a recent article he points to the marginalisation of so-called “chick-lit” and writers of popular literature, who complain that their work gets short shrift from the literary establishment.

Attending the panel discussion at Cape Town Book Fair, where Jo-Anne Richards, Margie Orford and Zukiswa Wanner discussed the matter, he recalls the authors’ shared discontent at the dismissal of their work under various non-serious labels. (They are not alone in their pique! SA bookworm Lee Cahill, has had words on the topic too.)

Against the context of this event, he explores two recent novels, Wanner’s Behind Every Successful Man and Valerie Tagwira’s The Uncertainty of Hope. While he says many complimentary things about each book, he also explores how Wanner “may drive away the more serious-minded readers,” and criticises Tagwira, who leaves her readers “action-starved”.

After a lengthy IM debate the BOOK SA team decided that this article was not a carrot/stick review (in particular as Zvomuya proffers both for each author) but a take on how “women’s literature” is currently perceived and received by the literary establishment.

Zvomuya brings his full attention to both works and offers each author some sound advice:

The Uncertainty of Hope and Behind Every Successful Man are two sides of one coin. The kind of readers who would enjoy one certainly won’t readily take to the other. But both novels are, in their ways, delicate and at times moving portrayals of women trying to defeat the obstacles — in private and public spaces — placed in their way by sexism and ancient traditions. One wishes, though, that these two would compare notes: Tagwira doesn’t have that chirpy lightheartedness that so typifies Wanner, and Wanner could do with a whiff of the seriousness that drips from Tagwira’s book.

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