The death of novelist Jackie Collins at the weekend filled me with both sadness and nostalgia. Her novels, and those of contemporaries like Jilly Cooper and Shirley Conran (note their similar names!) were the delight of my adolescence. These novels may seem a little dated now; they had their heyday in the hedonistic ‘90s. But quite frankly, they left 50 Shades of Grey, well, in the shade. Their thick, glossy novels were filled with forbidden delights and offered the perfect escape route from grubby reality.
Yes, there comes a time when you outgrow such novels, and as recession bit in the 1990s, it became tacky to write about the super rich with their super rich lifestyles. My own tastes turned to more literary works, but no literary masterpiece will ever give me the thrill these novels did, so I’ll always think of them with affection. This is my tribute to the old-fashioned blockbuster novel.
There are three reasons why these novels are such good reads, and linger in the popular imagination.
They’re Unashamedly Glamorous
All right, we’ll get it out of way. These novels featured lots of sex in glamorous locations, enjoyed by beautiful people. But everything about them was glamorous, the locations, the characters and particularly their clothes. Today’s chicklit can’t compare. Heading to the local on a Friday night for a tipple is nothing compared to being whisked off to St. Tropez in a helicopter for the weekend. These novels opened the door to exciting worlds, the worlds of fashion, sport, television, movies, music and wine making.
They’re Full of Exciting Plots
These are books that you race through in your thirst to know what happens next. There’s a scandal around every corner, and the authors skilfully drop hints to keep you hooked until the truth is gradually revealed. There are lots of dirty family secrets and wicked deeds to keep you entertained, and all the strands are tied up in a satisfying bow at the end.
The Dialogue Is Cracking
These authors are great at writing as they speak, and their dialogue reflects the speech patterns of real people. There’s also lots of it, and this keeps the story moving forward. Jilly Cooper is particularly good at writing dialogue; a speech and drama teacher I had at school actually recommended her for this. It’s hammy at times, crudely imitating the speech patterns of different nationalities, but it’s full of witty wordplay and zinging one liners. There are also lots of quotes from Shakespeare and the classics, so you learn as you go along too.
Who would get your vote as a top blockbuster novel, or novelist? And who out of today’s crop could be seen as a worthy successor?