Girls appear to be driving out angels and even - unseasonally - snow.
I am referring to book titles. For quite a while now, it has been almost essential for a novel’s title to contain either the word angel or the word snow. I imagine these things are determined by pallid marketing pundits, hunched over screens, computing the nominal algorithms of bestsellers. After which directives go out to commissioning editors, agents, and, at the bottom of the heap, your actual writers. If you want your work to succeed, the message goes, put angels in it, or snow.
I have a list of about 100 fiction angel titles. They include Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Gate of Angels (1990), AS Byatt’s Angels and Insects (1992), Jill Paton Walsh’s The Knowledge of Angels (1994), Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons (2000), Sally Vickers’s Miss Garnett’s Angel (2000), Anita Brookner’s The Bay of Angels (2001), Tracy Chevalier’s Falling Angels (2001), Colleen McCullough’s Angel (2004), Alison MacLeod’s The Wave Theory of Angels (2005), Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Angel’s Game (2009), Don DeLillo’s The Angel Esmeralda (2011), and Herta Muller’s The Hunger Angel (2012). There are also a score of angel titles in crime-writer Mike Ripley’s ongoing Angel series.
As for snow, think Peter Hoeg’s Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow (1992), Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (1992), David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars (1994), William Fiennes’s The Snow Geese (2001), Orhan Pamuk’s Snow (2002), Anita Shreve’s Light on Snow (2004), Diana Gabaldon’s A Breath of Snow and Ashes (2005), or AD Miller’s Snowdrops (2011). To name a few.
I have yet to find a title with both angels and snow, though Angel Milan’s Snow Spirit (1982) at least gets both words on its cover.
But, as I say, angels and snow are suddenly old hat. So very last year. The cool buzzy trend-word now is girl.
First up was Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring (1999). But then came Stieg Larsson’s massive-selling Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2005); its less zippy original Swedish title was Men who Hate Women. Along with its various parodies (The Dragon with the Girl Tattoo, The Girl with the Sandwich Tattoo), and its sequels The Girl Who Played with Fire (2006) and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest (2007). This was followed by Peter Hoeg’s The Quiet Girl (2007), Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls (2009), and Sarah Addison Allen’s The Girl Who Chased the Moon (2010). Then we had Gillian Flynn’s thriller Gone Girl (2012) and Eimear McBride’s prize-winning debut, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing (2013). Just out is Paul Tomkins’s The Girl on the Pier, a psychological thriller set on our own West Pier (not to be confused with the 1953 film of the same title).
But absolutely the title of the moment has to be Girl Online by Brighton-based Zoe Sugg (aka Zoella), which has been causing such a rumpus for its record debut sales and the fact that it turns out (surprise, surprise) to be not altogether (if at all) the work of Zoe Sugg.
I dare say she is an innocuous enough role model for her millions of teen web followers. I certainly prefer her to Katie Price, that other local ghost-written mega-selling franchised purveyor of tosh.
But I do feel there is something terminally rotten in the industry’s promotion of shallow celebrity - of people with no personal skill or knowledge in the exacting art of fiction - and am shocked that Penguin Books, formerly a byword for cultural substance and integrity, have sunk this low.