herald

Monday 22 December 2014

She's outselling Austen, but who buys Cecelia's books?

An Irish girl in her 20s is outselling Jane Austen. Just imagine. The arch author of intricate social satires like Pride and Prejudice is on a par, in terms of sales, anyway, with the brains behind PS I Love You.

But before I stand accused of begrudgery, let me just state the obvious: isn't it great and fair play to Cecelia. We have an Irish ambassador, a heavyweight in terms of shifting sheer quantities of books, to represent us at the international book-selling Olympics. And for that, we should be thankful for Cecelia and the fact that she's put Ireland on the international stage. But for what? For such unbearably saccharine offerings, in my opinion anyway, as Cecelia's most recent opus, Thanks for the Memories, the tale of a woman who falls in love with her blood donor.

I'll be honest -- Cecelia Ahern is a dangerous topic for me. Like most of the Irish press, I'm terrified of criticising her writing lest I come across as a bile-filled, begrudging hack, so let me get the preliminaries out of the way by saying that I think what she's done is fantastic, and at such a tender age (okay, she's two months younger than me, but I'm not bitter, I swear), she should be very proud. As should her family.

But the honest truth is that I don't much care for her writing and to be blunt, I don't know anyone who does either, so to hear that her books are outselling Austen is baffling to say the least. Who exactly buys them? I'd be curious to find out.

It would make more sense if Marian Keyes were to outsell Jane Austen -- after all, Keyes is a modern day, Irish Austen. Her books are mirrors held up to the mores of society and they're hilarious to cap it all. Jane would be proud to be associated with Ms Keyes.

But when it comes to Cecelia, I don't think the same would apply. For starters, and this comes across in her books, she's so young, with so little life experience, that she hasn't got the acumen, or the biting humour that Austen and Keyes have, and that's what makes them so popular.

I've only ever finished a Cecelia Ahern novel because I was paid to review it and it would be unprofessional not to. But it seems obvious to me that her youth and innocence restrict her prose.

Maybe that's a good thing as it is the innocence to Ahern's writing which obviously appeals to a lot of people. But, to my mind anyway, her material lacks both drama and depth.

But then again, maybe it says more about the times we live in that Cecelia Ahern in outselling Jane Austen -- people want that fairytale quality to the material they read in times of recession.

So if you feel the need for a touch of escapism, there's clearly no better woman than Cecelia. And just in case you think I'm mean, I'll say it again: fair play to her.

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