Dig, if you will, the picture: You’re sitting in your favourite bistro, enjoying a flat white while editing last night’s copy. Waitresses are rushing around and generic pop music is playing in the background. While trying to catch your waitress’s attention you make eye contact with a beautiful woman a few tables away. She is blonde, slender and wears a baby blue tank top.
Oh no, wait. She isn’t! Because beautiful women don’t wear baby blue tank tops. Coming to think of it, hardly any women wear baby blue tank tops these days. It just doesn’t happen. Take it from me. I am what you might consider a (very) attractive woman and the only baby blue tank top I ever owned was a hand-me-down from my sister given to me in the late 1990s. Yet, hot gals in baby blue tank tops appear to be a trope in badly written literature (especially self-published erotica!) You might as well ask your reader to picture a beautiful woman with a frizzy beard. I’m not judging bearded ladies, but it just throws the reader off. Let’s put it in writing: If you think beautiful women wear baby blue tank tops you are neither a beautiful woman nor are you sleeping with one. Do your research or write about what you know instead!
This advice comes 21 years too late for Alex Garland. Before writing The Beach he should have taken a trip to Barnes with his notebook in hand. If you don’t remember this otherwise brilliant novel, let me refresh your memory. British youngster joins international volleyball community on an isolated beach in Thailand. Among them are a trio of youngish Swedes, with names either so Swedish they could be taken straight from a Vilhelm Moberg novel, or not Swedish at all. And here’s the quirk, they don’t speak English. Because as we all know, there are no schools in Sweden. And no media what so ever. And in case you forgot: ABBA’s songs were all dubbed by the BeeGees. How am I even writing this foreword?
Another unbelievable trope that occurs in both erotica and non-erotic-but-occasionally-sexy fiction is the girl who orgasms during her sexual debut. Yes, Murakami, that was a dig at you.
A novel as brilliant as Norwegian Wood loses points in my eyes when such things occur. However, the author was forgiven when I read that he married his university sweetheart. Some subjects should just not be researched even if it improves the writing. Cherry poppin’ is such a subject.
Some people are offended by literature that romanticises drugs or sexual deviance but I honestly don’t think that authors owe us moral compasses. They owe us clarity, entertainment and honesty – at least the type of honesty where we feel like we are not being lied to, an illusion of truth. But that illusion cannot be created unless the author has done their research. You want me to feel like I’m sitting next to you at that bistro, perving on women? Go out and look at how women actually dress!
Despite being from London, it is clear that up until he directed Ex Machina, Garland had never met a Swede in his life. (Hint: Alex Garland isn’t sleeping with any hot women.) That trip to IKEA could have saved his reputation among Swedes as a respectable writer. As a Swede myself, you can say I carry a lot of emotional scars from reading that book. I like the way that sounds. I carry a lot of scars.
Hopefully, you won’t come across any annoying tropes in SRL issue #20, going live at 11am BST, 28 May.
It will feature fiction by:
and poetry by:
Sarvat, Alex, Cian and I wish you a happy reading