Phil: My gentle introduction to chick-lit was “Cat” by Freya North. Of the two books I’d been supplied with, it was bound in the cover least likely to attract adverse attention during the train journey I planned to read it.
Catriona McCabe (28) is a sports journalist who gets a gig covering the Tour de France for the Guardian. The race forms the background and provides the structure for everything. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a book about cycling though. Despite the (apparently) well researched detail and extensive coverage of the imaginary version for the worlds most famous two-wheeled race, this is a story about one woman trying to get over the failure of a long relationship by escaping into another world, that of the salle de presse that follow the riders around.
Along the way she meets (and shags in surprisingly graphic detail) hunky Dr Ben, teams up with fellow British journalists Josh and Alex and befriends Rachael, the soigneur for one of the teams. Somewhere in the mix are her sisters Fen (who has her own book from the same author) and Pip as well as uncle Django. There are also too many muscley cycle racers to mention, most with names that my brain refused to remember properly (I had the same problem with War and Peace) but this didn’t seem to affect my enjoyment of the plot.
The first question has to be, did I enjoy it ? Yes I did. The story bounces along at a decent pace. The idea of using each stage of the race as a segment worked very well. Because of the time pressure – the race is three weeks long – a conclusion was always on the horizon. By the final page, all the loose ends had been tied and you could close the cover with a warm glow of satisfaction.
I liked the idea that our protagonist wasn’t just moping about looking for a man, something I was dreading, but actually knew her stuff. It’s woman in a man’s world time but she is written as a true enthusiast armed with a grasp of facts and figures that would probably be more appropriate for one of the statistic-obssessed blokes that sporting endeavors seem to attract. The journalists are often described as being the luckiest fans in the world being paid to write about the sport they would happily pay to watch. The athletes aren’t treated as objects of desire but in a pleasantly objective way. Cat appreciates them as athletes rather than fancying any of them. She wants her favourites to succeed but in a well written manner that will resonate with real-life fans.
One oddity is that you never get the chance to build a mental picture of Cat. The book cover is adorned with a photo of a pretty lady who, in my mind, fits the bill perfectly. I guess that’s the idea but I wonder how that works with the companion volume Fen, the reader might have the wrong image in their head !
While much of the writing is conventional, there is an awful lot of internal dialogue in Cat’s head. I guess this is pure chick-lit. Women want to read about emotions and feelings as much as a straight description of whatever (especially the sex) is going on. Those feelings are in fact the main thrust of the story with the Tour simply taking its place as the stage upon which emotional tale is played out. At some points, the dialogue read almost as though the reader was a character asking Cat how she was feeling. I think this worked for me but it took a little getting used to.
What have I learned ?
Well, comparing Cat and Kate and the dirtboffins I am relieved that it is possible to handle lots of characters without the reader’s mind exploding. We’ve wondered about this in the pub a few times. The two stories adopt a very similar approach with the protagonists internal dilemmas being played out against a background of external events she is involved in. Perhaps we need more of a view into our characters heads and now I have of the female psyche (I’m a bloke and I’ve now read one instruction manual – is there more to learn ?), this is going to be a doddle.