Women today have more financial control and independence than ever before. Growing up I understood that girls can do anything, and that a successful career and a healthy bank account are more than the products of hard work: they equaled freedom, and freedom equals power. With the country experiencing a double-dip recession and the Euro in turmoil, female book buyers are turning not just to escapist fiction but to something closer to home: what it means to make money on our own terms. Of this, the resplendent rags-to-riches bonkbuster is undoubtedly queen. Conditions are ripe to see these doorstop bibles of sex and success fly off the shelves, and it’s no one else’s cash we’re using to acquire them but ours.
The return of the bonkbuster
18/07/2012 by Victoria Fox
A great bonkbuster needs a great man – but money and power are the real turn-ons for women, says Victoria Fox
Amid an economic dip, bonkbusters are the ideal choice for women. Yes, sex is the obvious turn-on, but wealth, victory, and above all government over our own lives are the real aphrodisiacs. Maestros of the eighties bonkbuster – Collins, Cooper, Conran, Krantz – gave us women to root for and identify with, and while these heroines might be impossibly beautiful or wildly exotic, that isn’t the most interesting or significant thing about them. Once the men catch up with that, we’re on to something.
Take Jackie Collins’ inimitable creation Lucky Santangelo: a no holds barred ball-breaking beauty, if ever there was one. Lucky lives in a man’s world but she’s making it her own, and being a woman isn’t what stops her, it’s what drives her. She’ll have a misogynist movie magnate bent over his LA production desk before you can say Fifty Shades, because Lucky doesn’t need to use the lash of a whip; her tongue’s sharp enough.
Or Shirley Conran’s feminist blockbuster Lace (reissued by Canongate in August), which empowers women through the intimacy of friendship. Alone, Judy, Kate, Pagan and Maxine face the battle of being female in the fifties; together, they are strong, unconquerable, a fortress. While the novel remains a sex-fuelled sizzling scandal-fest, its subtler thread is one of women striving to carve their independence at a time when we were expected to live quiet, unremarkable lives and not to speak too loudly for fear of being heard.
Sex in bonkbusters is only a part of it, and it’s a clever decoy to the undercurrents that really define the genre. Bonkbusters are about women achieving by themselves and for themselves, about wealth and power no longer being a man’s game and about what it means to see what you want and to go out and get it – whatever the cost. Too easily dismissed as throwaway fantasy, bonkbusters represent a desire for ambitious and dominant female role models who aren’t afraid to realise their goals. These books aren’t romances, they’re not erotic fiction, they’re not Mills & Boon – because falling helplessly into a windswept tycoon’s arms is no longer enough. It’s not the tycoon who saves us: we do.
A great bonkbuster needs a great man – but it needs great women more. Sex, cash and glory are the staples of the bonkbuster world, but what lifts these books to a league of their own is that the ladies take the lead. Triumphing against the odds, steering each other through adversity, overthrowing any man who’s done them wrong and seizing the prize in their (French-manicured) hands; in a bonkbuster the woman comes out on top.
Bonkbusters are having a comeback because they have it all: passion, adventure, intrigue, murder, lust, betrayal . . . but most important, they send the positive and constructive message that being a girl doesn’t mean being weak, submissive, or succumbing to a hero who prompts a swoon every time he says our name. Hallelujah for their revival. We’ve waited a long time to see sex back in the mainstream, so let’s make it count. Today it’s the big brave bonkbuster, not the billionaire playboy, who should be sweeping us off our feet.
Victoria Fox is the author of Temptation Island, pubished by Mira Books, out now.