It’s shameful, I know. I’m well-educated with an international Classics degree, for goodness’ sake! And I know I shouldn’t, but I do. Yes, I am guilty of that most perverse pleasure: reading chick-lit. Godddd, I love it. I gobble up ‘Shopaholic’ books and Bridget Jones’ diaries faster than you can say Tolstoy. Or Austen. Or Dickens. Or any of those other books that I know I should read, but I don’t enjoy as much.
I’m not sure if it’s my OCD playing tricks on my mind or what, but I find, whenever I read a page, I’ll have forgotten what it said by the time I get to the end of it. so I’ll read it again. Sometimes I’ll read the same line over and over. It takes something of the joy of reading away. Which is a real shame, as I used to devour books (literally, as well as figuratively. I used to eat the pages). But I digress.
The thing is, I can only really read books that are ‘easy reads’. I can read a nice cosy murder, or a ditzy but well-intentioned girl’s adventures no problema. I can read children’s books. I can read PG Wodehouse. But 1984? Pfft. Forget about it. Chick-lit: that’s the one for me. So I was overjoyed when my new credit from Audible rolled round and I could buy another book. Ooh! ooh! I thought, Marian Keyes! Man, I love the Keyes. She’s brill. I’ll get Last Chance Saloon. And you know what? I enjoyed it. Sort of.
Marian Keyes has written frankly about her struggle with clinical depression, and her books handle delicate issues like drug abuse and mental health. I was surprised, therefore, when, at the end of chapter 4, Katherine comes out with this corker: “I’ve got to wash my hands fifty times and iron all my tights. Us single women! Martyrs to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.” Katherine was my favourite character, and there was another point when someone jokingly diagnosed her with OCD (she’s very particular, is our Katherine) and while I can appreciate that a) these are not real people, and b) it’s only meant in jest, it still jarred with me. I’m sure Ms Keyes wouldn’t find a character who was a bit grumpy chirping, “oh, that clinical depression! Really does me head in, you know,” all that hilarious. Because it’s just not taking it seriously.
To be fair, there was a character who was depressed in the book, but even then it was a bit of a jokey depression. You could, apparently, “set your watch” by Liv’s mood swings. She would go out and eat and drink and dance and go on toning tables, but then would leave because she had a wave of melancholy. No one would think that was real depression. It’s gloomy, granted, but it’s hardly the kind of life-shattering catatonia that depressives live with. I was seriously depressed at university and sometimes, I wouldn’t get out of bed for days at a time. I wouldn’t eat. I’d do the same thing (like cut paper) over and over and over again. Sometimes I’d get angry and throw things, which would usually be followed by copious weeping in my favoured foetal position. I couldn’t have gone out and done what Liv does in the book. Yes, she’s glum and he’s moody, but I think even the most insensitive of Ms Keyes’ readers knows that she is not a true representative of what someone with actual, serious, clinical depression.
Now, right before Katherine’s tights-ironing confession, her best friend Tara is extolling the virtues of having A Man. Katherine is single, and Tara realises that she may have slightly put her foot in it. She apologises, saying that she hadn’t meant to imply that “you‘d (i.e. Katherine) become a weirdo”. Katherine then shrugs this off with the I’m-mad-me OCD guff. What are we to make of this then? People with OCD are weirdoes? And all they do is wash their hands? It upsets me that someone who writes with such delicacy about sensitive matters, and who herself is a sufferer of a serious mental health disorder, should dismiss OCD as “a bit weird”. Or that it’s about ironing your tights. Because I’m sure Marian knows OCD is deep and debilitating. I’m sure she does. So why do her characters fling it around the place?
One could argue that I’m reading far too much into this. It’s a work of fiction. It’s the characterisation. It’s what people say, anyway. Yes, I’ll admit the first two. I know Katherine Casey isn’t a real person, and that it’s her sense of humour when she says she’s got OCD. But the third – that it’s what people say anyway – gets my goat. My goat is got by a lot of things, but this one really grabs hold. WHY do people say it? It’s because it’s little understood – programmes like Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners, take note – and therefore it is just seen as manifesting itself in tights-ironing. But it isn’t. And it shouldn’t be.
Maybe one day, there will be a chick-lit character (perhaps penned by Ms Keyes herself) who suffers from OCD and will do more to fight the ignorance and stigma more than I ever could. But, sadly, it appears that day is a long way off.