Note: I wrote this article over two years ago, virtually straight after completing my degree. My opinion hasn’t changed so I’m keeping the article alive, just in time to join the celebrations for Jackie’s 30th novel and recent OBE award. Jackie’s influence needs to extend to the world’s literary circles. And how.
Literature to my mind can largely be divided into two categories. Most books are of a serious, profound nature and aim to portray that very image by its cover art. The reviews will refer to that very novel as a masterpiece; a true work of art.
Then there is a second category of literature, the deliberately frothy, comedic novel. The cover art is friendly, inviting and more cartoonish, the reviews more basic; ‘fab’, ‘hilarious’, or ‘perfect for a beach vacation’. For years I would only choose the best of the classics, from The Odyssey right through to The Secret History. At university it was again about those classic novels, the Brontes followed by Dickens, James, and Woolf – basically any author with a deep moral message about the contemporary pressures of society on women, psychiatry, capitalism the social order etc. It was when graduating with a degree in English that my passion for literature ebbed to an all time low. The moral compass of these juggernauts didn’t always manage to keep me warm at night: I knew I needed more. It was to the extent that for my three-hour daily commutes I would latch onto any author I received through recommendations and, through my excessive cravings, devour their canon of work like it was the holy grail.
Unsurprisingly there was some great literature that came about at this time, however there has however been one mistakable authoress that has made me stand erect to attention, an author who offered me the escapism that ‘good literature’ couldn’t always provide to the visual imagination.
This obsession begun in earnest when a friend of mine purchased the title Poor Little Bitch Girl, whilst I purchased How To Write Romantic and Erotic Fiction. Whilst I tried in vain to bring the next erotic thriller to the shelves, my friend was giving me select quotes from this seemingly ridiculous novel. Every extract got better and better, more outrageous and more titillating. Unlike a great quote such as ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,’ a typical line from this novel would be (about the process of degrading a prostitute): Oh no, he was on a roll and had no intention of letting go…’
Feeling adventurous and desperate to find a book that could provide a suitable amount of laugh-out-loud moments, I picked up the trashiest-sounding title (which, to my knowledge has only been surpassed by Jerome-Dickey’s Milk In My Coffee), The Stud. I read this novel in my lonely, never-ending breaks from a summer job that bought little sunshine. Hiding the title in case any of the random people I worked with accidentally saw me reading a novel about a gigolo, which was most famously made into *the* famous soft-core porn film oddly starring Jackie Collins’ sister, Joan, I found the novel abysmal trash. I should add here the words ‘at first,’ for I found the odd colloquialisms, short, brittle sentence structure and tawdry, non-existent plot unputdownable. Never had the expression ‘Charming!’ delivered by the lead character appeared so droll, and indeed charming. Having also just finish Collins’ The Woman in White, I found rooting through Jackie C’s laundry far more fun. Intellectualism had lost this round unquestionably.
I then naturally weakened to my pricked desires and got Poor Little Bitch Girl, to this day I never looked back. The novel had all the key ingredients of a Jackie novel: A billionaire-heiress with an attitude and a fatal attraction to drugs, sex and greed; the nice guy who has to navigate his way through LA bimbettes to get with the sexy, clever heroine who matches brains, boobs to become the bonkable babe Jackie likes to create in her key titles. On top of that there is always a gangster/crime element regarding one of the smaller, isolated characters within Jackie’s LA society. In this case a Latino couple are hired to kidnap a (pregnant) secretary to a high-profile senator (the father of the illegitimate child). This secretary we feel automatic sympathy within one page of Jackie’s lightening narrative because she not only did her duty to Gregory as a employee but also as his naive and entranced mistress. Steamy.
The book starts off brilliantly and doesn’t abate. Straight away we see one of the ‘majorly busy’ characters (Jackie’s description) show her mettle; as a defence-attorney she wins a high profile court case by embedding the Beyonce movie Obsessed and stating this dubious film as the perfect analogy to this high-profile trial of a stalking trial. The jury, we’re told by Jackie lap it up and instantly acquit her client, so never has Beyonce’s cinematic influence been stronger if her movies are swaying whole juries in major lawsuits. This was my first major laugh out loud moment, within the first five chapters, luckily for me there would be plenty more. From the opening setup we are taken on a journey of random, salacious and hilariously penned ‘lustful’ scenes, references to the super rich kids of the world stage, materialism in any available avenue (so unlike the socially conscious Jane Eyres and Valjeans of the literary world) and swift, intoxicating romance. What’s particularly amazing however is this oft-filthy novel is written by the pen of a seventy-five year old pensioner. Barbara Cartland famous decried that “Jackie Collins was responsible for all the perverts in England,” how pale those rouge cheeks would look if she experienced the updated Jackie of the 21st Century.
I wonder if that is the reason Jackie has had such a throbbing presence in the literary world: from her ability to add a seasoning of utter debauchery to the proceedings. I would regularly give quotes to friends from this novel, all of whom also lapped them up. The dialogue and characterisation was at best waxy, at worst ludicrous. For example, whilst one of the major characters, Carolyn (the secretary having an affair with the married, frisky senator, keep up) is kidnapped, her best friend, Denver- the one who becomes eponymous for her If I Were a Boy ringtone, who is casually sleeping around with virtually all the characters in the book- is in Vegas watching pop sensation Zeena in her one-woman show. To further complicate the dynamics, Denver is with her current Greek/Italian squeeze, Bobby in the audience when Zeena says that she enjoyed Bobby’s ‘love nectar’ just before the concert. Denver is dismayed; surely the real concern is that a singer would ever discuss her sex life at a concert in such a lurid fashion; only on Planet Jackie.
Perhaps the best set of words from Jackie’s penmanship is when Carolyn begins to realise that it could have been her senator lover who authorised the kidnapping. Through Jackie’s writing, we immerse ourselves in Carolyn’s eureka moment.
“It couldn’t have Gregory that did this to me. Could It”
Perhaps though I should give Jackie more praise, for like every classic author of my childhood, Jackie is full of didactic messages in this novel. Sexual equality is high up on her list with her stronger female characters matching sex and power in equal force (her eponymous heroine of Lucky and other Santangelo novels, Lucky is the Queen of this sexual equality games and most recently gave her ideology to her readers via Confessions of a Wild Child), however Jackie Collins also moves towards poverty as a theme in this particular novel. When Carolyn escapes her imprisonment she understandably looks a bit like a tramp, and more to the point, feels rather down and out. Where else to be down and out then the mean backstreets of L.A. After all, she has no phone or shoes, her hair isn’t clean and neither are her clothes, without those qualities, what does Carolyn have? She realises when strolling in this rough LA neighbourhood that people are pitting her, and she understands, through this that tramps have feelings too. A life lesson courtesy of Jackie once again. Collins makes our final social commentary by discussing in the epilogue the media pressures on celebrity around LA noting that ‘Lindsay Lohan goes around LA wearing no panties and smashing up cars.’
Unsurprisingly, with some brilliant lines and moral realities, I became addicted and am still hooked to this day. 27 of these 30 books have been devoured by me, the last three providing the nectar I need for any black days ahead. These books are in many ways so entertaining you can literally find a gem on every page. Even now I think of her description of assassinations in the ’60s and ’70s and laugh heartily, for they’re not necessarily political or focused on racial discrimination: no, these are the decades of the ‘envy ridden’ people desperate to take out a major star, with damage including ‘shell shock, a broken leg, a woman without a foot… the list of horrors were endless’. That, above all sums up why any situation with Jackie can make a serious issue that bit more accessible, whether it’s appropriate or not.
Reading these novels have helped me to enjoy literature once again. I’m taken baby steps and pushed myself to read the tomes of literature, much loved and admired. I welcome reading about the grim realities of taxes, death and deep philosophical questions. But Jackie will always be tempted me, baiting me with her kitsch descriptions, feisty characters and her love of the story. Oscar Wilde said he could resist anything but temptation. Jackie is temptation exemplified. Whenever I get a chance I shall always dive into Jackie.