Eighties-style bonkbusters are having a revival

The blockbuster novel is making a big comeback. Clearly, there's a new market now for one-word titles summoning up a world of glitz, passion and betrayal – always there is betrayal. These 21st-century takes on the Jackie Collins style of fiction are of course easy to ridicule. Much more interesting though is why they are coming back into fashion when, till recently, the form seemed all but dead.

Full of steamy sex, here are books written with nary a nod towards the Literary Review's Bad Sex prize. A genre firmly wedded to the 1980s it was seen off by Marian Keyes and Bridget Jones-style heroines in the 1990s. But has the recession put paid to single girls searching for love beneath pastel covers? Are readers tired of women eating the entire contents of their fridge while waiting for Mr Right to ring? Author Chris Manby certainly thinks so: "I've been writing chick-lit for 15 years. My new Olivia Darling novels Vintage, Priceless and Temptation give me a chance to explore different worlds. It was a very refreshing change to write about something other than husband-hunting!

"I used an invented name because my Chris Manby books are straightforward romantic comedies and I didn't want to hurt sales by giving my readers something some might find distasteful. It is much more fun to write as Olivia though!" Manby thinks that far from the recession driving publication, they reflect the last hurrah of the long boom. "I came up with the idea for Vintage without any input from my publisher, only to discover they had been looking for something just like it. They'd lost a bidding war on another bonkbuster so they jumped at the chance of publishing mine for a considerably smaller advance! In 2006, it seemed a great idea. Bling was still the thing."

Another former chick-lit author, Anna Maxted, has also reinvented herself, as Sasha Blake, in order to write bonkbusters – a form she's always admired. "I love these books. They do exactly what they say on the tin. But I don't think this kind of book ever went away, it just wasn't as fashionable as other genres. Chick-lit was, like grunge, very fashionable for a time. It spoke to a lot of women about their lives and imperfections and that was great. But now I'm at the age where I'm married with three children and chick-lit isn't for me anymore."

Maxted's agent, Jonny Geller, sold her as Sasha to a new publisher without saying who she was. But, as with Manby, it was her idea to switch to bonkbusters. She used a pseudonym as her bonkbuster, Betrayal, is quite a departure from her previous novels. Where the books differ most from chick-lit is with heroines that are far more extreme and often not very nice. But, insists Maxted, you can like a heroine you wouldn't want for a friend. "Scarlett O'Hara isn't nice but you much prefer her to Melanie Wilkes who is just so nice you want to slap her!" Few, if any, Gone with the Wind fans dream of being Melanie. Scarlett is probably a more enduring heroine than Bridget Jones will ever be. It's not just the recession and the need for escapism that drives this love of blockbuster fiction; these heroines express a side of themselves women often feel too constrained to be. They're also much more glamorous.

"A bonkbuster would never show a heroine treading in dog muck on her way to the shops. Whereas chick-lit would," adds Maxted. Chick-lit is still being bought, as newly published The Mistress, by actress Martine McCutcheon, illustrates. But when journalist Jessica Ruston decided to try her hand at fiction, it was hearing a friend say she was hankering "for a good old-fashioned bonkbuster" that set her on this course. "I'd been pondering writing fiction for a while but hadn't found the right idea. As soon as I heard my friend saying that, I knew this was my genre. I started thinking about all the books I grew up loving so much – Riders, Savages, and Scruples, and ideas sprang into my head for a modern version of that kind of chunky, sweeping novel."

The result was Luxury, just out. And Ruston agrees with Maxted – heroines don't have to be likeable for readers to want to live in their world: "Remember how addictive Dynasty was? You wouldn't want to be friends with many of the characters but my God did you want to see what scandalous things they were going to get up to next!" Ruston has even coined a new term for this revisited genre: glitz-lit.

One voracious reader delighted to see the return of the bonkbuster is Careena Bruen. "I'm a sucker for chick-lit and I noticed bonkbusters were back. I'm thrilled about this. They're almost a continuation of the fairy stories you read as children but with sex." But Bruen, a 44-year-old former IT worker, knows that while these books are easy to read, it would be a big mistake to think they're easy to write. "I'm writing one myself so I know how hard it is.

"Bonkbusters are undervalued because they're written by women. But women actually have very high standards. They drove the Hollywood box office in the 1930s and we see something of that today in the Twilight books and films, which are critic proof because young girls love them and flock to them no matter what the critics say."

Bestselling author Isabel Wolff, who's latest book is A Vintage Affair, has no desire to write bonkbusting fiction herself but nevertheless also welcomes the revival. "I rather enjoy seeing books like these on the shelves again – partly for the nostalgic kick, but mostly because they're unashamedly glamorous and full of joie de vivre, which is kind of cheery.

"The pendulum had swung away from the Bridget Jones scenario that has dominated women's commercial fiction for so long. Female readers had tired of it and were ready to start reading about women who weren't hapless, insecure, sweet and non-threatening – they were powerful, rich, capable and gloriously sexy; hence, titles like Glitz, Glamour, Gold Diggers, Luxury and, for all I know, "Flash!" and "Bling!" But at the same time, titles like these are so obviously over the top as to give the new bonkbuster an ironic, post-modern feel – as though both writer and reader are enjoying the joke. I think this makes it all feel fun, rather than ho-hum."

However, Nicholas Clee, joint editor of BookBrunch, a book-trade online newsletter, says we are yet to see a real breakthrough in these new bonkbusters. "If we're talking about the heyday of the bonkbuster, you think of Judith Krantz's Scruples. None have achieved that kind of success, yet. Meanwhile, chick-lit authors who've survived, such as Marian Keyes, Adele Parks, Jane Green and Sophie Kinsella, will probably keep on going."

Literary agent Annette Green says publishing is subject to trend and fashion like any other industry, though she thinks this is often at the expense of genuine quality storytelling. "Sales of women's fiction, or certainly the fiction that is being commissioned and therefore the public have no choice but to buy, is a social barometer. It tends to be a reflection of the times: so we've had the fantastical block and bonk busters, we've had singledom-lit and mum-lit all of which publishers seem to think have had their day. But have they, and if they have, what will be next? Give me a novel which transcends 'the times' any day as those tend to be the best, the most captivating and the most lasting, like Maria McCann's As Meat Loves Salt, or Bill Broady's Swimmer for example."

Lust story: Five recent bonkbusters

Betrayal by Sasha Blake

Bantam Books, £6.99 (464 pp)

Opening in the lush Hollywood Hills, this book promises an escapist read as a billionaire family is caught up in disgrace, scandal and, of course, betrayal. No one is satisfied and no one seems to have any loyalty to anyone else.

Priceless by Olivia Darling

Hodder, £6.99 (464pp)

On London's glittering art scene there's only one thing worth more than a Leonardo and that's revenge. So when New Yorker Carrie is asked to set up a new auction house in London, she seizes the opportunity to settle an old score.

Glitz by Louise Bagshawe

Headline Review £7.99 (544 pp)

All's fair in love and war – especially when there's a trust fund at stake...

But what happens when four pampered princesses have to cope without their trust fund? Who will learn to stand on their own two feet and who will fall?

Gold Diggers by Tasmina Perry

Harper, £6.99 (592 pp)

From Monte Carlo to Lake Como, St Moritz to St Barts, 'Gold Diggers' promises a heady journey through the social circuit of the super-rich, plunging readers into a world of sex, murder and scorching betrayal.

Luxury by Jessica Ruston

Headline Review, £6.99 (544 pp)

Set in the world of luxury hotels with larger-than-life characters, a page-turning plot and settings – luxurious, of course! – one reviewer described this book as, "What long-haul flights were made for."

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
News
Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, right, met at Havana Golf Club in 1962 to mock the game
newsFidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

    £32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

    Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

    £45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

    £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

    Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

    £25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

    Day In a Page

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?