Monday, 12 May 2008

Misery Literature is big business

Misery Lit or ‘mis lit’ is a type of memoir that tells of the author’s miserable childhood due to poverty, physical or sexual abuse and usually describes the author’s triumph over these personal traumas. These types of books have been dominating the bestseller list over the last few years as there seems to be an insatiable appetite among readers for such writings. Waterstones now have a ‘Painful Lives’ section in its bookshops although it is through the supermarkets that the majority of these books are sold. Most critics trace the beginning of the genre to A Child Called It, a 1995 memoir by American Dave Pelzer, in which he details the outrageous abuse he suffered at the hands of his alcoholic mother. This was followed in 1996 by Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes - an account of his poverty sticken upbringing in Limerick which became an international bestseller. Other popular authors in this genre are Jenny Tomlin and Torey Hayden. But there are signs of a growing backlash against Misery Lit as some recent memoirs have been exposed as fakes. The veracity of Kathy O'Beirne's Kathy's Story, which sold half a million copies and told of her wretched life at the hands of an abusive father, in reformatory school, in a psychiatric hospital and in the Magdalene Laundry, has been disputed by members of her family. Regarded by some as healing and inspirational and by others as exploitational and voyeuristic, there is no disputing the popularity of these memoirs – a market that was worth over £24 million in the UK last year.

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