What's your favourite trashy novel?
July 19, 2005 11:47 AM   Subscribe

What's your favourite work of trashy fiction? I'm looking for some good, fun, trashy yet smart reads in which I can unabashedly wallow.

I'm mostly looking for the novels of the sort considered "women's novels" — romance, adventure, or family stories, either historical or contemporary. But they should be good examples of the genre — no Harlequins, Danielle Steel, Jackie Collins, et al.. Also no clueless, "fuck up everything they touch" loser heroines, please. The books should be reasonably well written with good characterization, solid research, and be well plotted. Examples of the kind of thing I'm looking for would be the first few novels in Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series, or Gone With the Wind, or the first half of A Woman of Substance.
posted by orange swan to Writing & Language (47 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
You might check out Lisa Alter, especially Kinflicks. And they're not women's novels, but Tom Wolfe's more pop stuff (Bonfire of the Vanities, A Man in Full, I Am Charlotte Simmons, etc.) is arguably good, fun, trashy and smart.
posted by box at 11:58 AM on July 19, 2005

It's out of print, but Ballerina is artsy and sexy.
posted by JanetLand at 12:02 PM on July 19, 2005

You would really enjoy The Thorn Birds. It's exactly the kind of book you describe.
posted by iconomy at 12:11 PM on July 19, 2005

My mother really loves Nora Roberts' books (she also writes as J.D. Robb, although I think those are more sci-fi). I haven't personally read any of them, but she adores them, and even got my father to start reading them. I think they're "officially" in the Romance Section, but she swears up and down they're not bodice-ripper types.

(in fact, I might forward this to her, and ask if she has any suggestions, and post them here, if you'd like)
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 12:24 PM on July 19, 2005

Around the same time as Thorn Birds was big, I read a lot of sprawling historical romances and I remember liking The Far Paviliions by M.M. Kaye so much that I read it 5 times.
posted by matildaben at 12:26 PM on July 19, 2005

Everyone and their brother has probably already read it, but The DaVinci Code was some truly enjoyable trash. (Anyone that tries to tell you it's legitimate literature is only fooling themselves)
posted by Robot Johnny at 12:28 PM on July 19, 2005

Armistead Maupin's Tales Of The City series is great, great trash.
posted by forallmankind at 12:32 PM on July 19, 2005

Of the trashy Anne Boleyn novels I've been reading lately, I'd have to say that Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl definitely fits your bill.
posted by thomas j wise at 12:33 PM on July 19, 2005

Now that I've had a chance to think about this a bit more, I think if you liked Gone With the Wind you'll really like Beulah Land - a historical saga. Really very good. And I also highly recommend The Raj Quartet, which starts with the excellent The Jewel in the Crown.
posted by iconomy at 12:36 PM on July 19, 2005

I'm not sure she's quite up to your standards of smartness, but for trashy wallowing, I love me some Penny Vincenzi. Plus, they're big thick books, so you can wallow for awhile.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:38 PM on July 19, 2005

Consider Peyton Place and The Women's Room. I wouldn't call either one "trash" and both fit your criteria.
posted by scratch at 12:41 PM on July 19, 2005

How embarrassing. I meant to say "consider Peyton Place and The Women's Room. They both fit your criteria but I wouldn't call either one trash, myself. Good reads.
posted by scratch at 12:42 PM on July 19, 2005

Oh, I love the Gabaldon series! I hooked both my mother and (more recently) my father on it, too. I also enjoyed a bunch of the J.D. Robb detective novels a while ago; courtship of a female detective in the future, basically.

It might seem a little on the "too much" side for this question since it won the Booker prize, but if you haven't read A.S. Byatt's "Possession," it's a shockingly, shockingly good and moving women's romance novel, at it's core. Can't recommend it highly enough. (I've not been able to get into any other Byatt books, frustrating as I loved this one enough to read it a few times now.)
posted by onlyconnect at 12:43 PM on July 19, 2005

I'm a big fan of Elinor Lipman - an author who writes Jane Austen-like comedy about relationships, but set in modern times.

For mysteries, early Robert Parker is great -- his later books went way downhill.
posted by teaperson at 12:43 PM on July 19, 2005

Before I finished reading your question I had decided to recommend Diana Gabledon, but since you've already read her stuff, try checking out Janet Ivanovich's Stephanie Plum novels.
posted by Specklet at 12:44 PM on July 19, 2005

I second Nora Roberts, it really isn't Harlequin at all. I particulary enjoyed Birthright.
posted by Ugh at 1:04 PM on July 19, 2005

Now if you want some honest to goodness trash you can't beat Sidney Sheldon's Rage of Angels. Be sure to follow that up with viewing the Jaclyn Smith mini-series.
posted by FlamingBore at 1:09 PM on July 19, 2005

Second the Raj Quartet, and I think you'd like Gillian Bradshaw; I've only read her first two (The Beacon at Alexandria and The Bearkeeper's Daughter), but they're lively historical novels (very accurate, as far as I can judge) with strong female protagonists.
posted by languagehat at 1:09 PM on July 19, 2005

I was always fascinated with Tommy Thompson's "Celebrity". It's got reporters, false messiahs' and sex. Yay! Sex!

It was even made into a miniseries, which should of course cement its trashy reputation.

C'mon! Michael Beck! Michael Beck, people!
posted by willmize at 1:26 PM on July 19, 2005

The Bible
posted by Pollomacho at 1:28 PM on July 19, 2005

Heh. Sheldon's Rage of Angels and Windmills of the Gods are my two all time favourite trashy novels. I buy, lose, buy again, steal from my mother, lose, borrow and lose copies of them repeatedly. I've never bought them new, just 25 cent copies at garage sales and such, but I manage to read them again, and again, despite the complete trashiness of them. I think I have two copies of Windmills and one of Rage right now.

Another romancish recommendation for you would Kathleen Woodiwiss. They tend to the epic historical romance end of things.

Oh, and OS, if you want to peruse my trashy novel collection, let me know. I'm pretty guarded about my mystery collection, but my trashy collection is pretty much free for the taking.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:29 PM on July 19, 2005

jacquilynne writes "Sheldon's Rage of Angels and Windmills of the Gods are my two all time favourite trashy novels."

I've always been very partial to the heist novel For a Better Tomorrow by Sheldon. I've probably read it 6 times, which is a lot for a book of that level of trash.
posted by OmieWise at 1:40 PM on July 19, 2005

Almost anything by Elmore Leonard.
posted by enrevanche at 1:45 PM on July 19, 2005

Fanny: Being the True History of the Adventures of Fanny Hackabout-Jones by Erica Jong.

It might not quite be a trashy novel, but it doesn't aspire to intellectual greatness, and it is an easy read.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 1:47 PM on July 19, 2005

Nancy Mitford is great and straddles the line between being semi historic chick lit and being actual literature. I remember reading about a woman who went to Yale to get a history degree specifically because she was on a mission to write an accurate romance novel...Willig, that's her name. Haven't read her book though.
posted by ifjuly at 1:54 PM on July 19, 2005

Oh, and it was Harvard, not Yale. Oops.
posted by ifjuly at 1:55 PM on July 19, 2005

Mm, and Elizabeth McCracken's The Giant's House is an easy read, is from the point of view of a librarian who falls in love with a very tall man, and makes me smile. You might like it. Aimee Bender gives off the same vibe...An Invisible Sign of My Own and The Girl In The Flammable Skirt are both deceptively easy reads, but worthwhile.

The only supertrashy let's-not-pretend-otherwise romance novelist I like is Lisa Kleypas. I read Suddenly You on a total whim one summer and I don't know why, but I loved it and still read it from time to time. It just makes me indescribably happy. She's got that Legally Blonde, Shania Twain "fluffy but still there" type feminism in the air of her stories...I just find it appealing.
posted by ifjuly at 2:01 PM on July 19, 2005

If you liked Gone With The Wind... you might love/loathe the sequel. It probably ventures too far over the line for what you're looking for, but it's my favorite trashy disconnect-my-brain book of all time.

When I get to Tara... I can cry... Oh, it's snicker-licious!
posted by kittyb at 2:05 PM on July 19, 2005

Argh, I keep remembering more. Not guilty at all, just delightful and easy and satisfying: Peter Carey's Oscar and Lucinda. I hadn't felt the way I did reading that since I was a little girl reading Little Women, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, To Kill A Mockingbird, etc. It just has that sweeping vivid epic saga feel to it. It's a pleasure to read.
posted by ifjuly at 2:05 PM on July 19, 2005

Anything by Georgette Heyer. Smart, witty, good fun. Almost all of her work is set in the Regency, and she is credited with inventing the Regency subgenre in romance novels.

Centennial by Michener. I've read it probably 10 times. Amerindians, French trappers, cowboys, exiled Amish. You can skip a good portion of the beginning, which describes (in an anthropomorphic sort of way) the history of Centennial from continental shifting to rutting bison and move right into the family saga. No character is safe, and can be dispatched suddenly.

North and South, Love and War, and Heaven and Hell by John Jakes. Awesomely trashy family saga about the friendship between Orry Main, southern plantation owner, and George Hazard, northern ironworks operator.
posted by xyzzy at 2:12 PM on July 19, 2005

Anything by Maeve Binchy. Her novels are fun, gossipy and have lots of characters running around bumping into each other.

They are especially good if you are feeling down because they're guaranteed to have a happy ending.
posted by Cuke at 2:34 PM on July 19, 2005

I have always loved Kathleen Winsor's Forever Amber for my wallowing needs. Trashy fiction with just enough historical details to give it an edge.
posted by wannabehippie at 2:40 PM on July 19, 2005

I found Rachel Kranz's book Leaps of Faith because it was next to Judith Krantz (who writes really excellently trashy novels like Scruples and Princess Daisy).

Leaps of Faith isn't really trashy, but is big and crazy and all about relationships and has much drama.
From Amazon:
Set in New York City, the story is told from the perspective of a core group of characters: Warren, a psychic from an upper-class family; his partner, Chip, an aspiring actor; and Rosie, Chip's sister, a union organizer with relationship troubles of her own.

Another one you might try is Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters--there's so much that happens in it that I can't even find a concise summary to paste.
It's kind of like Dickens, but with lesbians.
posted by exceptinsects at 3:36 PM on July 19, 2005

OK, as promised, this is what my mother had to add:
Some of the best and funniest books I've read are by Linda Howard. She is in the same league as Nora Roberts/ J.D. Robb.
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 3:38 PM on July 19, 2005

Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett - it's even number 91 in America's 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books
posted by ruelle at 4:02 PM on July 19, 2005

Dominick Dunne's books - An Inconvenient Woman is good (high society shenanigans; based loosely on real events); his other fiction is similar (People Like Us).

I found the only Kathleen Woodiwiss I could get though was The Wolf and the Dove. The other ones of hers that I read were pretty horrid writing and completely distracted me from any trashy enjoyment.

FWIW, Florence King likes Forever Amber, Katherine by Anya Seton, The Group by Mary McCarthy, and The Prodigal Women by Nancy Hale. Her own hack-job romance novel is called The Barbarian Princess and was published under the pseudonym Laura Buchanan; the bits of it I've read were witty, almost like a romance spoof, not really, but sort of. It's definitely a historical romance, but you can tell she wasn't entirely free from mocking the genre.
posted by Melinika at 4:07 PM on July 19, 2005

Donna Tartt's The Secret History. Murder mystery, rich kids, some sex. Not exactly a romance, but juicy.
posted by slimslowslider at 4:45 PM on July 19, 2005

Pillars of the Earth! Definitely. Great book.
posted by strikhedonia at 4:58 PM on July 19, 2005

The Merlin books by Mary Stewart are great and Anne Rice writes some engaging trashy books.
posted by yodelingisfun at 5:52 PM on July 19, 2005

Hmm, I was going to recommend Spider Robinson's "The Lady" series as well as the "Callahans" but it seems to be "which one of these things don't belong" to the books already mentioned.

Sex, puns, talking dogs, alien visitors, and of course - a lot of bushmills, friendship, sorrow, and joy.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 6:40 PM on July 19, 2005

A third for Pillars of the Earth. Anyone I've ever lent my copy to has just loved it.
posted by iconomy at 7:46 PM on July 19, 2005

Jesus Christ, Elmore Leonard's books aren't trash! They're ART. Also not romantic, women's stuff or long.

My favorite trash novel is Shogun, which is not in the chick realm, but is romantic and will absorb you for days.

On preview, another vote for A Secret History.
posted by CunningLinguist at 10:40 PM on July 19, 2005

Geek Love!
posted by flabdablet at 10:42 PM on July 19, 2005

There are several Irish authors turning out light & frothy comedy/drama family/romance chick-lit novels which are very popular in the UK: Cathy Kelly, Marian Keyes and Sophie Kinsella are some of the best-selling names to look for.
posted by misteraitch at 2:02 AM on July 20, 2005

I second Marian Keyes. "Rachel's Holiday" is a must-read for anyone who is in (or who has family in) recovery from alcholism or drug addiction. It made me laugh out loud as well as gasp with recognition.

Lisa Alter is great too.

I would also go for Gail Godwin, she writes intelligent women's fiction, "The Odd Woman" and "Violet Clay" being particular favourites of mine.

And, whilst I, too, love Paul Scott's "Raj Quartet", I wouldn't describe it as an easy or 'trashy' read - there's a whole lot of politics in it. But as an aside, if you haven't seen the TV adaptation made by Granada 20 years ago entitled "The Jewel In The Crown", I would urge you to get it on video or DVD, it's (imo) undoubtedly the best TV series ever, and faithfully reproduces all the subtleties of the books.
posted by essexjan at 4:16 AM on July 20, 2005

I'd second the recommendation for Georgette Heyer. (Carla Kelly and Loretta Chase are her worthy heirs.)

Daphnes Du Maurier's "The King's General" and "Frenchman's Creek" are great swashbuckling costume dramas.

Eva Ibbotson's "Magic Flutes", "Morning Gift" are beautiful adult fairy tales and much in a class of their own.

Historical romance: Patricia Gaffney ("To Love and to Cherish" was inspired by Hardy's Wessex novels), Connie Brockway ("As You Desire" a particular standout), Judith Ivory/Judy Cuevas ("Bliss", "Beast").

Contemporary: "Wild Designs" by Katie Fforde, "Welcome to Temptation", "Faking it" by Jennifer Crusie, "Till The Stars Fall" by Katheleen Gilles Seidel, "Out of the Blue" by Sally Mandel, "The Dominant Blonde" by Alisa Kwitney.
posted by of strange foe at 8:55 AM on July 20, 2005

If you find your taste running to something that's "kind of like Dickens, but with lesbians,"* you might enjoy the totally off-the-wall Myra Breckenridge by Gore Vidal.

*Thanks for the good laugh, exceptinsects!
posted by rob511 at 2:24 AM on July 21, 2005

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