The Oxford University Dictionary defines ‘bonkbuster’ as: ‘a type of popular novel characterised by frequent sexual encounters between the characters’.
It’s a rather dull definition for what for me is the most gloriously fun of fiction genres. Bonkbusters are the purest (!) forms of commercial fiction: sexy, glamorous and utterly escapist. This is fiction whose sole purpose is to entertain the reader.
The perfect bonkbuster should be sexy and have a glitzy, cosmopolitan background. It should feature strong, powerful heroines, bad-boy alpha-male heroes and villains, at least one super bitch and, yes, lots of bonking!
I’ve been a fan of the genre since I first ‘borrowed’ my father’s second-hand copy of Harold Robbins at an age when I really should have been reading about little houses on prairies. And it’s no wonder that in a world full of doom and gloom, bonkbusters are once again undergoing a revival, with newer writers like Tasmina Perry topping the bestseller lists and older writers like Jackie Collins as popular as ever.
When I first started buying fiction here at Ebury, top of my wish list was to find a new bonkbusting talent. And I’m delighted that we have not one, but two authors carrying on the great bonkbusting tradition of glitz and glam, sex and shopping in 2009.
Out this month we have Tease by the divine Ms Immodesty Blaize. Immodesty is putting the bonk back into bonkbuster with her sparkling debut set in the uber-glam world of showgirls. This is Jackie Collins does burlesque and is a funny, camp, saucy delight of a book.
Coming in August is Silk by Rupert James, a fantastic bonkbuster meets blockbuster novel, set in the world of high fashion and high profile divorces. Silk is the ultimate glitz and glamour novel, a fantastic holiday read…Rupert is bringing a fresh 21st century spin to this classic genre.
But, for the benefits of those who’ve looked at me blankly when I’ve tried to explain that Silk is Lace for the 21st century, here’s a whistle stop tour through the best of the classic bonkbusters. (And for those who already know their Scruples from their Rivals, do let me know if I’ve missed any of your favourites…)
The Valley of the Dolls – Jacqueline Susann
It’s still the darkest of all the bonkbusters - and some would argue it’s not a bonkbuster at all. (It was most recently published by feminist imprint Virago in the UK.) It’s set in the dark underbelly of showbiz, following the adventures – romantic, professional and pharmaceutical – of three women as they try to achieve fame and fortune. A cult classic.
Scruples - Judith Krantz
The ultimate sex and shopping novel. It’s even set in an up market department store where the mega-rich shop, gossip and have liaisons…. There’s a sequel – the unimaginatively titled… Scruples Two. But look out instead for Krantz’s rather fabulous Princess Daisy, a royal bonkbuster!
Lace - Shirley Conran
Ask most women over thirty to name a bonkbuster and this is the one they’ll mention – swiftly followed by memories of one specific ‘goldfish’ scene. This is also one of the first ‘dirty’ books I remember being passed around at school. It’s the story of one girl’s search for the mother who gave her away as a baby. It also spawned a gloriously trashy 80s mini-series (‘Which one of you bitches is my mother?’) Lace 2 is the search for Daddy.
Riders; Polo; Rivals; The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous - Jilly Cooper
Jilly Cooper is the queen of the British bonkbuster but still best loved for her series of home counties-set books, featuring polo playing cad Rupert Campbell Black. Women of all ages fell for Rupert - the sexiest bad-boy hero in bonkbusting history. (And partly inspired, according to Jilly, by Brigadier Andrew Parker Bowles, ex-husband of Camilla! But don’t let that put you off…)
For many, Jackie remains the reigning queen of bonkbusters. Her list of titles is seemingly endless and she’s still going strong. Some of the oldest are still the best, however, start with Hollywood Wives, Chances or Lucky.
The Carpet Baggers - Harold Robbins
Robbins is the god-father of blockbuster/bonkbuster fiction and The Carpet Baggers is the best of the bunch. According to the New York Times: ‘It is not quite proper to have printed The Carpet Baggers between the covers of a book. It should have been inscribed on the walls of a public lavatory.’ What more do you need to know?
Her later books were far more chick lit than bonkbuster but do check out The First Wives’ Club, which is a wonderful bonkbuster revenge fantasy. (And has an iconic and cheeky ‘testicles as golfball’ cover. Also, Bestseller which is one of the few novels set in publishing that actually rather good, albeit in a gloriously silly way!
The Thorn Birds - Colleen McCullough
Australia’s wonderfully epic contribution to the bonkbuster genre. A young girl falls in love with a priest.
Master of the Game - Sidney Sheldon
Highly prolific author (over 300 million books in print) but Master of the Game is a good place to start. A big sprawling blockbuster novel that spans four generations of one family, from diamond stealing in South Africa to the rise and fall of a multi-national business. Sheldon sadly died in 2007 but in 2009, Tilly Bagshawe will take on his mantle with a sequel Mistress of the Game.