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So you go up to the assistant at the till in the bookshop and say, “Hi, I’m looking for a book but can’t for the life of me remember what it was called.”

“D’you know the author’s name?” the assistant asks.

“Like I said, I can’t remember,” you say. “But it’s about a girl. Not literally of course, I mean the word ‘Girl’ is in the title but..”

“Oh? You mean the Lindsey Kelk book,” he says.

“What?”

“That’s what it’s called. About a Girl.”

“No, though it did have a ‘Girl’ in the title.”

“Right. That should narrow it down a bit,” the assistant says. “And definitely not a Lindsey Kelk?”

“No.”

“Lindsey Kelk has lots of ‘Girls’ in her titles. Hmm, let’s see…” He types something into the computer. “Oh. Right. D’you mean Stieg Larsson’s trilogy – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest?”

“No,” you reply, “that wasn’t it.”

“What about Nick Hornby’s new one, Funny Girl?”

“No, and it’s not About a Boy either, before you ask. Not a coming-of-age thing. I think it was a woman author, and has a…”

“Gillian Flynn? Paula Hawkins?”

“No, and much older than that.”

“The author? Oh, the book you mean. Did it have a jaunty alliterative title, you know, Gone Girl, Golden Girls, Gilmore Girls, Gregory’s Girl?

“No, Gregory’s Girl was about schoolkids. It’s not actually about a girl.”

“It’s about a boy then?”

“I mean the woman in this one is fully grown-up, you know, a proper adult kind of person, well into her thirties at least, not a kid any more, not a teenager, not a Young Adult, not a coming-of-age…”

“Edna O’Brien, then – her Country Girls trilogy? The Country Girls, Girl With Green Eyes, blah blah blah?”

“Nope.”

“Balzac, The Girl with the Golden Eyes?”

“Definitely not.”

“Third Girl?”

“Who did that one?” you ask.

“Agatha Christie. It’s a Poirot. OK, wait a sec, I’ll try googling it. Oh look – there you go. Oh, actually it’s an article in the Guardian from ages ago. Hmmm.”

“Show us,” you say, trying to peer at the screen.

Perhaps ‘girl’ is being reclaimed, like the n-word before it. Except that it’s not really, is it? There is no sense of confrontation in the appropriation of the word ‘girl’, no hint that it is a baleful challenge to something that is ugly, like racism, like sexism. It’s more of a signal that even strong women are not above keeping a useful part of their identities immature and malleable, frivolous and unthreatening…

“Blimey. Who said that?” you ask.

“Someone called… hold on… Deborah Orr. I suppose she has a point. If you swap the word ‘Boy’ for ‘Girl’ the titles begin to sound very daft alright. Gone Boy, The Boy on the Train, City Boy, Boys in their Married Bliss…”

“Boy with a Pearl Earring?”

{ To be continued… }

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