Kiss and tell, and tell

My Horizontal Life

Chelsea Handler <em>William Heinemann, 213pp, £9.99</em>

ISBN 0434015385

Some years ago, I reviewed a novel in these pages about a nice, middle-class woman in her thirties, marooned in south London with only her babies and a tall soya mochaccino for company. It was, I wrote, a good example of "hen lit" - chick lit's older, quieter, Boden-wearing sister. As you'd expect, I snorted a bit at this, and then wondered aloud what gruesome concept publishers would come up with next for their female readers. My suggestion (I thought it mighty funny at the time) was a genre for menopausal women, featuring lots of orthopaedic mattresses and hot flushes: they could call it "twi lit".

Repeating this gag today, all I can think is: if only - because I now discover that the latest thing in mass-market literature for women is, in fact, slapper lit. As the name suggests, slapper lit has its eye not on a woman's milky breasts, nor on her ovaries, which may or may not be shrivelling with age. No, the attention of slapper lit is somewhat lower down. It is interested pri- marily in sex. Not erotic, fictional sex, as in Jackie Collins or Georgette Heyer. Not "how to" sex, as in "How to Have an Orgasm as Often as You Want". This sex is real, plentiful, and detailed in as bald and funny a style as possible. It's the kind of sex you might find in the memoirs of a 1970s footballer: lecherous, drunken, boastful. The only difference is that these writers, being girls, definitely don't have luxurious facial hair.

Chelsea Handler is, I gather, a leading light in this dubious new literary movement - and a girl who is therefore quite aptly named. Handler is a young, blonde, Jewish-American stand-up comic who has appeared on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno ("a terrific comedian and an hilarious writer", says Leno, helpfully, on his girl's press release). She is also, if we are talking sexual appetites, a big eater, though what amazes is not so much the quantity of men consumed as their rich and varied design.

My Horizontal Life begins with an account of the day Handler deliberately caught her parents in flagrante; excitingly, her mother was crossing the bedroom in nothing but a nurse's hat. It then breezes through a whole lot of brief encounters of her own, taking in a midget, a stripper called Thunder and a teetotaller with a "challenging" member along the way.

What to say about Handler's style? Well, it is certainly perky. But this is the best that can be said for it. You can see her "jokes" coming from about a mile away and she likes, once each gag is delivered, to salute the punchline with the verbal equivalent of a cymbal roll, just in case you weren't concentrating. Favourite jokes - the butt of these is usually Michael Bolton - she simply uses twice. Her preferred kind of situation comedy is bedroom farce. Here is a scene where she's copping off in the shower with a Latino called Hector: "My feet slipped out from underneath me and I went flying through his legs, landing on my back and hitting my head. The last thing I had tried to grab on to for balance was his penis. After that, we decided to keep things more casual."

Then there is her vulgarity. "Men acted like her vagina had some sort of pot-pourri shooting out of it," she writes of a friend, before likening her own reproductive organs to a small, furry creature. Keen to flash herself full-frontally in the face of political correctness, she has a fine line in lazy, not to say unpleasant, stereotypes. No prizes for guessing the race of the guy who has the biggest penis, while her gay friend Nathan is just monstrous: bitchy, camp and so mad about pooches that, at a family wedding, Handler's brother jokes that he hopes their dog has brought condoms. Does she really think that attacking her father for referring to black people as "shvartzers" will render this stuff OK?

Oh, this is depressing. I used to think how unfair it was that men could take their pleasure and never be judged. I had an idea that it was only when men and women behaved the same way in the bedroom that true equality would become possible. And yet, now it has happened - at one stage, Handler becomes enraged when a man she has all but molested in a lift won't "put out" - I feel like going to sleep for a long time. As Ariel Levy suggests in Female Chauvinist Pigs, watching women act dumb or behave badly is every bit as boring and unpleasant as watching men act dumb or behave badly. Have we so absorbed a masculine idea of sexuality that we can no longer tolerate, or even imagine, any other? If so, could we not at least throw in a few decent Amisian jokes? Without them, this writing commits a double crime: it is neither liberating nor very funny.