If you’ve read The Guilty Feminist (or listen to the podcast), you’ll know the game I’m a Feminist but… This is the moment for admitting guilty pleasures, the things you like and do that might not exactly be advancing the cause. (If you don’t listen to the podcast, well, why not? It’s brilliant and funny and enraging and heart-warming. It’s a dark chocolate beetroot brownie on the Baked Goods Scale — it tastes much better than you think, it’s good for you, and it keeps you going for a long time).
So why does Clive Cussler provoke feelings of guilt in this particular feminist? Since the ’70s, Cussler has been writing adventure and action stories, mostly featuring Dirk Pitt, a man who combines the skillsets of James Bond, Indiana Jones and MacGyver. The novels are usually set on or under water (Cussler is an expert underwater explorer, and has discovered more than sixty shipwreck sites) and combine treasure-hunting, historical mystery, and dastardly villains bent on taking over the world. So far, so testosterone-laden.
Now, there are women in the Dirk Pitt books. Often there are two, in rare cases as many as three. Sometimes the Cussler woman is a science-expert sidekick (to be fair, Cussler’s female characters are often quite smart) and love interest to Dirk Pitt. Otherwise she is a villain so vile that even a Valkyrie wouldn’t dare to challenge her. These women also tend to be weepy, often need to be rescued, and fall at Pitt’s feet the moment he turns his sea-green gaze on them. In Cussler’s world, men are men (no weeping for them — at most a hint of moistness about the eyes — they’re too busy beating each other up). Women are women — ruled by their emotions, unable to protect themselves in dangerous situations. And the bad guys are very, very bad.
Why, I ask myself, am I still reading books that many people would not even consider to be literature? Partly it’s because I’m a feminist, and you will not tell me what to read. But mostly it’s because I know that the good — never the bad or the ugly — will win. Justice will always triumph. And the book will be a ridiculously fun ride from beginning to end, packed with action and adventure. Peak escapism? Absolutely. But this is where I get the energy to hold onto hope in a world where hope is sometimes hard to find. Go on, treat yourself. Clive Cussler rates as caramel-chocolate-marshmallow popcorn, full of glucose syrup and every E-number in the list. It’s dirty, it’s sticky, but, sweet Mama, oh so good.