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The Girl in the Novel with the Girl in the Title by Liam Hogan

This story is to remember Helen Cave, the last woman to plant a tree in Annie's Arboretum, a Holly, on 10 March 1912. 

It took a reluctant moment before the girl¹ glanced from her book.

“Aren’t you the girl² ...?” the man said, head tilted to one side.

“No,” she replied, cutting him off with an enigmatic smile.

He looked confused; ready to argue. To explain to this shining girl³ who she actually was. Restless eyes  followed4 the inked5 end of a tail snaking around her slim wrist and his confidence rushed back.

“Ah! Then you must be the girl with6 --”

“No,” the girl interrupted7, “Not that girl8 either. Sorry.” Her pearl earring9 swayed as she shrugged. “I’m not any of them.”

This wasn’t entirely true, she mused as she sipped her latte and watched him idle back to his table. She wasn’t any of the girls10; neither goth11, nor geek12, nor goose13. She was all of them. She was the girl with a secret14. Whether on the train15, in the attic16 or implausibly saving the King of Sweden17, there was only one girl18 and she was it19: The Girl in the Novel with Girl in the Title.

She was even in the one she was reading that afternoon20, a posthumous sequel to the slice of Nordic Noir that perhaps had done more than any other to cement the idea of The Girl21 in the popular consciousness.

But that hadn’t been her first appearance22 and this latest best seller wouldn’t be her last. She must have appeared in over a thousand books23. One of the advantages--and disadvantages--of her e-reader. It was loaded with so many girls24 it sometimes felt like a windup25.

She stifled a pang of guilt at her small deceit. To explain it to him... But she was too complex to be nailed down by a snappy tagline; by a single story title, however verbose.

Over the many iterations of Girl26, she had evolved. Taking a piece27 of each portrayal, leaving a little behind.

So if she wasn’t perfect28, wasn’t always a good girl29, nor was she one of the bad girls30 either.

Not that that altered her all too common fate.

It was a sobering thought. Many of the novels were thrillers and the fact they were written by female authors as often as male did little to cushion her from the darkness of the worlds they created. Quite the reverse: the women writers made sure she felt every blow, psychological or not, even if her life expectancy did marginally improve.

Genre writers served her little better; trading domestic violence for zombies and resource constrained dystopias.

Thankfully her endings weren’t permanent. Not if she left the book at the right point, as she had learned to do. Not if she read herself out. Went missing31. Tricky, in some cases; those with a prologue in which she was already dead32, before being brought haltingly back to life in flashback or reconstructed in the mind of the investigating detective. Some timelines were even more convoluted, conspiring to keep her firmly in the dark33. No wonder she sometimes got lost34. But there was always a way; it was her gift35.

She sighed as another red herring was forensically dissected. She’d read her way out of this novel as well, it’d just take time36.

Maybe then she’d get to write her own story37. “Girl on a mission.” “Girl with a powerful sense of agency.”

Maybe.

Or perhaps she’d work out how to read38 herself into books as well as out and then where might she end up? The girl39 looked forward to finding out. To not being the focus of attention. To living a normal, perhaps boring, life. To rebel40 against expectations. To finding out how to be a woman41.

She slipped her e-book into the pocket of her red coat42. And then, the girl was gone43.

Liam Hogan is a London based short story writer, the host of Liars' League, and a Ministry of Stories mentor. His story "Ana", appears in Best of British Science Fiction 2016 (NewCon Press) and his twisted fantasy collection "Happy Ending Not Guaranteed" is published by Arachne Press. Http://happyendingnotguaranteed.blogspot.co.uk or tweet @LiamJHogan

References

¹The Girl Before by Rena Olsen

²The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Simon Mawer

³The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

4The Following Girls by Louise Levene

5The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

6The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

7Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

8Not that kind of girl by Lena Dunham

9Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

10The Girls by Emma Cline

11Goth Girl series by Chris Riddell

12Geek Girl by Holly Smale

13The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

14The Girl With A Secret by Charlotte Armstrong

15The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins 

16Girl In The Attic by Valerie Mendes

17The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden, by Jonas Jonasson

18Girl Number One by Jane Holland

19The It Girl by Cecily von Ziegesar

20Girl in the Afternoon by Serena Burdick

21The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye by David Lagercrantz

22The Girl Who Just Appeared by Jonathan Harvey

23https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-gone-girl-with-the-dragon-tattoo-on-the-train/

24The Girls by Lori Lansens

25The Windup Girl by Paulo Bacigalupi

26A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride

27Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow

28The Perfect Girl by Gilly Macmillan 

29The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

30The Bad Girl by Mario Vargos Llosa

31The Missing Girl by Jenny Quintana

32Dead Girls by Abigail Tarttelin

33Girl in the Dark by Anna Lyndsey

34The Lost Girls by Heather Young

35The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

36A Girl in Time by John Birmingham

37Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr

38Girl Reading by Katie Ward

39Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

40Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo

41How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

42The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer

43Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn