In praise of romantic fiction

This post is dedicated with much love
to Richard
and to all the romantic fiction writers out there.

My last few blog posts have been about French books, but what they don’t reveal is that, over the last few weeks of last year and early this year, I went through a large number of romantic books, all written in English. So what better way to celebrate St Valentine’s tomorrow on this blog than to talk about my fondness for literary romance?

Predictable? Maybe, so what? Chicklit? Why aren’t books written by men called dicklit?[1]. Not serious enough? Seriously?

heart-bookI love romances, especially if they come with, say, a bit of a mystery attached or a particularly exotic or, on the contrary, a particularly familiar setting or as many clichés as an author can throw at their readers for comical/post-ironic/whatever effect. Does anybody remember the Nescafé Gold Blend adverts in the eighties? The very as then was “yuppie” couple, who shared a taste in coffee? Incidentally, it says something about what a terrible decade the eighties were for style, when the ad people tried to associate instant coffee with glamour and romance. Anyway, someone wrote a masterpiece called Love Over Gold, which was stuffed with clichés and wove all the ads into one gloriously kitsch narrative.

So what have I read recently? Lots of books by Mary Stewart and Dorothy Eden. I think they call them “modern classics”, meaning they were popular in the seventies. They’re all about plucky young women facing sinister men, meeting nice ones, braving danger, saving innocents and untangling plots in a variety of locations. Lots of Jojo Moyes and her more contemporary take on story lines that are often poor girl meets rich bloke, with lots of stuff getting in the way before that no longer matters. Some by Fiona Valpy and one as-yet-unpublished by Amy Paulussen.

One thing they have in common, apart from the fact that they were all written by women, is that they end happily. Well, duh, of course they do. There might be damage and heartache along the way, but all’s well that ends well. It goes: boy and girl meet, stuff happens, they sort it out and they get together in the end. Phew. And the fact that you know it’s going to happen in no way detracts from the pleasure of seeing it happen in the last few pages. The skill is in producing just enough twists and turns along the way, with complications, hesitations and impediments that are just plausible enough and just the right amount of descriptive elements for colour and rhythm. No extensive research required. Heavy-going metaphysics definitely optional. And leaving the reader miserable at the end of the book a definite no-no.

Can only women write romance? A quick answer is no. A long answer is for another post. Let’s just say that I put David Nicholls in the sometime romantic fiction writer category and Nick Hornby too. And if they don’t like that, they can lump it.

And another commonly found theme is the French connection. It seems that countless heroines fall for France and its menfolk. My personal history would tend to indicate that this is not restricted to fiction (guess what nationalities my parents are…)

Go on, write me some stories where the French girl finds true love across the Channel … just like I did 25 years ago.

[1] In fairness, they are. Check the “urban dictionary” online for some insight on dicklit and you’ll be turning thankfully to chicklit again.

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