I don’t believe in romance. More often than not, when you see me pondering books, you will find me as far ar possible, from the current staple that passes off as ingenuous romance novels. Don’t get me wrong, I love chick lit. I thrive on the entertainment it provides me when I’m sorely in need of it. I don’t lug around huge tomes of literary fiction or classics when I travel. I pick up Sophie Kinsella, Judith McNaught and my current interest, Julia Quinn. I cherish the escape these writers provide me when I’ve binged on far too many literary writers. There is something oddly refreshing about chick lit after having pored over Murakami or Seth or Naipaul.
And yet, I find the current selection of romance novels and chick lit so very abysmal that, reading them becomes a chore.
When I was first introduced to Judith McNaught, I was sceptical. I’d already tried a few Mills & Boons and Harlequin romances and they’d left me feeling disappointed. Some of these writers were so proficient and had such good writing styles that I wanted to seek them out, shake them by their shoulders and demand why they didn’t create stronger characters. They could write and they could do so brilliantly. Whatever glimpses I got to their potential made me furious as to why they didn’t create more believable and less fantastical plotlines. But since McNaught was being referred to me by a kindly old man who was very well versed with my tastes, I gave her a shot.
I fell in love.
I’d started with her debut novel, Whitney, My love. It was a historical romance and a bestseller in a genre I was completely unaware of. And this woman, with her strong characters and different treatment of the somewhat cliched storyline, ensnared me.
Romance novels or rather, love has a very basic formula. Guy meets girl, their initial love (or) hate, their courtship, the big twist of confusion, overcoming it and living happily ever after (or dying, if you’re into Nicholas Sparks). Try as you might to add originality, you have to stick to these main plot developers. Not just because that’s how novels are written, but because love, the capricious emotion, predictably goes through these stages. Now whether the love story is hurled amidst an adventure or bubbling with comedic effect, it will have to pass these stages. It’s no wonder that when we pick up a romance novel, we know exactly how it’s going to end.
These novels really are about the journey.
Is it any surprise then that I find romance novels to almost always be lacking? Predictability in the tone and quality of a writer is reassuring to me. But if I wanted to read the same story repeatedly, with different names, I’d bloody well rewrite it in my head, thankyou very much.
And yet, Judith McNaught made me incredibly happy with her books. I loved how her heroines weren’t simpering women who could swoon without any provocation. I loved how she didn’t depict her heroes as completely autocratic chauvinists. All her characters were flawed. They had endearing qualities just as they had irksome ones. I wanted to hug them and hit them. Her stories, set in a fantastical time, in a fantastical backdrop and with fastidious protocol were still more real and believable than all the Harlequins I’d read in a long time!
When I finished with all of her books, I wept. The genre of romance writing was overflowing and yet, I didn’t have it in me to sample from every writer. I wanted one just as satisfying as her. So when, a friend recommended Julia Quinn, I was sceptical. Again. And unlike when I read McNaught, I actually had an opinion on what I wanted from a love story. And I fell in love. All.Over.Again.
What delights me further is that Quinn has heroines with more believable issues. Their “complex” situations are more pertinent to the era she writes of. The women are not outrightly different. Her characters are more subtle in their differences. Her dialogue is so blatantly witty that it almost always borders on being inappropriate for her time period and yet, these characters grow on you to such an extent that it sounds believable. I can’t read more than 2 pages of Quinn without burtsting out in peals of laughter.
McNaught made me feel a lot of emotions, but whoops of laughter evaded me. Quinn makes me guffaw but she doesn’t make me cry for the characters.
But the one thing both women succeed in doing is making me pore over romance novels. And then…they make me believe in romance.