So, I’ve been a hypocrite. I have spent so many words and hours and pages trying to convince people that YA literature is just as valid and literary and worthy as all the other kinds of literature. I’ve also said the same thing about fantasy and science fiction. I’ve lambasted the literary snobs who roll their eyes and say “I just don’t do fantasy”, or “even though it’s a children’s book, it’s quite good”.
I’ve gone on and on about Pink Books in YA – about how a sparkly pink cover doesn’t necessarily mean that the words inside don’t contain big ideas worthy of discussion.
But I'd never read romance fiction.
(For adults, I mean. I read heaps of YA romance. And not including Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer because they get to wear a more Acceptably Literary hat because they’re both dead.)
I looked at all those book covers with horrid covers and swirly fonts and titles like The Shiek’s Revenge, and Lady in Black, and I thought – these books are obviously as rubbish as their covers.
And then I was on a panel at the Wheeler Centre about romance fiction, which came with the realisation that I write romance. I mean, I write lots of things, but the last three books I’ve written definitely have one foot in the romcom genre. So I turned to Justine Larbalestier, who towed me to Kinokuniya and loaded me up with titles. Because the thing with romance (like, let’s face it, the thing with all kinds of fiction but especially genre fiction), is that a lot of it isn’t the kind of thing I want to read. I don’t want to read about girls getting borderline-raped and then falling in love with their pirate captor. I want to read books about the same kinds of girls/women that I write about – smart, funny, flawed people who want to fall in love but aren’t defined by that.
And you know what?
Some romance fiction is awesome. I’m enjoying Julia Quinn and Jennifer Crusie at the moment, and have had Julia Jones and Kristin Higgins recommended. Because I’m spending so much time reading for Uni at the moment, it’s delightful to unwind with funny, reasonably lighthearted books featuring sassy, intelligent women.
I think people read romance for similar reasons to why adults read YA. There is an immediacy and lack of pretension – books that are easy to read but not patronising. There are strong female characters (which, let’s face it, isn’t something that is always found in “literary” fiction). Romance fiction is like comfort food. You know the two main characters are going to end up together. You’re not going to have your heart torn out at the end because one of them develops a fatal disease. You can relax and enjoy the journey of discovering exactly how they end up together.
They’re also novels of personal development. Laurie Hutzler talks about romance narratives involving the “exchange of gifts” – where two people are better together than they are separately, because of the different characteristics they bring to a relationship. As I’ve said before, the subject of love is universal, and one that everyone has a vested interested in.
So this is me, eating humble pie. It's delicious.