There was time when, for professional reasons, I read a lot of romance. I’ve read, thus, every genre that contemporary romance has to offer, and disliked them all. I don’t hate them—I can’t summon enough passion for that, so let’s just say it was a phase of my life that was spent extremely stoned. I think people allot themselves a certain quota for mawkish sentimentality, and mine is reserved for music. Very rarely in my life have I been moved by love-letters, for instance, whereas I’m always floored by even the most amateur serenading. The only sub-genre I’ve never read are regencies; the job didn’t call for any. Last weekend I read seven and skimmed a dozen more. I was sober. It was excruciating. I didn’t like Feisty Virgins even when I was one, which was so long ago and so much pain ago that it’s not a time I want to revisit. I’ve never seen the appeal of a dashing rake (ok, lie, but I certainly don’t see the appeal of a reforming a rake.) It angers me that the genre allows writers to hide behind the era and indulge in the most appalling politics. I suspect the only regency romance I might enjoy will have to feature one of those faceless women that the rakes are forever fucking while they fantasize about the virgins.
But I am trying to suspend judgement and read at least one. This is a version of love, however twisted it seems to me, that appeals to generations of women. Eventually one must prevail. Right? Right?
There was one novel, though, that moved me over into full disgust. It was a contemporary, called Bet Me. I finished it early this morning, went to work, went to a museum, even went shopping, and still it haunts me, a poltergeist in my ear cackling wildly. So here goes an exorcism.
There is a dumpy woman and a gorgeous man. They spend a month not fucking, cos the woman thinks the man bet her ex that they would. He hasn’t. At the end of this month they get engaged. She’s insecure cos she’s a woman in a romance novel and that’s what women in romance novels do. His problem is he’s so devastating and so perfect and so rich that women keep falling for him and then he loses interest. He spends a lot of the novel avoiding one such woman. She’s completely starkers, which is supposed to make his behavior more acceptable, only, well, he did spend eight months with her so one could argue he’s why she lost her mind.
Anyway, misery must be distributed to be borne, and here is a (very truncated) list of quibbles:
- The heroine is not fat. She can’t fit into a size eight corset. No one who is larger than a 34C can. I’m a big woman, but I have a reasonably slim torso. I wear size eight. The average american woman likely wears a ten, which is why it’s the medium size. So unless everyone in this novel lives in Vogue, Minerva Dobbs has a perfectly normal figure.
- The guy, Calvin something, repeatedly tells Minerva that she’s “round.” He also tells her she’s the kind of woman who looks better naked that dressed. Both these statements are intended to be compliments. I’d sock someone who said either of these things to me, unless I am actually naked and not in full possession of my wits.
- The fashion advice. Oh goddess the fashion advice. Min’s “makeover” chiefly consists of lace bras and flowing garments. I would wear La Perla everyday if I could afford it, so no argument there. But I am in awe of the sheer ineptitude of the latter. Assuming Min is actually fat, which is to say a size 8 top wouldn’t fit her like size 8 trousers wouldn’t fit me, surely by the age of 33 she knows the first rule of being big is “thou shalt not do diaphanous”? But then she’s a woman who wears furry heels, so maybe not.
- A lot of Calvin’s so-called problems are attributed to dyslexia. One of the people I love most in the world is dyslexic. So I can tell you this for a surety: it does not make people ruthless bastards who con everyone into thinking they are sexy tortured empaths.
- Min is called “man-hating”, often and unironically. I didn’t know you were allowed to say that in the 21st century, let alone to a woman who french-kisses someone on a second non-date. Apparently calling a man on his crap, however feebly, means you detest the species.
- The plot makes absolutely no sense, but Aisha has an excellent explanation for that. There is one honest scene with believable emotion. Predictably it entails serenading. (Min loves Elvis passionately, and her non-Calvin plan is to wait for him to, er, resurrect. I would totally read that novel, though only someone with Min’s colossal nitwittery could possibly think he would make a good lover. Cal meanwhile likes the Costello Elvis, which, you know, he would, but neither of them seem to listen to any other bands.)
- The obsession with chicken marsala, about which don’t even.
- There is bondage so bad it makes 50 Shades seem sexy.
And that is the dreadful thought I leave you to ponder.
(Ok, I’m not that cruel. Here is my maudlin song of the week to sublimate)
I’ll just go bury myself in murder and mayhem then.