by Kim Kelly
WHO’S AFRAID OF ROMANCE?
There’s been a fair bit flying around the net lately on the value or lack thereof of romantic fiction, amid the usual squawking in and around so-called women’s literature generally. Why isn’t romance taken seriously? Why isn’t it front and centre at the Sydney Writers Festival, goddammit! Can you even use ‘women’ and ‘literature’ in the same sentence? Did I just say that?
I’m not even entirely sure what romance is. In a superficial sense, I suppose it’s a story with girl-boy goosh at its heart. Isn’t it? One in which the heroine weeps, waits and sighs heavily across one thousand and fifty-seven shades of sexual desire, towards every conceivable climax, from a chaste kiss at the threshold of marriage to hot and sweaty action on the back of a black stallion at a gallop across the dales.
I write romance, so I’m told. I like to think I write stories that hold love – its power and its possibilities – at the centre of the human experience. I do this mostly because this is what I believe and how I live my real life. I also find the vaulting arc of a romantic narrative most excellent fun to write.
Will he ever hold her in his arms again? Damn straight, he will. It’s the best adventure there is.
But not all readers of romance like my novels. They are a peskily discerning lot. Rural fiction fans have been disappointed that my storylines don’t focus so much on the land as a plot driver; more traditional romance readers don’t like that the word ‘fuck’ usually appears within the first few chapters, along with way too much stinky masculine point-of-view; and Australian historical romance aficionados have been left cold by my at times irreverent deconstruction of some of the most sacred icons of our national mythology.
The cynical among us might say that I only use romance as a vehicle to peddle my pinko ideas of social justice and equity by stealth upon an unsuspecting audience of fluffheads. And awch – that one hurts. Not.
All writers of romantic fiction are accused by our self-appointed gatekeepers of culture and taste of using sentimentality to manipulate readers. As if fiction isn’t entirely the art of manipulation. As if all writers of fiction aren’t professional bovine excrementalists.
These gatekeepers tie themselves up in knots of great complexity in the attempt to describe the specialness and worth of real proper literature as it contrasts with so-called genre fiction (oh lordy how I despise that g-word). Literary fiction is untamed, it’s convention-stretching, it’s exploratory, and experimental. As if sci-fi, fantasy, romance or crime thrillers can never be any of these things.
On the other hand, romance is as easily described as it is dismissed. Romance is cliché ridden, poorly written, predictable, devoid of any intellectual depth and only for the feeble-minded.
Who are these feeble-minded people buying all this trash then? Who comprise this largest reading market in the entire freaking world?
Disparaging romance out of hand then (especially if one as freely admits to never having read any) is just another form of disparaging women. Isn’t it?