Over the last few years there has been a big rise in sales of romantic novels. For a while the industry was puzzled, but gradually the reason has become clear. With the advent of Kindles and iPads people have suddenly found themselves able to read romantic fiction without detection. Gone are the days when you had to conceal your Mills&Boon in the pages of War and Peace in case your boss sat next to you on the tube. Now you can upload romances to your heart’s content (as long as you can still talk knowledgeably about The Catcher in the Rye in an emergency!) and romance sales have consequently boomed.
So why are we so shy about our love of romantic fiction? Perhaps it is partly because the so called trashy romances gave the genre a bad name. But there’s also plenty of badly written crime fiction around (not to mention shockingly poor Ian Fleming imitations) and that hasn’t given the crime/thriller genre a bad name. Of course the British literati have turned their noses up at romance for years, often refusing even to acknowledge it as an important element in the popularity of certain ‘literary’ novels. Runaway bestsellers such as Birdsong and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin are praised by literary critics for the quality of the writing, the historical accuracy and powerful characterisation, but very few praise them for including a cracking love story!
And why shouldn’t we relish a romantic novel or two? They are just as difficult to write. What is any novel, after all, but a means to escape the real world and lose ourselves in an exploration of make-believe, whether it be exciting cliff top chases (Slick Deals), gun battles, gruesome murders, wartime life (Lavender Road), psychology, fantasy, science fiction or romantic relationships (The Art of Loving)? Whether we like to admit it or not, romance, in one form or another, plays a huge part in our lives. We humans are emotional beings and it’s not surprising that we seek out novels that allow us to explore our feelings and fantasies. What is more surprising is that we still feel the need to have The Catcher in the Rye up our sleeve!
So as we head towards Valentine’s Day once again, why not treat yourself to a really good, engaging, romantic read? You might be pleasantly surprised.