Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Your Wicked Ways

I have never read what we usually call harlequin romances before (well, not since Judy Bloom's Forever anyway)—in spite of my ongoing fascination with Byron—but I suspect this, my first one, will not be my last. Your Wicked Ways, by Eloisa James made me happy.

Back in January, I came upon the news, via Maud, that Eloisa James is the penname of Mary Bly. Who knew? She’s an old, though not close, friend, and she gave me a copy of one of her books. I have just devoured it and what a happy read: I see why people love these things. There is just enough familiarity (in, say the scenes of young wives talking to each other about the latest gossip interrupted by beloved toddlers) and strangeness (in, say, the fact that these same wives have servants instead of daycare and are heading off to balls) for it to be pleasant. You recognize the type and then get the pleasure of translating it to a richer and more glamorous place. I’m overcome with admiration for her imagination. There’s a great scene—really a sentence—of a huge carriage insisting on its right of way over that of pedestrians that seems utterly right: those horrible SUV roadhogs were around two hundred years ago and she’s captured how they drove. The writing is great—just what one wants genre fiction to be—that is, you almost never think of it as writing, you just float along with story as the plot leaps from one episode to the next.

I trust her historical sense and know that she researched her work. I assume most such novelists do. And I know from experience that many of my better students in British Literature had a jump the social context of Romanticism from their reading of Regency romance—Jane Austen has done the same for me. Nonetheless, how deliciously addle-brained of me to be sitting on the B-train thinking “Oh, so that’s how such-and-such was arranged in London in the 1810s,” as if I were reading Lawrence Stone or Davidoff and Hall. Still, I'd rather read this.

1 comment:

genevieve said...

One of my daughter's English teachers approached Austen with her students via Mills and Boon, to some useful effect I believe.

Having had a go at writing this stuff, I have to agree with all your comments and add that the fastidiousness of romance editors is precisely what makes these books so pacy. The editors do not make the same judgements we do about appropriate subject matter or sexual politics, that's all!

I had never read one before I decided I might have a bash at writing - I read for research purposes and it was enlightening. The writing was a humbling experience!! and as good a test of narrative skills as any you will find IMVHO. Most of the sex in these books is as challenging to write as any other ( buttons, holes - very limiting! where's Oulipo when you need them?) - and easier to read than for example Peter Carey's or Colm Toibin's in his earlier books.
Ewwh this is turning into a post - sorry!!
I now know I can't write dialogue for shit, for example ( though I did like my plot).