... or: Is Donna a miserable old crank?
A friend of mine has written a novel and asked me to proof-read it. One of my major quibbles has been the way she handles the romances. For my taste, her romances rely far too much on "love at first sight" and the difficulties are caused by "external obstacles" as opposed to, y'know, your basic doubts and troubles and trust issues and general disfunctionality. But it's difficult to bring that across. If I say: "But these characters don't really know each other! Surely, the authorial voice should acknowledge that?", the author answers: "Oh, but they do! They used to play together as children, and when they met again, many years later, they fell in love instantly." Which I just don't buy.
Generelly speaking, I only buy romance in fiction when it's among equals who have a general idea of what they are doing. It's a very pragmatic approach, but there you go. And the aspect of "equality" is highly important for me.
Take Jane Austen's novels, for example, which I like a lot. Her romances often do not convince me.
"Sense and Sensibility": Col. Brandon falling in love at the age of 36 with a 16-year-old girl, because she reminds him of an old lover? Totally creepy.
"Emma": Mr Knightley falling in love at the age of 28 with a 13-year-old girl and spending the following 10 years forming and shaping her into what he wants his perfect woman to be? Creepy.
"Persuasion": Even though it's my favourite Austen novel, I think that spending eight years pining over someone you knew only for a couple of months in your late teens/early twenties is a bit pathetic.
So, I read the books because I like Austen's charaters and her wit and her criticism on society, but I couldn't care less about whether the girl gets her man or not in the end. I'd be perfectly happy if her heroines remained single.
And there's also the general disfunctionality, which makes me doubt the lasting success of a relationship.
A perfect example for that is the romance between Natalie Holden and Peter Carlisle in Blackpool
- even though I do love the show to pieces for many reasons (David Tennant's fabulous wrist-on-headboard action being only one of them). "The love of my life" after only one date? Please. And even if I did believe in love at first sight etc., I still don't believe that Natalie and Peter will be happy together. Peter is not that different from Ripley. He is charming and tender to Natalie, sure, but I am convinced that Ripley was the same when he first fell in love with her. (We get glimpses of tender and gentle Ripley every now and then.) And both men rely far too much on Natalie's following them like a good little girl. Peter freaks out when she dares refuse going away with him and immediately starts abusing her in the worst possible manner. (And I don't care that he loved her and that he was hurt. Saying "I only slept with you to get to your son and Ripley" is just. Not. On.) Natalie herself realises that Peter's "got an eye for weakness". - And he has. And so, even though they are in love, I think that this will work only as long as Natalie doesn't stand up for herself. Just the same as it was with Ripley.
Moreover, I like romance only when it is rooted in a realistic setting, not an idealised one. Take that kiss in "Torchwood", for example:
Captain Jack is dancing with Captain Jack, in the 1940s, in front of a bunch of soldiers, and as sweet the kiss in itself might be, it just doesn't do anything for me. It's so obviously artificial, so created (as opposed to naturally evolved) that I can't identify with the characters' longing and desires.
The same scene works for me perfectly in "Queer as Folk, UK", where Stuart and Vince are dancing together at the wedding. Because there, it is realistic. The authorial voice acknowledges the difficulties, the reactions of the people around them, and I think it's sweet and lovely and very, very sexy. Even though they don't kiss.
In a nutshell: I'm fine with romances as long as they are not idealised. No "love conquers all", no "love at first sight" no "it's us against the rest of the world". Just give them some real difficulties and struggles.
Oh, and: It's not that life has made me callous and sucked any romantic feeling out of me. I've always been like that. I was ten when I read Walter Scott's "Ivanhoe" for the first time, and I commented on Ivanhoe's and Rowena's marriage with: "And after they had been married a while, Rowena would nag at him to empty the rubbish bin, and Ivanhoe didn't, and they had many rows and split up in the end." I wrote this down in my copy of the book, in pencil, and it still makes me laugh.