On Loving Novels

There’s something extraordinarily precious about romance novels. Often they’re treated as less important—and I don’t have the motivation to get into why the genre most associated with a feminine audience isn’t as respected when it’s pretty obvious—but despite my love for science fiction, fantasy, experimental fiction, crime, classics, and pretty much every genre I’ve ever encountered, romance stories hold a very important place in my heart. 

As Zaf says in Talia Hibbert’s Take a Hint, Dani Brown:

It’s all about emotion, Dan—the whole thing, the whole story, the whole point. Just book after book about people facing their issues head on, and handling it, and never, ever failing—at least, not for good. I felt like my world had already ended unhappily, but every book I read about someone who’d been through the worst and found happiness anyway seemed to say the opposite.

Take a Hint, Dani Brown – Talia Hibbert

My favourite books are varied. I love Katherine Mansfield’s short stories, Mark Z Danielewski’s House of Leaves, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. If given more than a minute and a half to express my love for Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, I’ll use up every second of it. The thing that all my favourite books have in common is that they’ve stayed with me. They made me laugh, they freaked me out, they made me want to live in the world they’d conjured, or they made me discover parts of myself in an uncomfortable but addictive way. Romance novels do this by lingering in my heart.

They kind of fuck up my day, to be perfectly honest. I finished reading Take a Hint, Dani Brown earlier today and I’ve just been useless since then. How could I not be? I felt a connection, fell in love, had my heart broken and found bliss all in the course of an afternoon. Not all romance novels hit this hard, Talia Hibbert is a genius in the genre, but the good ones snuggle up behind my ribs and press gentle hands on my heart.

I’ve heard the criticism before that romance stories are predictable, because in the end the couple always gets together, and before that there’s a conflict that causes a lot of hurt but which can be (often dramatically) resolved. But in actions, the good guy tends to win against all odds and in crimes we find out whodunnit and, really, almost every genre has a formula that we’ve grown used to. Even the experimental ones usually have a rise and fall, or else the specific cadence of tableaux associated with modernism. Which, for the record, I think is a good thing.

It’s not predictability, just as the basic beats of life are not predictable even when they share similarities with other lives lived. Most people tend to be born, then grow up, then find out that growing up is not a thing that they have done or could have done, then keep on growing up anyway, until the end. Most novels begin, have some rising action, find a main conflict, resolve this conflict, have some character reflection, then end. The emotional journey lived through each is unique and precious, something that manages to be true even when rereading a novel. I know already that I’ll be rereading all of Talia Hibbert’s books over and over. And I can’t wait.

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