A month or two ago I was at the paperback launch in Bath of Kissing Mr. Wrong by local writer Sarah Duncan but only got round to reading it last week when it was a welcome distraction from the grim realities of jury service. But although this is a light read, it certainly isn’t frivolous, and as ever, Sarah brings real depth to her characters and the story as a whole. In KMW, Lu is a thirty something illustrator who is determined not to get mixed up in relationship that involves baggage, until despite herself, she falls for warm and wonderful Nick – divorced with two kids. She puts her doubts aside only for them to gang up on her when she gets it wrong over the disciplining of his two sons. She runs back to her ‘perfect’ man, handsome smoothie Marcus, only to find that the no-strings attachment she thought she wanted has now lost its charm.
This is a simple love story but, as always, Sarah Duncan gives it something extra. All the characters are convincing, from Lu’s hippy-dippy Mum Pixie, who in the end confesses to mistakes of her own, to her Grandma’s feisty terrier Scottie, who, as it turns out, has a crucial role to play in Lu’s love life!
There are also weighty themes of war (Lu is researching family history involving the grim realities of WW1) and the importance of family ties. It’s only when Lu acknowledges her own vulnerability and starts to mend fences with her parents that she can sort out her matters of the heart.
Sarah’s launch parties are just as much fun as the books. Roll on the next one!
But possibly not love?
Tim Lott , one of my writing heroes, has been complaining (Saturday’s Guardian) that love stories no longer figure in contemporary literary fiction, and to a great extent he’s right. Not that big name writers don’t have romantic strands, but as he says, you wouldn’t call Atonement or Birdsong love stories. If anyone’s to blame I think it’s publishers, who seem to be looking for anything that’s new or different, rather than a ‘conventional’ love story, especially since Ms Gray went out of her way to diss the ‘domestic drama’, which for so long was the mainstay of women’s fiction (Drabble, Byatt, Lively et al).
Historical fiction, on the other hand, has no problem with romance, not if Sarah Bower’s Needle in the Blood is anything to go by. This is a weighty but absorbing read based around the making of the Bayeaux Tapestry and the complex interplay of church and state in England after the conquest. For the first half I was reluctant to pick up its 500 pages, but for the second half, as the complex plot unfolded, I was reluctant to put it down. But amongst all the wheeling and dealing of 1067, the book is at heart a full-on romance between a nobleman (the real Bishop Odo) and a fictional servant: cue lustful looks, rumpled beds and a great deal of kissing with tongues, an art apparently invented by the Normans. (These French clearly had a head start even then!)
Meanwhile the Amazon judges have scrapped (along with my efforts!) the entire romance category from their ABNA competition. Shame on them! With genre romance and historical romance flourishing, it’s a pity that present-day (real-life?) love stories are becoming a thing of the past.