All my favourite books contain a love story. But sometimes love is not quite enough. I’ve been reminded of this on two occasions recently. The first was while watching a tv drama called (confusingly I thought) Public Enemies. This focussed on a probation officer disciplined for allowing an offfender to reoffend whose new charge was on parole after a ten year sentence for murder. This drama took itself quite seriously. When the hero decided to belatedly claim his innocence (despite having pleaded guilty) a number of issues were raised about the justice system, the probation service and the legal profession. The acting was high class with Anna Friel (Paula) and Daniel Mays (Eddie) in the main roles and a great supporting cast. Then Eddie’s new girl friend was scared off and he, not surprisingly, fell for the gorgeous Paula. I wasn’t quite so convinced when she reciprocated, but it did add plenty of tension as her marriage broke up and she lost her jobas a result. Great! I thought. With Paula no longer part of the probation service she would be free to fight Jim’s corner, uphold the rights of the individual against the sytem and prove the lawyers to be the shady doubledealers they really were. Except that no fight was necessary. The real murderer gave himself up and the lovers drank tea in the sunset. I felt totally let down – three nights of quite heavy social drama that turned out to be ‘only a love story’?
Then straight after I found myself reading an Irish novel (beautifully written, by the way) about a retired doctor who deliberately disappeared leaving no trace of her whereabouts. Her daughter and boyfriend were at their wits end until the boyfriend followed a trail of clues to discover that the doctor was embroiled in a highly emotive and topical issue of medical ethics. Great! I thought again. Will it go to court? What side will the author/heroine come down on? But sadly the heroine never had to stand up for (or even reveal to the reader) what she believed because the pending case against her was dropped. She and boyfriend decided to go off and live happily ever after. Apparently this was only a love story too.
I still love love stories: my first novel is a love story and I loved writing the love scenes. But I do remember my first writing teacher (a romantic novelist herself!) pointing out that truly great books have great themes, themes that go beyond the personal to look society, morality values or beliefs. Maybe it has taken me until now to realise what she meant.