Date: 30 March 2013
Books Completed: 66
Books Left: 134
I recently finished reading a novel and hated every page of it. Turns out, it was a romance novel. In case you haven’t heard, I HATE romance novels! I’ve had people say to me, “But isn’t Pride and Prejudice a romance novel?” P&P is very much a romantic story, a Georgian-era rom-com even, but not a romance novel. So what do I have against the genre?
I’ll be honest, and confess that I’ve perhaps read only about a half-dozen actual romance novels in my life. This was mostly during family vacations when I was in high school/college. My sister loved romance novels and always brought several with her to the beach. I usually would pick one up during that week, get disgusted with it, vow never to read one again, and repeat the cycle the following year when my own supply of books ran out.
So while I don’t have an extensive experience with the genre, I do feel comfortable making some generalizations, considering that the few I’ve read all have the same traits which are among the very things that make me despise the genre.
The characters are fairly cookie-cutter. The hero is always dark (either physically, emotionally, or both), rough (especially his voice), exceptionally good at whatever it is he does, and in possession of a phenomenal physique. He is a bad boy who just needs the right woman to turn him around. The heroine is a high-spirited virgin who is far more sexually alluring than she realizes. She goes toe-to-toe with the hero whom she seems to despise but secretly loves.
A great deal of the novel is given to description. What people wear is important, especially as the hero’s musculature is so easily visible under his clothes (lots of rippling going on) and the heroine’s heart pounds so noticeably under the tightness of her blouse. Voices rasp and moan a lot (especially outside of sex), and a great deal of blushing occurs.
Then there is the boilerplate plot: Boy meets girl; boy and girl fight; girl is secretly attracted to boy; boy starts to come around; boy and girl are separated due to misunderstanding; boy and/or girl performs surprising deed; boy and girl admit true feelings and live happily ever after.
Perhaps surprisingly, the sameness of the novels is not what bothers me the most. After all, similar components are what define a genre. The plot structure described above can also easily apply to just about any romantic comedy that I actually love. I can even appreciate the appeal of a dark-haired bad boy now and then. So what’s my beef?
I think it comes down to characters and intelligence. I am all about the characters when I read. If I can’t find a character I can identify with, or at least like or appreciate, I am so over the book. In romance novels, I have a hard time finding a character to like—especially the men. In the books that I’ve read, they are not simply bad boys who secretly have a heart of gold, they are downright cads. The double standard is in full swing. I know the historical settings of the novels play a part in that, but it still bothers me. Even more so as this fact is kind of glossed over as far as the heroine goes; she doesn’t mind or just accepts it. My 21st century feminist sensibilities don’t let me let that go.
I don’t really admire the female characters, either. They never seem to see things coming—things that I can see coming several pages or even chapters before they happen. This ultimately makes the females seem stupid, and again, my feminist side comes out and rebels at this. In fact, I feel like my IQ drops about 50 points when I read romance novels. Situations and characters just seem so unrealistic that I have to be dumber to accept the story for what it is to enjoy it.
I know plenty of very intelligent women (my sister among them) who relish romance novels. They can accept the stories as escapist vehicles and dive right in. I can’t. I appreciate escapist literature and have my own share of terrible books that are guilty pleasures. Romance novels just aren’t in that list.