Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Realistic Romance

Is there such a thing as a realistic romance novel? People usually perceive romance novels as flights of fancy. However there are a number of authors who explore real life issues within the context of a romance novel, and do it very well. One such author is Iris Bromige. She wrote numerous novels from the 1940s to the 1990s and I’ve read as many of her novels as I could find in various libraries and second-hand book stores. (Unfortunately, her books are out of print, so I don't own many of my own copies).

I read somewhere once: “Choose an author as you choose a friend,” and I believe I did that when I chose to read Iris Bromige. When you invite a piece of fiction into your life, either you’ll “click” with the author or you won’t. Sometimes, you won’t understand why you don’t enjoy a book (the writing is good, the characterisation is excellent) but there’s just a missing element that you can’t put your finger on. That missing element is “book chemistry”, if you will. This applies to friendships, as well. We don’t choose our friends because of their excellent characteristics or their fine qualities, but because we click with them on some level; we have something in common with them and can identify with them to some degree. The same applies when you choose to read the work of an author in its entirety. If you choose to glom an author, you’ve chosen her/him as your “book friend” for want of a better expression.

Iris Bromige wrote gentle tales of love, family life and friendship. Her books are philosophical on a number of levels, and she portrays a wide spectrum of emotions. Greed, revenge, jealousy and hatred are themes she includes in her writing, and her books, although romance novels, are not romanticised. Instead she includes all aspects of human nature, writing about its many foibles in a perceptive, interesting way. I’ve learned a lot from her – and her gentle wisdom is something that I value.

When I first read one of her books as a teenager, I remember being a little disappointed. At that age, I liked reading romantic fiction that was very romantic, and Iris Bromige was a little too… well, unromantic for my liking at first! Strangely enough, a number of her female heroines tended to be idealistic and romantic in their outlook on life, while her heroes were invariably extremely realistic and matter of fact. This created balance in her books - between fancy and fact, romance and realism. However, as I read more of her work, I started to enjoy her writing more and more, as I realised I’d found an author that wrote romantic fiction with a realistic twist. Her characters are usually professionals, and I identified particularly with the female characters to a large degree.

It’s interesting to read the work of an author when it spans across decades. People no longer speak of “the permissive society” today, but in the sixties and seventies, this was something that was discussed and debated to a large extent, and Iris Bromige wrote about the changes she perceived in Britain as the years went by. Her books were always set in the year in which she wrote them, and they give a certain insight into the attitudes towards love, marriage, sex and family life in the society in which she lived.