Exeter, Devon UK • Sep 23, 2023 • VOL XII
Exeter, Devon UK • Sep 23, 2023 • VOL XII
Home Arts & Lit A love/hate relationship

A love/hate relationship

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Kathy Giddins explains her love for romantic fiction, but Bea Fones can’t get past the smutty erotica…

ROMANCE isn’t dead – well at least not in novels. I, for one, am happy to indulge in an amorous paperback fantasy. However, romantic reading isn’t all sickening works of chick-lit or badly written fan fiction. For example, if you’re a lover of classics you can’t go wrong with Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë; far from being a straightforward love story this is a complex gothic tale of revenge, jealousy and resentment. The twisted character of Heathcliff effectively reminds us of how painful unreciprocated love can be, and the negative effect this can have on a person’s attitude to life. We gradually learn that this strange man, who looks like a gentleman but acts like a vagabond, is in fact a gypsy who was adopted but then spurned by both his adoptive brother and his adopted sister Catherine, whom he was in love with. All of the drama is played out in the bleak Yorkshire moors, which provide the perfect backdrop for a man who seethes with anger and wallows in misery and isolation. We’re not in Yorkshire but I can’t think of a better way to spend a weekend than re-enacting parts of Wuthering Heights up on Dartmoor – definitely one to add to the list of Valentine’s Day pursuits for singletons.

Of course, films are never as good as the books, so you should definitely pick up a copy too.

Another novel which I think does the topic of love justice is One Day by David Nicholls, which gained widespread popularity due to the 2011 feature film adaptation starring Anne Hathaway. Of course, films are never as good as the books, so you should definitely pick up a copy too. Firstly the whole ‘will they, won’t they’ theme is treated in such a non-clichéd way that we come to really care about the characters, and respect them as individuals, instead of becoming exasperated by the continued missed opportunities. This is something which in particular I feel lets the film down, as we don’t get to see so much of Emma’s career as a teacher which, without giving away too many spoilers, definitely exposes her own flaws and weaknesses. The real beauty of One Day lies in the fact that it is as much a novel about friendship as it is about romance, and in particular what it means to be in love with your best friend without even fully realising it.

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fig. 1

In memory of the late Jackie Collins, I recently decided to take a chance on her novel Chances, which is the first installment in the nine-book Santangelo series. I was completely hooked. Collins knew how to write compelling and complex characters, a plot which twists and turns and surprises, and yet is peppered with extremely steamy sex scenes. The story charts the lives of several characters who all live in New York, and it moves back and forth between an entire-city blackout in 1977 and the six decades preceding this. The focus of the novel is the Santangelo family, and gang leader, Gino. What makes the novel truly brilliant is the fact that it is punctuated with – but not defined by – its erotic element. In fact, sex, and the power or vulnerability which this can afford, plays a central role in the story.

On the subject of good quality erotic fiction, Freya North deserves a mention. Although not as bold as Collins, North writes great stories with good sex scenes, and whilst her plots might not be as intricate, she takes the chick-lit genre to another level. This is partly down to her sensitivity to the struggles women face when balancing career, life and love. In particular I’d recommend Pillow Talk, which tells the story of what happens when the jewellery maker and perpetual sleepwalker Petra is reunited with her high school crush. Cosmopolitan described it as “chick-lit with a generous side-helping of sex.” What more could you ask for?

by Kathy Giddins

LOVE it or hate it, we have to admit that romantic fiction is probably here to stay. However, does it have to be so utterly tragic?

The genre has moved on a bit since D.H. Lawrence caused uproar with the then ‘racy’ Lady Chatterley’s Lover in 1928. Needless to say, today’s romantic fiction, however ridiculous it’s become, is unlikely to be subject to an ‘obscenity trial’ – despite the fact that some of it probably should be more heavily tested BEFORE publication, to weed out any books which are especially awful.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that there’s perfectly good erotica out there, and I’d make it clear that I’m not slamming that. However, there’s a difference between erotica and smutty trash, and to be honest, most of the books currently masquerading as ‘romantic fiction’ are toeing the line, that is if they haven’t already tipped over it and tumbled into the abyss of books I never want to read again.

Romantic fiction as it exists today makes me cringe a little.

People are quick to criticise the genre of light-hearted, romantic novels termed as ‘chick-lit’, but will embrace the hysteria caused in the last couple of years by the publication and film adaptation of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, and subsequent flurry of erotic novel series like Bared to You by Sylvia Day reaching the bestseller lists. It’s frankly quite disappointing. It’s hard to find erotica which is a) well written, and b) doesn’t fall into one of two categories – ‘doing BDSM horrendously’ or ‘Mills-and-Boon wannabe’.

Romantic fiction as it exists today makes me cringe a little. A mix of dreadful writing, and extremely problematic content, makes books like Fifty Shades a no-go for me. Safely and sensibly practised BDSM is perfectly okay. Glorifying abusive relationships through a thin veneer of ‘romance’ and supposedly raunchy sex scenes isn’t.

Having read the first Fifty Shades book to see what the hysteria was about, I thought, meh, some of the sex is quite hot, but the relationship is all wrong, and to be honest, there’s only so many references to ‘down there’ I can really cope with. Anastasia Steele, a 21-year-old college graduate, seems unable to utter the word ‘vagina’, even in her internal monologue. Okay.



I was encouraged to read the rest of the series by a friend waxing lyrical over the books, because apparently ‘they get better as they go on!’ I gave in. I regret this. (NB: She was lying. They get worse.) Am I surprised? It started as Twilight fanfiction: why didn’t Stephanie Meyer sue the crap out of E.L. James? I’ve read far better fanfiction.

Sometimes I’d rather read erotica than watch porn, perhaps because porn tends to seem so mechanical and often downright ridiculous. But it depends what I’m in the mood for that day. I’m not that inclined to buy into the idea that women don’t enjoy porn as much as men, rather that we’re conditioned not to talk about it.

Everyone has their preferences, but I think that the human preference for experience makes written erotica a bit more accessible to many than video pornography. So why, oh why, isn’t there more literature out there which gets our rocks off without sacrificing quality? I’m still on the lookout for an erotic novel which doesn’t either make me laugh, or shake my head despairingly. I sense it’s going to be a long road.

by Bea Fones

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