Romance Without Kissing

Booklist has published a list of their Top 10 Romance Fiction for Youth for 2010, and they’ve very kindly included A Brief History of Montmaray. As lovely as it is to see my book on any list of favourite books, I can’t help wondering why readers keep attaching the word ‘romance’ to it. The new Australian paperback edition features six snippets of reviews on the cover, and three of them, including the most prominent one on the front, mention some version of the ‘r’ word. Look up A Brief History of Montmaray in most catalogues, and it’ll be listed under ‘historical romance’.

A Brief History of MontmarayBut how can A Brief History of Montmaray be a romance when there’s no kissing? When it contains no mutual confessions of ardent love, no marriage proposals, not so much as an invitation to a dance? But wait, what exactly is a romance? The Romantic Novelists’ Association gives a confused definition that suggests it’s anything where the love story is the most important part of the plot. Others claim that the novel’s conflict and conclusion must be about the romantic relationship between the main characters, that the primary aim of the heroine must be to find (and keep) true love, and that it must have a happy ending. I admit that poor Sophie does spend quite a bit of the first half of A Brief History of Montmaray pining after a young man, but it can’t be said that her feelings are in any way requited, and subsequent events make any romantic musings of hers pretty much irrelevant – she’s too busy running for her life.

Well, then, it’s definitely NOT a romance. Why, the very suggestion makes me feel like Kate Beaton’s version of Jane Austen.

A Brief History of Montmaray is not a romance!’ I huff. ‘It’s a serious novel about the political implications of the clash between Fascism and Communism in 1930s Europe! What? Yes, all right, there might be a castle in it. And princesses. And dark family secrets and . . . Never mind about that. It’s definitely not a romance! Here, I’ll prove it. These are the words my thesaurus lists as synonyms for ‘romantic’: sentimental, mawkish, saccharine, syrupy, mushy, gooey, corny, sappy, soppy. See, my book is not those. Also, the thesaurus says: fanciful, head-in-the-clouds, starry-eyed, optimistic, hopeful . . . Bother. That’s Sophie. All right, then. A Brief History of Montmaray is a serious political novel that happens to have a romantic heroine. But there’s still no kissing.’

So, not a romance. I know Jane Austen would agree with me, if only she hadn’t been driven to drink by the horrible things people are doing to her books . . .

7 thoughts on “Romance Without Kissing”

  1. I am one of those people that used the ‘r’ word. Yikes.

    But I meant it less in the lovey-dovey way and more in the general loveliness of a book examining times past and the romanticism we feel for that era. And then there’s the actual romance (which you are right about, there isn’t all that much). Romance or not, it is a smashing read 🙂

    1. Aw, thanks, Adele!

      There is actually some kissing in the sequel, The FitzOsbornes in Exile, and Sophie does find herself in an embrace with the Love Interest a couple of times – but I’m not sure those particular scenes could be called ‘romantic’. ‘Comedic’, maybe . . .

  2. If only you’d included vampires or zombies, or even a bunch of zombie-vampire killers? It’s the castle that got you, never, ever include castles and princesses unless you have them decked out with blasters and light sabers.

    1. Gosh, vampires! How could I have forgotten to include a couple of them?

      There is a ghost and there’s kind of a zombie . . . depending on the reader’s interpretation. I guess ghosts are romantic, though? Zombies, not so much . . .

  3. Romance doens’t have to mean kissing. I had a long discussion about this with a friend of mine recently. He was rather reluctant to have the play he is writing classed as a romance. My argument was that Shakespeare’s dramas which have happy endings (and I certainly hope that the Montmaray books will) but aren’t really comedies are called romances. So it’s less to do with kissing and more with the tone of the work.

    1. Thanks, Abby, that’s a good point.

      I guess the problem is that most readers have certain expectations when they pick up a novel labelled ‘romance’ (for example, that it will contain lots of kissing). And if that’s what they’re hoping for, they’d be sadly disappointed by the first two Montmaray books.

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