Over the past few days as I’ve been doing the rounds with Paul House, promoting his newly released book, Common Places, he’s commented several times that all his books are love stories.
Which might come as a bit of a surprise to many.
Mainly, because he’s a bloke. And blokes don’t write love stories. Right?
Or if they do, they don’t admit it.
Blokes write war stories. Important stories. Thrillers. That kind of thing. Not love stories…that’s for women, right?
Well, er, perhaps not. (And those of you who’ve just started to feel uncomfortable about this topic–I know who you are. I have the latest squirm-o-meter working overtime here. So, ha!)
What’s at the core of A Tale of Two Cities? War and Peace? What about Crime and Punishment? Doctor Zhivago?
(Just having reread that last sentence, I’m beginning to think I must read a lot of Russian literature…okay, nevermind.)
Still, what about authors like Patrick O’Brian or Allan Mallinson? Check out H.M.S. Surprise by O’Brian or A Regimental Affair by Mallinson and you’ll find at the centre, guess what? Yes, that’s right, love stories.
Shakespeare wrote lots of them–As You Like It, Much Ado about Nothing, Measure for Measure, Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, Othello… (Yes, that’s right, Othello…think about it.)
So what is it about admitting such a thing that makes the marketeers wince? Makes them convinced that to confess to such a thing puts the book squarely into the female market and eliminates male interest and readership?
I don’t know. I wish I did.
I think, though, it may be a confusion between the idea of a love story and a romance. They are different–both in treatment and in focus.
A good love story can provide a book with a kind of drive that little can match. It can provide the author with tension, (the trauma of writing non-risible love scenes–ha ha), and an opportunity to engage with the reader on a very personal level too.
This does not necessarily mean that the whole focus of a novel will be on that, or that the love will be treated in the ways we associate with romance novels. Not at all.
What may set out those aforementioned novels is that although there is a love story at the core, that is not the whole thrust of the book. There are other elements, just as important, which play off our wish to see a satisfying denouement.
Which brings me to another point. In the midst of war, one often finds love. You could put it down to the biological need of the species to survive. Or to an emotional awareness of the fragility of life and therefore a need to grab at the good. But whatever you attribute it to, it’s a very real element. Think Captain Corelli’s Mandolin…
So, I admit it. At the centre of May 1812, there is a love story. And this love story is essential to the conflict between the private, political and public spheres of life of which I write in that novel.
I trust it is a powerful love story. I sincerely hope so. Because frankly, there are too few of them about, and when we do come across them, we feel the reverberations–the hope they engender, the confidence they inspire.
A love story also wheedled its way into my new book (due out in the autumn). Much to my surprise. Because, I can tell you, it wasn’t planned that way. Not at all. And it certainly doesn’t dominate…and romantic is one term that does not apply.
I will say this too: House’s Common Places is an uncommonly beautiful love story. A daring love story as well, because of its unflinching honesty and extra-ordinary quiet.