Love between the lines: Why it’s time the romantic genre gets its due

Romance is looked down upon but the genre’s popularity is flourishing. Manasi Y Mastakar feels it is time it got its due

It is a universally acknowledged fact that romance as a genre in literature is the most unappreciated compared to other genres like thriller, suspense, even horror. And many a time, it doesn’t warrant critical attention owing to predictable plots and mushy feels that they render. But romance books are still consumed in large quantities. And you still have writers like Nicholas Sparks, Danielle Steele, Nora Roberts, or closer home authors like Preeti Shenoy, Durjoy Dutta and Ravinder Singh ruling the bestselling list whenever their new book releases.

Lack of understanding

It’s not like people don’t read romances at all. So why this discrimination? “I feel the discrimination lies in the fact that many people consider romance novels unintelligent. And when you say you read romances, the focus automatically shifts to your intelligence. People feel you probably can’t understand the nuances of books by authors like Paulo Coelho, Khalid Hosseini, Haruki Murakami, Kafka, Salman Rushdie, to name a few. But it is not true. Just because I like to romance over a thriller or books by said authors doesn’t mean I lack understanding. It is just that these books give me a happy ending that I want – probably at that particular time or given the mindset that I am in. And I have read Murakami and the likes,” asserts Manasvi Shirodkar, a banker who likes to de-stress at the end of a hectic day with a bar of dark chocolate and a romance novel.

Seconding Manasvi’s claim, author Ravinder Singh says, “People have this perception that romance readers are not intelligent – and it needs to change. I also feel they aren’t marketed well.”

It’s about emotions

‘Just because you have an emotional range of a teaspoon doesn’t mean everybody does,’ says Hermione to Ron in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. And somewhere it is true. Several romances are complicated and they need emotional understanding to get engaged in the book – not many can handle the varied feels the genre renders. “Romance has a wide readership base and primarily women – who possibly analyse relationships more than men. These readers tend to engage with the authors and form a loyal fan base,” says publisher Pan Macmillan India.

Apart from what haters of the genre say, the fact can’t be ignored that it still sells. The very fact that writers mentioned in the beginning of the article are on the bestseller list is proof that readers like romances. Mills & Boon is still selling today, which means even mushy-feely romance novels are in demand. So, what makes a reader pick a romance novel? The answer lies in the fact that these stories help readers establish a connect with the genre. “It is about emotions which people associate with. It is difficult to connect with a thriller, horror, historical novels or even mythology, but people do associate with fundamentals of romance. Because at some point, people have experienced something similar in their life and want to consume a similar life from a different story. People want some association with their life and the story,” avers Singh.

Escape route  

Another reason can be escapism from one’s boring or troubled life, because romances are known for their happy endings. “Romance has always been up against a fair share of naysayers. Yet, the genre’s abiding popularity and growing acceptance in our own market cannot be denied. While eschewing the cerebral matter of more ‘literary’ works, a love story can still be counted on to make us feel good, and with all the chaff in the wind these days, a cheery romance novel is just what the doctor ordered,” says publishing giant Pan Macmillan India.

Or to put it in author of Glitter and Gloss, Vibha Batra’s words, “Simple economics, really. Short supply of romance in real life = sky high demand for the genre.”

Reading romances like a Mills & Boon brings instant gratification for many. Several loyal readers of the genre pick them up because they are a light read – something you can immerse yourself in at the end of a tiring day. “Many times, romance novels make for light reading; they are therapeutic even, which provide a break for your mind from over-mentalising certain things. I feel the people who judge others are the ones who read books like biographies, politics, spiritual books or let’s just say non-fiction. In our daily life we are stressing ourselves with a lot of things happening around us, these books give us a break from over-burdening our minds from cognitive thoughts. Sometimes we suggest that people read light books – be it romances, thrillers or whatever you like – to give themselves a break,” says psychologist Dr Seema Hingoranny.

A popular subject

Even in India, the genre has gained popularity over the years – though some readers might not want to admit to being lovers of the genre, romance novels sell. “One dimension of love is romantic love between humans and it is difficult to conceive of human existence without a component of such love. Down the millennia artists of all sorts – writers, poets, musicians, painters, dancers – have all attempted to define, describe, and depict various dimensions of love. It is the most natural, powerful, and therefore a popular subject for both writers and readers,” says Amitabh Pandey, author of Love in Lutyen’s Delhi.

Another accusation against romance readers is that they don’t know good writing. You can’t just write the entire genre off because of some badly written novels. Even fans of the 50 Shades series or The Twilight Saga admit that the novels are not an example of good writing. But they sell – and are still selling – millions of copies the world over. To conclude with a quote from the celebrated author Maya Angelou: “Easy reading is damn hard writing.”

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