Add A Little Romance (Novel) To Your Valentine’s Day- Part 1!
Is there a more maligned genre of literature than the romance novel? For years it’s been made fun of as the primary choice of literature for middle aged spinster cat ladies everywhere, as something to sneer and scoff at.
The image of romance novels is changing, and changing fast. The genre has moved on from the long-haired Fabio covers of the 80s, and from the icky overtones of the relationships between the heros and heroines that gave them the nickname “bodice rippers”. Today’s romance novels are far more likely to explore class dynamics, mental illness, racial tensions, and feminism than they are to have an alpha hero coercing his lady into sleeping with him.
To kick off NeuWriteSD’s second Valentine’s Day week, I bring you part one of a two part series on my favorite romance novels that feature the brain or science in some way. Today’s post features heroes suffering from mental illnesses, and the heroines that seek not to cure them, but to be their partner and friend. Below you’ll find summaries and links to three truly excellent reads- I’ve read them all at least twice and enjoyed them thoroughly!
- Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale
This is a book that tops a lot of “best of” lists, and for good reason. It’s the story of the unlikely relationship between Christian, Duke of Jervaulx and Maddie Timms, a Quaker woman. Christian is a mathematical genius who is collaborating with Maddie’s father on a paper when he is struck down with a mysterious illness. She later encounters him in a lunatic asylum, half-mad and incapable of speech, and finds within herself a calling to help bring him back to the world. I’ve linked to the audiobook rather than the print edition for a reason- Christian spends much of the book suffering from aphasia (a language disorder that manifests here in trouble finding and forming words), so his speech is halting and difficult. The narrator, Nicholas Boulton, does a spectacular job with a very difficult character, making Christian’s aphasic thoughts and Maddie’s Plain speech clear and effective. Laura Kinsale is known for her lyrical, beautiful writing and vivid characters, and this book is no exception!
- Trial by Desire by Courtney Milan
Talk to me for any length of time about romances, and I’ll probably mention Courtney Milan’s books at least three times (she’ll make another appearance on this list). She’s one of the best writers I have ever encountered, in any genre. Trial by Desire is one of her first books, so the writing is not as assured or polished as some of her later works. However, it’s still a wonderful read and it’s one of the best portrayals of bipolar disorder I’ve read in a romance. Ned is aware that something is not right with his mind, and has come up with ways of dealing with it (some of which are medically sound, some which are not so helpful). He struggles daily to find his equilibrium, and he both makes mistakes and tries to set them right again. His wife, Kathleen, is no less complex, though her secrets are very different from Ned’s. A highly recommended (and very quick) read!
- The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
This book made a bit of a splash when it was finally published in the US in 2013 after being a smash success in Simsion’s native Australia. Don Tillman is a professor of genetics who has come to the realization that it’s time for him to get married. Sadly, his history of dating has not been optimal, so he’s determined the best way to find his perfect partner- a 16 page, rigorously designed survey that forms the backbone of the Wife Project. At the same time, he’s taken on an entirely illogical quest to help Rosie, a friend-of-a-friend, find her biological father. Rosie disrupts all of Don’s routines, makes him act far out of character and shakes the very foundations of his life. Don has what is likely undiagnosed Asperger’s syndrome and generally has no trouble getting along in the world- he just has his own way of doing things. His portrayal is similar in many ways to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, although Don is definitely his own character and not a collection of symptoms. Rosie falls on just the right side of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, and the whole book is funny, charming and just plain delightful.