I’ve already confessed to having a weakness for romance novels. My problem with this shameful weakness is that there was only one Georgette Heyer. Everything else is second best, with most books being more secondary than others.
Because of my fondness for Heyer’s wit and delicacy, I prefer true romances — the literary dance that takes two charming individuals right up to the kiss — as opposed to bodice rippers, many of which are just rather boring soft-core porn. I thought that I had found one of those true romances the other day, but I’ve been terribly disappointed, not only because the romance part was ultimately a failure, but because it was a stealth Progressive book.
The book that so disappointed me — and that leads me to a riff about good romances and about non-political romances — is Kissing Adrien. The book’s premise is a good one: Claire, an extremely buttoned-down American woman goes to Paris to help wrap-up a distant, and deceased, relative’s affairs. While there, a young man — the Adrien of the title — whom she’s known and loved since childhood, takes her under his wing.
The novel’s correct trajectory would have been for Adrien to have viewed Claire simply as a childhood friend but then to fall in love with her as his joie de vivre and sophistication help her become happy with herself and with life. The novelist, however, chose to have Adrien’s love date back to Claire’s childhood, which is an impossible premise. As written, Adrien is charm personified, and Claire, who seems “likeable enough” when the book begins, proves to be a repressed, unhappy, rigid lump. Adrien’s love is not believable, destroying the book’s central premise.
I can forgive a bad plot. Finding a romance novel built around a person growing and changing, rather than a person ripping her clothes off in the first chapter, is pleasant enough for me to stick with the book. What I can’t forgive is that, three-quarters of the way through the book, after Adrien has taught Claire about the pleasure of fine wine, good food, relaxation, and beautiful clothes, Adrien also teaches Claire (a self-professed Republican) that capitalism is cruel and evil, and that socialism is the most civilized, humanist way to go. Claire is overwhelmed by the force of his argument, and from then goes on happily to embrace the notion that Communism is consistent with Christianity, because the original Christians were probably communists. (Never mind that they voluntarily embraced a communal life, rather than having it thrust upon them by a totalitarian state.)
There is no greater turn-off in an ostensible romance than suddenly having someone’s political views thrust in ones face. Talk about romanaticus interruptus.
The only good thing in all this is that, having gotten the book as a free Kindle download, I’m not feeling cheated. Ultimately, it proved to be worth precisely what I paid for it — namely, nothing.