Sunday, 29 January 2006

I try not to do negative or grumpy posts on Wenlock, but some times things make me a bit cross. A case in point was today's Open Book on BBC Radio 4. You can listen to the programme from the BBC website for the next seven days (it needs Real Player).

A listener called the programme's Readers' Clinic asking for to be recommended romantic comedy for an intelligent reader. I was so taken aback by what was suggested for her that I ended up e-mailing Open Book to complain. Since their automatic response says that they don't read or reply to all their e-mails I thought that I would post my message here.
I was very disappointed with the response on today's programme to your reader's query about romantic comedy for intelligent readers. The tone was set by Mariella's flippant remark about the term being an oxymoron, but it was Tim Lott's selection of books which was the biggest problem.

There is nothing wrong with any of the books per se. Two are already classics of modern American literature[John Updike's Rabbit Run and Anne Tyler's The Accidental Tourist], and the other two [Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections and Nick Hornby's About a Boy] will no doubt achieve similar status in time, but, with the possible exception of the Nick Hornby, none of them would strike an intelligent reader as being romantic comedy.

I am an intelligent reader who reads romantic fiction, and I can suggest a number of authors who would fit your listener's requirements somewhat better than Anne Tyler, John Updike and Jonathan Franzen.

I would start with Georgette Heyer, whose historical romances are stuffed with wit and humour. Frederica is one of her best.

Then there is Katie Fforde, whose books cannot easily be dismissed as light-weight "chick lit". The characters are engaging, the situations are plausible, the outcomes are just the thing to drive away midwinter blues. Try Paradise Fields.

I won't go on, but I will point out that romantic fiction is probably second only to crime in terms of its popularity. Surely Open Book can serve readers of romantic fiction better than it does?

Stephen Bowden
(a member of the Romantic Novelists' Association team that reached the final of University Challenge - the Professionals last year)
Unlike other BBC arts programmes (such as the always excellent Front Row), Open Book has a bit of a track record of sneering at romantic fiction, which is a great pity.


irate mama said...

Well done for telling Open Book some home truths. I missed it today but don't feel inclined to chase it up following your comments.
It would be interesting to count up the members of the so called intellegensia who admit to being Heyer readers - I often wondered how many more are still in the closet so to speak.

Nell Dixon said...

Applauding! As a romantic comedy author I find it sad when people feel they have to criticize a particular genre in order to convince themselves of how clever they are.
I think I'm pretty intelligent, I have the professional and educational pieces of paper to prove it but I like to read a variety of books. I would even quibble over the term "intelligent" romantic comedy. There is a lot of what is in my view not very well written or plotted romantic comedy, as there is in other genres too. But you read it for fun, for enjoyment, not to improve your i.q or to broaden your education, although some will do that, but for your enjoyment. Somehow I think programmers need to grasp the fun concept a little more firmly.

jenny haddon said...

Good riposte, Stephen.

But oh dear, how funny. You couldn't make it up - or if you did no one would believe you.

I too have emailed the programme and been sternly warned that I'm not likely to get a reply. But I'm not too worried. The laugh was worth it.

My own message reads:

Jonathan Franzen recommended to someone looking for a romantic comedy? Oh please! Pseuds' Corner this way ...

If Tim Lott and your editors don't like much about current
romantic comedy - and they clearly don't - why not look to the past? There's the blissful "Piccadilly Jim" by Wodehouse, if you want more comedy; or Georgette Heyer's "Sylvester" for more romance.

Though if you're looking for contemporary romantic comedy which does what it says on the tin, the Romantic Novelists' Association (RNA)is always happy to advise.

Jenny Haddon
Chairman RNA