K-Drama Crush

Visiting my elderly Mum has been all about binge watching Korean Rom-Coms for a while now – ever since she brought herself up to date with every movie Hallmark ever made. Now when I go over there all she wants to do is make me sit down with her – for hours – reading subtitles on a screen. It’s been her greatest joy through lockdown. It’s all she’d talk about. She’s seen so much K-drama that she’s picking Korean.

No way, was I going to do that. There’s enough going on in my life without “relaxing” like that in front of a screen. But it was impossible not to take a bit in – the TV is always on and tuned into some Korean stage of history – Joseon, Goryeon or Contemporary. A parachuter hanging from a tree in the Korean demilitarized zone, a woman sneaking out a lobby behind an upright promo flag, a medieval doctor tending to a patient in the modern streets of Seoul – the drama was intriguing – but subtitles, really? For 16 episodes plus? Better not get hooked. Little by little, scene over scene, I did.

And which series got me in the end?

Huron Ki-joon (Kang Ji-hwan) and Gong Ah-jeong (Yoon Eun-hye) in Lie to Me

Lie to Me

I don’t know how many times mum watched the scene in the corporate lobby but it got me each time.  Civil servant, Gong Ah-jeong, (Yoon Eun-hye) trying to avoid the uber-alpha protagonist and hotel exec, Hyeon Ki-joon (Kang Ji-hwan) while they are both in the proceeds of exiting the same office foyer, runs between vertical banners all the way out. Exposed outside, she ingratiates herself into his group of business associates in front of whom he can’t lose face, and ends up bumming a ride with them. It got me hooked. I had to see more. I had to see it from the start and I had to see more of Yoon Eun-hye. So, Princess Hours and the Coffee Prince followed, and then I was hooked.

Spoiler Alert!!!!

Lie to Me is a refreshing rom-com in its writing. It uses all the expected K-Drama Rom-Com tropes which I will blog about shortly, however, the story is built around recognizable tensions of flawed real life characters. Gong Ah-jeong has been trumped in the marriage race by her close friend who has stolen her love interest and married him while she has closeted herself away trying to pass her final exams.

Feeling belittled, betrayed and the loss of her personal dignity before her close friends and community she pretends that she is getting married, too. She doesn’t have a fiancé, boyfriend or love interest, so she claims to be marrying an untouchable hotel exec, Hyeon Ki-joon. Through a series of interrelated events and with the help of his practical joker brother, the exec agrees to pretend to be her boyfriend for the sake of her friends only. With the further intervention of said, practical joking brother, who introduces her to a Chinese diplomat and his wife as Ki-joon’s fiancé, the secret starts to spread and the fake couple get to know each other better.

Soon he begins using his wealth to help her in her career as a tourism industry official. She in turn is tempted to use her position to confer upon his hotel chain the contract for a mammoth international business deal. What will she do for love and how do they have the scandal afterwards progress the plot. In an interesting twist towards the end of the series we see the heroine grappling with the idea of losing her identity to their relationship and the demands of his world.

K-Drama rom-coms are so much fun – full of comic set-ups, clownish supporting characters, lots of drama, scheming older relatives, class differences and usually have an underlying message. They aren’t sexual explicit – refreshing – but they are very romantic, and like I’ve said, a lot of fun.

Losing Everything Finding Love

Featured

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09HPS93P3/ref=cm_sw_r_sms_awdb_H85QDVZTFBXZGA910JH0

Cover art by Alex Conan

Read enough of a genre of storytelling and eventually you’ll be tempted to write one, or so was the case with me. After binge reading my favourite romances from my salad days I began a catch up on what I’ve been missing. It was so much fun! I had to give writing one a go.

The thing with romance is that it’s a prescribed genre – readers have expectations and the genre complies. The genre is intended to be predictable- a happy ending is imperative. There are many tropes and guess what, they are all predictable.

Predictability is not a dirty word with this genre – it is the scaffold on which the story is built. The skill of the writer is taking the tropes and shaping a story to fit them that not only flows with an imperceptible compulsion but touches the reader – lifts them, reassures them and quite possibly takes them on a roller coaster ride that docks in a nirvana made by a respectful, sexy, amusing and positive relationship

It takes skill and imagination to get it right. A good read makes the work of the writer seem effortless- but it’s not.

So, I had a go. and it’s being released on Amazon Kindle on October 28.

Losing Everything, Finding Love is a light holiday romance and coming of age story set in Greece. It’s about an American college student who goes to Athens to complete her postgraduate qualifications in Archaeology. She barely lands before she gets tangled up in a human trafficking scheme.

Luckily for Constance she gets abducted from her kidnapper by a caffeine addicted taxi-driving Adonis – and all before he’s had his morning coffee.

Kidnapping an American tourist never crossed Mihali’s mind but that’s what his neighbour was up to. With his cab! When he saw the sleeping beauty in the back seat, he had to save her. His neighbour had already filched her luggage, passport, credit cards and left her an inoperable phone.

Problem was, she didn’t want to be saved. Not by him, anyway.

Now he has to convince her that that he is not part of a kidnapping scheme, otherwise, how will he be able to hide her from the underworld and prevent her from going to the police, the cab company, and the embassy?

To read more of the cover blurb, please click on this link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09HPS93P3/ref=cm_sw_r_sms_awdb_H85QDVZTFBXZGA910JH0

A Romance for Mr Flanagan

Have you ever looked forward to a book soooooo much that when it’s finally released you can’t bring yourself to read it? Have you coveted that book to the degree where you’ve squirrelled it away for just the right circumstances to come together to allow you the luxury of time and the indulgence of space to maximise the enjoyment you know it will provide you? And when you finally embarked on that torrent of words did their passage augur more than you even expected? And at the end of the journey when you reached Ithaca, having endured emotional travails and survived, did you experience that redemption – that revelation – that homecoming – that happily ever after?

Well, I didn’t. Not fully. Not exactly. Not quite with Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North and boy, did I sit on that book- waiting for the perfect moment to begin reading it – since 2014!

The problem is, Mr Flanagan built up my expectations for a romantic journey out of existential spiritual darkness into the light of reunion and the righting of deeply entrenched wrongs with a happily ever after… but there wasn’t one.

Why?

His main character’s story had the hallmarks of romance: melodrama- beautiful moments-charismatic heroine- brooding hero – all-consuming attraction, but not the carry through. It was almost a romance but just didn’t get there.

How? Why? What happened?

Richard Flanagan’s Man Booker prize winning historical fiction, The Narrow Road to the Deep North

Hmm… it begs another question, maybe he doesn’t know how to write a romance? What if he tried his best and all he could manage was that much?

How disappointing for him! To put down such a sweeping story and not manage to cross the finish line for the main protagonist!

Flawed? He must have been floored when he finished it. Luckily for him, he was handed a consolation prize to encourage him to keep on – the Man Booker Prize.

Clockwise from top left: The Narrow Riad to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan; A Kingdom of Dreams by Judith McNaught; How to Love a Duke in Ten Days by Kerrigan Byrne; Mr Cavendish, I Presume by Julia Quinn; Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas ; central illustration – inside cover art by Morgan Kane for A Kingdom of Dreams

Poor darling….

However, I believe a piddling prize like that alone won’t aid him achieve the perfect historical romance. I think he will greatly benefit from the following reading list. I’ve put it together for him keeping in mind the themes he exercises: melodrama; redemption; pathos; flawed characters; catharsis after struggle; love ethereal, undeniable and uncontrollable; self knowledge/ identity; and a strong sense of mateship.

1. Sarah Maclean’s Daring and the Duke (2020)

Cover’ of Sarah Maclean’s Daring and the Duke

Redemption, redemption, redemption! Flawed character healed by love after years of suffering and searching for his lost love.

The fanciful world building in this one makes it potentially more of an enjoyable book for women than men. Ewan, Duke of Marwick and Doriego Evans have a lot of suffering in common.

Cover: Kerigan Byrne’s How to Love a Duke in Ten Days

2. Kerrigan Byrne’s How to Love a Duke in 10 Days (2019)

Melodrama-flawed characters healed by love – abuse of power by person of responsibility leading to years of disempowerment and grief – healed by love – mateship between the three friends

Classic blend of historical romance and old fashioned melodrama.

Cover: Julia Quinn’s Mr Cavendish, I Presume

3.Julia Quinn’s Mr Cavendish, I Presume (2008)

Crippling self doubts over loss of identity, a long suffering fiancé- love bolstering and healing- humour – Julia Quinn’s light touch

This is not typical of historical romance due to the time spent with the identity crisis of the male protagonist – which is absolutely engaging. To get the full on fun elements from the melodrama the companion story The Lost Duke of Wyndham has to be read. These two books should have been published as one as there is unnecessary overlap between them. To appreciate both, leave a time gap between them when reading.

Cover: Lisa Kleypas’ Dreaming of You

4. Lisa KleypasDreaming of You (1994)

Irrational love, a power unto itself – melodrama – a strong sense of mateship among the club workers that’s sentimental and sweet in its own way – suffering, brooding hero – pathos- forgiveness.

Another classic blend of historical romance and old fashioned melodrama.

Inside cover art by Morgan Kane for Judith McNaught’s A Kingdom of Dreams

5. Judith McNaught’s A Kingdom of Dreams (1989)

A warrior trying to relax into civilian life- an irrational attraction that can’t be controlled- melodrama – forgiveness and redemption – loyalties challenged – humour – pathos – dramatic tension

This one has all the charm and humour of a Golden Years of Hollywood adventure tale – think Errol Flynn or Clark Gable in rom-com mode. Sentimentality, loyalty and humour not only through the heroine’s antics but through the secondary characters supporting her.

All with HEAs. Happy reading!

3. Narrow Road to the Deep North vs Romance Genre

Book Review – Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North

Before I read this book, I knew what my Goodreads review would be – 5 stars with the comment, “It’s by Flanagan, what more is there to say?” Having read it, I now know there is a lot more to say…

***Spoiler Alert***

So if you haven’t realized over the course of the last two posts where I discuss this book, I’ll tell you now, Flanagan’s book was a tease. It’s a literary, historic fiction that won the Man Booker Prize in 2014 and was lauded by the chair of judges, A.C. Grayling with the following words:

“Some years very good books win the Man Booker Prize, but this year a masterpiece has won it.”

Hmmm….my quandary – 4 stars on Goodreads or 5? Four – he built my expectations for a romance with a HEA and didn’t deliver – or Five – surely one of the most acclaimed texts of the 21st Century, studied in schools etc, how dare I even consider less than 5 stars?

The thing is, when he went there, he out-romanced romance novels. He gives us romantic melodrama and its mores – the love interest’s husband is blown up in an explosion freeing her to be with him – the jilted fiancé lies about her rival’s death – the young POW he befriends, admires, and ultimately fails to heal is revealed as his long-lost nephew – at the eleventh hour, a mere 40 pages or so before the ending, a whim of fate presents a situation to both lovers whereby they can alter their life path with a touch, but through a lack of communication, with a reliance on presumption, they don’t.

And then there is THAT moment in the bookstore where Doriego and Amy meet. It’s a rare moment in literature these days- even romance genre fiction. You see, that moment doesn’t depend on a physical attraction. The love interest isn’t sparked by fame, or talent or individual preferences for boobs or brawn. It’s sparked by a chemistry that’s almost other worldly and that moment is teased out over paragraphs.

You know the chemistry I mean: when the orchestra comes in just before the closing credits of a movie, when the hero and heroine finally kiss, when you’re made to feel what they feel? When love hits. That moment when you realise the space between you and him/her as an electrified field of resistance, highly agitated yet ineluctable and debilitating in its yearning need for equilibrium. Just a sound, a look, a touch, may send you into frenzy or dissipate the emotion in a folly of fantasy incapable of fulfilment and you rue the fatality of an attraction you cannot contain.

Find me a romance novel where the attraction isn’t about physical appearance. There are a few, but not many. You may find it in fantasy romance but in a novel featuring mere humans it’s a little rare.

Besides THAT moment that anticipates romance early-ish in the novel there is that stretch walking across the Sydney Harbour Bridge at the close of the novel – the antithesis of THAT moment and the antithesis of the romance ride. Flanagan inverts an expected, tried-and-tested romance technique in another Brechtian lesson served complete with broken expectations and denied complacency.

In a romance novel it would be at this point in the plot where the couple have reconciled and begin their life-journey together and while the reader awaits the finality of hearing either one proclaim aloud their love. It is at this point that one or other will be physically and/or emotionally taken away e.g., the heroine is kidnapped by a rival for her love. It’s the final hurdle to the HEA. Instead of giving us a hurdle to leap, in a strange coincidence Flanagan brings these lovers into close contact. They pass each other on the bridge. Silently. They recognise each other after decades. A word, a brush of a gently swinging hand, a stall in their tread, could bring them together. We watch in slow motion, incapable of prodding them out of the trajectory of their hollow lives.

Finally, there is no HEA. Not even for a war hero. Not even for a woman alone again and childless after decades presumably grieving that short lived wartime fling.

Does Flanagan convince that love existing between a couple can uplift each individual – make each person good – and make life fulfilling?

Hmmm….perhaps he needs to read a few romances.

Previous Posts in this series are:

1.The Narrow Road to the Deep North vs Tolstoy

2. The Narrow Road to the Deep North vs The Illiad

2. Flanagan’s, ‘Narrow Road to the Deep North’ vs the Illiad

Book Review – Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North

***Spoiler alert***

Before I read this book, I knew what my Goodreads review would be – 5 stars with the comment, “It’s by Flanagan, what more is there to say?” Having read it, I now know there is a lot more to say…

This book could obliquely be summarised as shifting sands. It’s pushed in one direction at the same time being pulled back from another perspective and like a whirly-whirly you may have to fall out of its thrall to see what’s going on.

It begins with the main protagonist, Dorrigo Evans, and follows his stream of consciousness until he takes us back to WWII for a brief glimpse of the Middle East before ditching us into the mire of Siam. Here we spend a day with the Australian POWs toiling on Japan’s infamous human rights atrocity, the Siam to Burma railroad – the Death Railroad.

The cover of Richard Flanagan's The arrow Road to the Deep North over WWII newspaper articles and a map of Siam from before WWII.

With his beautifully poignant prose, Flanagan talks to us about human relationships – courage, stamina, small mindedness, cruelty, camaraderie, and the interrelatedness of personal plights and emotional/spiritual ones. Here the book loses its single protagonist and enfolds an ensemble of characters into its purview. This is where Flanagan excels. This is what I was expecting from him – catharsis – an overwhelming cleansing with pure admiration for the moral victory rising from enduring excruciating pain, outrage and achieving survival.

The book is written in several sections – this one can stand alone. It brings to mind Homer’s Illiad.

Both books describe episodes in wartime, including personal ones. Here each member of the POW community is placed within the framework of who they were before the war and how they relate to their fellow soldiers and antagonist in their harrowing present. Absent is a sense of God’s presence. The pagan gods of Olympus are part of the fabric of the War for Homer – whereas for Flanagan, if God exists he has forsaken the POWs. Flanagan’s heroes have only a community that has been thrust upon them by the commonality of being POWs together.

But the story doesn’t stop here. Rising above the muck of humanity is a story, or trope if you like, he has often told – one of pain, fatality, emotional distance and ultimately the redemptive power of love. He continues the stories of the soldiers he has introduced us to in the POW camp – both the Japanese persecutors and the Australian survivors.

Having experienced the indifference, the superiority and the cruelty of the Japanese officers, as a reader we expect some sort of karmic release after the war. We don’t get one. This book is not about salving the atrocities of war – it iterates the waste, the pointlessness of war and to a slightly limited degree human existence.

A downer? Yes and no. No, in that Flanagan doesn’t say that life has no value. He is saying that love – the right kind of romantic/eros love – the type we stake our hopes upon for a happily ever after – not only gives life value but it can heal and uplift the soul.

Contradictorily, there is no happily ever after in this book: although for a brief moment on the Sydney Harbour Bridge we are teased with its possibility. Dorrigo Evans, the serial cheat doesn’t get a happy ending. It’s perhaps the morally correct ending he deserves – if you believe his fiancé didn’t realise she was lying when she reported to him the death of his lover, Amy. If you believe his fiancé lied, then perhaps she too deserved the life he gave her. Their marriage was for Dorrigo more soul destroying than his experiences in the prison camp – for there his memories and thoughts of Amy sustained him.

In the denouement, if we are looking for justice and retribution via karma, we don’t get it. What we see in Nakamura, the cruel war criminal, is the redemptive power of love and family. Over time, Nakamura realises the love of the woman he chose to marry. He becomes a gentle, moral man who no one, not even himself, can reconcile with the monster he was during the war. He goes on to live a full life surrounded by family, warmth and respect – a better life than the majority of the returning Australian POWs.

Having travelled life’s path with Dorrigo can we say whether he is a good man? He was a war hero. He risked his life for his family, despite being emotionally absent and transferring to them a pattern of broken expectations to live by. He lived by the social expectations of the times – had he flouted social expectations and conventions and not married Ella and not committed his flagrant infidelities would he have been a good man?

More to the point, could he have been a good man had he married the right woman? Flanagan drives this point almost all the way home. But do we believe him? Without a Happily-Ever-After for the main character, how can a message about the redemptive power of love between man and a woman be plausible?

Perhaps Mr Flanagan needed to read a romance or two.

For a further discussion about the romance/love story elements of this book:

1.Flanagan’s Narrow Road to the Deep North vs Tolstoy

1. Flanagan’s, ‘Narrow Road to the Deep North’ vs Tolstoy

Book Review – Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North

***Spoiler alert***

Before I read this book, I knew what my Goodreads review would be- 5 stars with the comment, “It’s by Flanagan, what more is there to say?” Having read it, I now know there is a lot more to say. Is it 5 stars for me? It’s ambitious and critically acclaimed, but it’s not what I expected from Flanagan and it was jarring. I had to put myself in the mindset that this is high literature and there is a method in the jarring, Brechtian approach of Flanagan’s romance. Yes, romance, but not as a romance reader would recognise.

Part of my problem sprang from the fact that I had gone on a 2 year romance reading binge before I picked it up. This book I had squirreled away for a perfect time to be swept away in torrents of pathos and catharsis like I had with The Sound of One Hand Clapping and Gould’s Book of Fish. I expected this book to weigh me down with the inadequacies of its flawed characters and then raise me up with the beauty of their unexpected forgiveness and belated understanding – or mine of the characters I had judged and exiled from the shelter of my sympathies. I expected to shed tears and have my faith reaffirmed in the power of love gently simmering away under the surface of emotional indolence.

The cover of Richard Flanagan's The arrow Road to the Deep North over WWII newspaper articles and a map of Siam from before WWII.

What I didn’t expect was a romantic love story – not in any major contribution to the narrative, anyway.

I did not expect the most beautiful prose around that very special moment when love strikes that sweeps away history-yet-to-be-written and affects multiple lives around it. And then I read a bookshop in Adeliade. From hence forward I shall always equate dust motes with champagne, white tablecloths and roses as accoutrements of Romance. Having spent two years binge reading romance novels – contemporary, historic, rom-com, erotic and written over the span of the last 40 years (back to Johanna Lindsay, Judith Mc Naught, Shirley Busbee, Kathleen E Woodiwiss and through the 90s, 00s, 10s to the present) not once was there a moment in any of them like the one in the book shop when Dorrigo Evans first encounters Amy. The only other moment in literature I can compare it to is the one at the ball when Vronsky first sees Anna in Anna Karenina. (Of course you can binge read romance forever without being able to say you’ve covered it. That moment has to be somewhere but I’ve missed it, or perhaps it wasn’t presented as lyrically for it to have stayed with me.)

Dorrigo’s bookshop encounter is based on a belief in being struck by a love that is not based on physical beauty, nor wit, nor logic, nor any other trope you may read in romance, but on a charisma all of its own – its own entity, energy, power. A chemistry that is built up to, or explained away often in romance novels but rarely, it seems, exists in of itself – the chemistry separate to the psychology.

Flanagan and Tolstoy have different motives with their books. Tolstoy explores love between a man and a woman through various relationships. He demonstrates that a good relationship is a healthy relationship, sanctioned by society, where the individuals become more productive and can contribute more to society by their happy union. He asks the question can romantic love or marital love fulfil an individual’s purpose and his responsibilities to society? When the relationship is based on infatuation and the headiness of erotic love that does not transform and lift the characters to better fulfil their duty to the community – and in Tolstoy’s example –  allow them to achieve meaning, as is the case with Anna’s expectations, tragedy ensues.

Knowing from the get-go that the relationship between Dorrigo and Amy is not sanctioned by society and that it is one of cheating a man who has been her harbour and his uncle, bodes ill especially when you consider that this is a historical fiction. I couldn’t help thinking of Tolstoy’s book. Flanagan doesn’t ask can erotic love alone fulfil the human condition as does Tolstoy’s. He asks repeatedly what makes a man good. What does a man need to make him good? The love of a woman, whose man is in the throes of this charisma-entity that we call love?

***spoiler alert***

But this is not a Romance. Certainly not one as defined by romance critic, Jen Prokop from JenReadsRomance, nor romance writer Sarah Maclean, both of the Fated Mated podcast, on their episode, What Makes A Romance Novel a Romance Novel. In this episode I think it’s Jen who says something along the lines that the reader is left with the belief that the couple are better together than they are apart. As Dorrigo’s life plays out we are left with the conviction that had he believed Amy had survived the blast in the hotel, that he wouldn’t have married Ella and that he would have been the good man – the good husband- the good father and not believed himself a fake – the shell of a good man in the shape of a war hero.

Flanagan doesn’t allow us the comfortable ride of romance with an assured Happily Ever After. In fact he chops up the retelling of the relationship between Dorrigo and Amy in real time with future scenes from Dorrigo’s experiences in the Japanese POW camp as they build the Death Railway – a salute to Brecht – if you want to learn something from a story don’t get too emotionally involved in the storyline – alienation effect. My problem is that it’s written so beautifully, it’s hard to disentangle myself from their beautifully doomed affair. It’s an extramarital affair for Amy and that goes against my expectations for romance and makes for a harder read especially when so many romance triggers have been set off. Cutting to the prison camp and then back again heightens the jarring rhythm.

There is another part to this book that is gratifying as expected and that is the day spent with the Australian diggers in the prison camp. The themes of what makes a good man and can the love between a man and his wife transform him, continue in the years after the war is over. These will be covered in Part 2 of this review:

2. Flanagan’s Narrow Road to the Deep North vs the Illiad

Meet the Cast – Stavrakas

The colourful figure of the  Stavrakas  shadow puppet  shown in reverse
Stavrakas, hero-in-his-own-mind and oily urban cowboy, denizen of the by-ways of the Port of Piraeus

Stavrakas, the oily, hero-in-his-own-mind knows where the Vizier’s goats are & will give them up for the gold coins & the Vizier’s daughter.

Stavrakas

Stavrakas in front of Karagiozis ‘ hovel
Stavrakas of Piraeus by the Ergastirio_Skiwn_Kouzaros, held against the perde

Tzimis Stavrakas is a braggart and liar from the Port of Piraeus. He has seen the underbelly of society and thinks much of himself and his worldly ways. Styling himself outlandishly as an outlaw/cowboy, he is a coward at heart, running and hiding in the face of danger.

He was added to the repertoire around 1900 by the puppeteer, Yiannis Moros. (http://www.karagiozis.gr)

See Stavrakas in the upcoming for YouTube production of

Karagiozis and the Golden Fleecing

by the Ergatirio_Skiwn_Kouzaros (Script by me, Stella)

N O W S H O W I N G

on YouTube

Shadow puppets are available to purchase from the Ergastirio_Skiwn_Kouzaros e-shop

Meet the Cast – Barba-Yiorgo

The noble, land-owning shepherd who represented honourable and admirable qualities of the Greek character

Barba-Yiorgo, the smelly goatherd wants a wife but his grass is being cleared by ravenous, hairy, mud-besplattered monsters in the purview of a resident serpent in his olive grove.

Black and white work in progress shot of Barba-Yiorgo.

Barba-Yiorgo is the tallest character in the Karagiozis repertoire and also the fiercest. He alone can best the Vezier’s personal cutthroat, Veligekas.

Barba-Yiorgo is the biggest land-owning shepherd from central Greece. He has the greatest flock and carries his shepherd’s crook with pride. He is Karagiozis’ uncle.

Honest and earthy, he holds the respect of the people. Karagiozis calls him uncle.

Barba-Yiorgo before Karagiozis’ hovel, from the Ergastirio_Skiwn_Kouzaros

He is dressed in the traditional garb associated with modern Greece. With his great height, his foustanella – 100 panelled kilt – tights, kaltsothetia – stocking ties- and tsarouhia – traditional slipper/shoes he is dressed like the national guard of Greece.

Added to the Karsgiozis repertoire around 1897 by the puppeteer, John Roulias, he may appear with a moveable arm (www.karagiozis.gr) Like all of the characters in the repertoire he speaks with a distinctive accent. If he has any shortcomings they are a propensity for stinginess and a superstitious nature.

Karagiozis and the Golden Fleecing

is

N O W S H O W I N G Ergastirio_Skiwn_Kouzaros YouTube channel – in Greek with English subtitles.

Beautiful puppets and Karagiozis merchandise can be purchased from their E-shop on their website.

Random-ish thoughts on Romance pasted together

Reading the laugh-out-loud The Wallflower Wager by Tessa Dare, Photo credit: @alexartmemes @alexartdreams

Way back in March I began blogging about romance with the question, “Who Reads Romance?” My question was sparked by a disparity in opinions on the quality of romance genre books when those written in the 70s and 80s were compared with the ones written today. Old school readers assured me that books written today weren’t as “strong”.

At the time, I started listening to various romance podcasts – maybe 5 – and consulted Goodreads to find a good book or a few. I learnt that those old school romances -the ones I cut my teeth on – were deemed problematic at best and fodder for mockery at worst.

I tracked romance bookstagrammers and listened to podcasters for authors and books that were current that I could gush over as much as the reader recommending it. No book recommended was unenjoyable, but could I gush over it as it was being gushed over the airways?

The more I listened, the more I came to suspect that we readers are hooked not only by our favourite tropes but by the style of writing employed by the genre when we were first introduced and the way those books translated the restraints and insecurities we place on ourselves into the social milieu of the novel – this particularly resonated with me when I read historical romance.

Possibly this hooking, “blooding” – to borrow a term from the wonderful Fated Mates podcast– in romance occurred when we first started dating or were ready for it – as teens and twenty-somethings.

I suspect that if you are one of so many voices gushing over Lisa Kleypas’ Devil in Winter, then you were in your teens or twenties in 2006 and dreaming of romance. I liked it too, very much, but I can’t gush over it like sooooooooooo many others. For me, that kind of gushing was back in the 80s and 90s – particularly over Judith McNaught’s Kingdom of Dreams, published in 1989, the year I started uni.

The romance genre’s writers and critics talk a lot about what kind of stories should be written, who should write them, the ethics upheld in the plot, the careguarding of consent, whether there should be content warnings/ spoiler alerts, how distressing the story may be and for whom, and generally the impact of the story on the reader – is it politically correct? feminism affirming? uplifting? What sort of emotional work is it doing for the reader? With all of these questions and more, I wonder how difficult it is to tick all of the boxes and still deliver a good story.

It’s interesting that E. L. James, 50 Shades of Grey, began as fan fiction. To say that its universal appeal was just due to the sex may be an oversimplification. The main character, Ana, is interesting yet she is not a self-possessed, confident, go-getter who states what she wants and pursues it. Not in the first book, anyway. Against the current trend / desire for such a heroine she is shy and malleable throughout the first novel until she finally finds her own strength and uses it.

The desire for strong, self-possessed/ driven heroines in literature brings an old Donohue episode to mind. Aired perhaps as part of his last season, the conversation was around shyness. It was perceived in a negative light. I found it disturbing at the time and decades later I still remember it. It went unchallenged that to succeed a person had to be assertive.

Now I must ask, can a shy heroine be interesting? Can a woman who is malleable or accommodating be considered a fitful heroine? Does a woman need to be assertive to have her worth acknowledged? Must she be an alpha? Would a wallflower still be interesting if she didn’t reach off the wall? Could a wallflower remain a wallflower even after a romantic adventure?

Lots of questions. Luckily romance moves quickly. It will evolve with its readers and I will be enjoying its journey onwards.


This has been the last of my romance blogposts. It’s been fun – especially exploring so many new authors and rediscovering a genre that lifts me, makes me laugh, reduces my anxiety, puts me in the mood and replenishes the romance in my own relationship.

What’s next? Exciting news about a project that is coming full circle.

Watch this space.

What’s the deal with Historical Romance?

A girls in modern dress sleeps, dreaming of a woman in pre 20thcentury dress feeding birds
Artwork by AlexArtDreams, a detail from her sketchbook, available to be viewed on Patreon

The Duke (no, not John Wayne – the English aristo) is damaged. He could also be an Earl, a Viscount or just a Lord. Whatever his title, he’s often a rake and the ultimate catch for every ingénue who happens to cross his path. Her purity will set him free of the arrogant, broody coil he has been born into. She will be the toast of the ton as all her happily-ever-afters will radiate out from the point at which this rich, entitled – in every sense of the word – white, anglo-celtic, protestant male to-the-manor-born, who has inherited connections, money, respect, power and is a perfectly package symbol of patriarchy, professes his undying love for her.

I love it. It’s the classic and enduring historical romance trope and I love historical romances. I’ve been indoctrinated from an early age. I revel in romance’s overture a.k.a. the happily ever after, the beautiful gowns, the handsome prince, the carriages, the servants living their emotion journey vicariously on the hem of the heroine’s swooshing gown – who wouldn’t want a cluster of individuals so invested in their well-being that they will act for them against their own person safety, even if their true selves are rodent, canine or equine.

Today’s sexy, genre-fiction romance novel began with historical romance – with delicious adventure stories – a rollercoaster ride through exotic locations with Alpha-males who strutted about needing to be tamed by insecure teenaged virgins.They could be rapey and their facts could be very, very wrong, but their social milieu seems closer to historic truth than those written today.

Three rows of romance book cover dating back to the 70s
Historical Romance Book Covers

Today’s historical romances fit modern American 20-30 y.o. feet into the slippers of the past. You can find duchesses who often wear breeches and busy themselves in business of all calibres, even running brothels and gaming houses. Not that this sort of thing didn’t happen in history. I think there is a historic precedent in every unexpected depiction – today’s novel’s are very well researched. However, these unusual femmes are populating that imagined era more and more often.

These novels are read quickly and in great volumes. I fear the impression of a past society where there were many such extraordinary women would stay with the reader because of the number of books read – reinforcing the idea that these types of women were plentiful, enough to form their own clique.

They bring today’s woman’s confidence and entitlement to a society that was hard pressed to produce such an individual. If that society could, feminism would have taken off earlier. Are we disrespecting the women of the past and what they put up with? Their resilience? The enormity of their success and the obstacles they overcame by writing so loose with societal pressures of the past?

It’s wonderful that strong heroines who challenge the patriarchy are being depicted- that there are blue stocking heroines, but can feminism in historical romance have any meaning when the object of desirability is a symbol of patriarchy?

Romancelandia

At the speed at which romance novels are written and consumed a whole world is clearly created that lingers between reads and overlaps them. This collective world of hundreds of novels by many writers leaves an impression of the past beyond the covers. The brothel owner – game hall owner may be the exception in the particular book but comes as part of the Romancelandia world.

Will readers believe this is how the past really was? Are we devaluing the struggle? Are we devaluing feminism and its history?

Or are we healing it in our memory so that we can deal with the injustice and more forward? Is this the way we should be doing it? Does history matter?

Can a sexually empowered female character challenge the patriarchy today when Medea and Helen were examples to keep women behind closed doors?

Can sexually liberated/empowered female characters in literature reclaim respect for women -smash the patriarchy- in today’s world whereas in the classical Greece Euripides Medea lost everything because she had such power? For the Ancient Greeks a sexually empowered woman was likened to a witch.

Ancient Greek literature influenced European literature in a big way done to the twentieth century. Often religion is blamed for maintaining the Patriarchy but this is undervaluing the place of the Classics and their Renaissance revival. For deist and atheist alike there has always been examples of Patriarchy to model future endeavours on.

Why would a sexually empowered female character today smash the patriarchy? What’s the difference today – electricity and the pill? A platform to fight from built on an accumulation of ongoing struggles throughout history?

The English Aristocrat as a Symbol of Patriarchy

Patriarchy is intimately entwined with the British class system and its entrenched wealth, political system and socialisation. It’s been maintained by social subjugation.

Aristocracy/colonialism/patriarchy – control – have been entrenched in the British class system. By making the romantic object of each heroine’s desire an aristocrat, this caste system is reinforced and so is the patriarchy. When the heroine marries this symbol of patriarchy she substantiates her joy and reinforces her worth in society and herself based on climbing the patriarchal social ladder.

Yes, I know it’s because she gets the man she loves. Yes, I know he could actually be a feminist. Yes, I know it heightens the tension because of his desirability and the achievement of defying the social order etc. But again, in Romancelandia the choice of the aristocrat is a choice of a the symbol that reinforces the patriarchy. When these books are consumed as quickly and regularly as they are, the patriarchy is reinforced again and again.

A tower and battlements on the cover of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander
Outlander – in the first book the hero is an outlaw and the heroine has travelled to the past with nothing but her education and the clothes on her back

There are historical romances where there is no prince, duke, earl, lord, saving an ingénue from a life of obscurity or life as an unwed wallflower – genre novels that feature working heroes and heroines –  eg., Lisa KleypasSomeone to Watch Over Me and Sarah MacLean’s Brazen and the Beast. Logic says there must be more but most historicals you’ll come across will feature Dukes etc as their heroes.

One the cover of Brazen and the Beast, the beautiful blond heroine, all dressed up and next to it,  the sleeping heroine in need of saving in Simeone to Watch Over Me.
Sarah Maclean’s Brazen and the Beast and Lisa Kleypas‘ Someone to Watch Over Me – both with heroines who defy conventional historical romance’s obeisance to patriarchal British aristocracy.

Despite all of this I still love reading Historical Romance but I have to quash the niggle in the pit of my stomach almost every time.