1) I don't watch Strictly Come Dancing (sure, I may catch a bit on occasion, but I'm NO devotee). I know that is virtually sacrilege but there it is.
2) As most of you will know, Cloud and I share four left feet and the dancing skills of untrained elephants.
3) I recently won a copy of Julia Williams's Strictly Love via the wonderful MediumRob's competition thanks to recounting the efforts Cloud nevertheless made to inject some romantic dancing into our lives.
4) The genre of 'romantic fiction' really only exists on my bookshelves in the most broad sense.
But, here's the thing. I love reading. I devour books. If I'm on a roll I can gallop through a book in a sitting (pace 'Love is a mix tape' last week - NB I cried through a good bit of it). And I'm especially partial to romance and interwoven lives come autumn months (sure there is a psychological reason for that)
So I was REALLY excited to get a copy of Julia's book and really looking forward to reading it.
I had the annual meeting with my former Wolverhampton students and colleagues (much fun: the plan is for a cultural, theatre-based trip to the RSC at Stratford next summer. There was a bit of envious muttering about me going twice next weekend but I brushed past it...). So I knew I would have a good couple of hours of trains there and back to sit with the iPod and read.
I finished the book about 15 mins before arriving back in Nottm.
It was LOVELY.
The interweaving of the four key characters' narratives pulls you in easily. They're convincing as people, despite the artificial setting of celebrity law-suits and publicity scandals (come on, that's not where most of us live but that's fiction, right???). It's in the little details that convictions come completely to life - the repression, the public personas, the ambivalent emotions about family and self-expectations. There is real forethought and acute observation in the constructions of these figures and their actions. And that's before we get to the dancing which reads vividly as the lived experience of someone who has gone through learning to dance.
Still, as a resolutely non-maternal type, I did feel my heart sink a little at the early screaming body clock scene. And though I understood that the characters may well react as they did to finding certain secrets, there was a bit of this liberal heart of mine that sank at certain expressions. But in the former, the issue of body clocks seemed to be dropped very quickly, almost undermined at some points - and regardless of your status as a parent I defy you to not be moved by the handling of parental love and bonds which Julia writes so well. And however my liberal heart may have felt at first, tolerance and balance do emerge to temper the sharpness of responses and stereotypes in a nevertheless realistic fashion.
So all in all, a bravo. I really enjoyed reading this and its rekindled my love of the broadest definitions of 'romantic fiction' - both contemporary and historical. I think I'll be indulging some more over the coming weeks.