Category Archives: readers’ likes & dislikes

Sloppy Genre Novels, a Reader’s Perspective

sloppy genre novels NY Times Book reviewIn a recent piece in the New York Times Book Review a well known British novelist is scathing about what she calls “sloppy genre novels”.

I’m currently in Reader Mode. (I’m editing. That always sends me to reading for consolation.) Writerly reaction will have to wait.

But Facebook has shown me that several genre novelists have raised an eyebrow at this apparent attack.

The phrase is racy and moderately memorable. Memorable enough to make it into the puff paragraph, anyway. It is, alas, imprecise.

Attack on Genre Novels?

sloppy genre novels blow landingThe art of the insult, of course, is to leave third parties in no doubt of what you think. In particular, you want to ensure that those whose efforts you have under your cosh are quite certain that the blow has landed.

This phrase doesn’t.

It begs the question:

  1. are some genre novels sloppy and some not?
  2. is the quality of being sloppy an inseparable accidens of any novel which may be sorted into any genre?
  3. is there a sloppy genre? (Possibly what Webster’s dictionary defines as “romantic in a foolish or exaggerated way” and what my friend Professor Brainstawm, whom I have mentioned on this blog before, would call “a bit soppy.” I interpret this to mean that the work deals with human emotions, particularly love, which the characters articulate in a fashion that sends your Restrained Englishman into an agony of embarrassment. Bless.)
  4. does sloppy in this context mean one or all of: careless, slapdash, messy, excessively casual, inattentive, showing a lack of care, attention or effort?

Material for a good argument, maybe, but a bit specialised and likely to end inharmoniously. I’m going to dump this debate in the trash can without regret.

Reader of Genre Novels?

I’ve been reading fiction a long time and I think of books first and foremost as individuals. Like many readers, the only genre I really notice is Harlequin Mills & Boon. And that’s because the books come in a uniform, like air crew.

What’s more, when Amazon tries to persuade me that I’d like more of the same genre, I give a hollow laugh. The theory seems to be: read one Italian detective, read 50 of the blighters.

I mean, you’d laugh if someone said, “You like this Asian thirty-year-old who reads Patrick O’Brian and does parkour, so you’d like all these other Asian 18th-century-naval-fantasists who jump over bits of urban architecture for fun,” wouldn’t you? I mean one Nelson wannabe is enough for anyone.

So if I read Harlequin Mills & Boon I might feel a bit put off by this hectoring Brit telling me that it’s bad. But otherwise, I’m probably not going to identify as a reader of genre fiction.

Reader Seeks Book

But what I am still looking for is what the New York Times “By the Book” format promises me – word of mouth reading recommendations. And not one of the books which she mentions comes out of this interview as really mouth-watering.

In fact, I so profoundly disagree with one of her points, that I wrote a sort of refutation of it seven Sloppy genre novels Hot Water PGWyears ago! If I were going off on holiday to France and wanted, while lounging by the pool, to read about the pre-war drinking class of American expats on the Riviera, I would not choose Tender is the Night. I’d go for Hot Water  by P G Wodehouse.

Professor Norman Geras invited me to write a review of a novel of my choice on his wonderful, quirky, humane blog. He’d had some distinguished guests and even more distinguished book recommendations, so I was particularly gleeful that he accepted PGW. Hot Water, as I said at the time bears comparison with the Fitzgerald in many aspects. And, unlike the semi-autobiographical shenanigans of Fitzgerald’s joyless alcoholics, it is a delight.

sloppy genre PGW But, if you won’t take my word, take the Master’s. It was, wrote PGW on publication, quietly satisfied for once, “A corker. There isn’t an incident in it that doesn’t act as a delayed bomb and lead to an explosion later.”


Small, Select Genre

PGW, of course, virtually created his own genre. Arguably he was joined there by successors Tom Sharpe and the wondrous Terry Pratchett. And not a sloppy book among them, in any of the meanings of the word.

Hot Water. You won’t regret it.

Suspend disbelief? Unancounced ghost

Disbelief and Our Willingness to Suspend it

Coleridge author of Suspension of Disbelief It was Samuel Taylor Coleridge, he of Ancient Mariner fame, who coined the phrase “suspension of disbelief” in 1817 in his Biographia Literaria or biographical sketches of my literary life and opinions. He did so referring to his contribution, more than twenty years earlier, to  the Lyrical Ballads. Published in 1798, these are generally taken to mark the start of the romantic movement in English literature. William Wordsworth wrote most of them, of course.

Suspending Disbelief to Embrace Marvels

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Appetising Heroes? Have YOUR say in the Hero Poll

?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?   Who Is The Man On Page One   ?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?

hero in the mist - bring him into the light with hero pollBring YOUR hero out of the mist

Hero Poll — Romantic Heroes that draw YOU in

You check out the cover, the blurb, the first page or two. What is it about the hero — as he appears at the outset, warts and all — that makes you want to read his story? Continue reading

Wedding Dilemma

wedding dilemma to show or not to show on the pageAt some point every romantic novelist faces the Wedding Dilemma.

Will they?
Won’t they?
If they do — how, when and where?
On the page?
On the last page?

Of course, the purist’s answer is: whatever is right for the characters. But, just as organising a real-life wedding needs to take account of friends and family, the end of a story — perhaps more than any other part of the book — is there to satisfy Readers. To provide emotional closure.

wedding dilemma for the child bridesmaid


Do Readers want, need a wedding to achieve that? Even if the characters don’t? Continue reading

Wanna Wallow, Dear Reader?

Georgette Heyer’s endings

Re-reading some of my favourite Georgette Heyer novels recently — Dame Isadora snagged me as the minion to do the research for her blogs because she, being a Very Important Personage, had Better Things To Do — I was struck by how often Heyer brings her lovers together at the very end of her novels, sometimes on the very last page.

bride and groom pre wallow
Heyer might give us a chaste embrace. She might even give us a fierce kiss or two. And she often adds a shared joke.
But that’s about it.

What we don’t get in Heyer is a lovers’ wallow.

What’s a wallow?

I’d describe the wallow as a shortish section at the end of a love story where the reader sees the lovers together and passionately in love — both of them trusting and relaxed and happy. Sometimes the lovers are married, sometimes they have had children, sometimes they are simply enjoying each other.

wallow on tropical beach



It’s the Happy Ever After ending shown right there on the page for the reader to savour.



Some readers love a wallow. Some readers even feel shortchanged if a novel doesn’t have one at the end. But readers still love all those Heyer novels that don’t have the merest hint of a wallow. So…

Does a love story need a wallow?

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