PONDERING: “Just when I thought I was out — they pull me back in”Wednesday, May 2, 2012 13:00
I’ve just about given up on the “historical romance” because it’s not satisfying what I want to see in a well-written historical. But a recent post condemning readers who are labelling books “mistorical” has dragged me right back in.
Just so we know we’re on the same page:
I want to be taken back to a previous age. I want to be able to trust the writer to do this without jarring me back to the present day. I want that sense of living in the past and sharing a life with people who lived under certain conditions, dressed a certain way, with attitudes different to my own and my contemporaries.
That’s all. If you want something different from your historical, great. Go and get it, because the trend seems to be for that kind of book right now. That’s why, in my reviews, I try to be careful not to condemn the book, just to explain why I don’t like it, why it didn’t do it for me. What I refuse to do is to condemn readers whose tastes are different to mine and who want something else from the books the read.
I’m tired of picking up a historical, only to find another modern-characters-in-long-dresses story and as a result, I’ve stopped looking at all but the ones from authors I can trust. I need those labels to stop me getting a chapter in, only to find either history that’s wrong or no history at all.
Why is “mistorical” perjorative? Or is it the people who use it? I can’t accept a non-historical historical, and I don’t have a history degree, unless you count art history. I just live in the UK, have learned my history as I grew up, and my mind goes “no, no!” when I find a Faberge egg in a Regency, whether I want it to or not. I need a term that will clue me in to a book being one I don’t want to read. Just as there are heat guidelines, so that people uncomfortable with erotic romance can avoid it, I need a term that will stop me wasting my money on another frivolous romance that couldn’t possibly have happened in real life.
Until recently, I also took the wallpaper historical as an insult against Britain and its history, but having seen what the US has done to its own history, especially in movies (Anthony Quinn as a native American?) and remembering Hearst’s order to “print the legend,” I think it’s more part of American society to want to adopt something as its own and incorporate. Knowing the country (and loving it) a lot better now, I think it’s part of the mindset. That isn’t a condemnation, btw, it’s just the way things seem to be.
What makes a historical unsatisfactory for me is not just strict accuracy, such as using words before they came into common use, it’s the feel of the whole book. Accuracy would be the use of something before it was invented or Waterloo happening on a fine, sunny day in July, or Tiffany lamps in a Regency. But there’s another way to make a book “not historical.” That’s where the term “wallpaper” comes in, and this is a term I think is useful. The writer just eliminates obvious modern conveniences like cell phones and airplanes, and then puts the characters in quaint dresses. But it doesn’t have any specific references. Either that, or there are two or three carefully spaced nuggets that will remind the reader that this is a “Regency.” Dear Author introduced the term “mistorical” last year, and while some found it useful, others found it condemnatory, a criticism on the kind of books they loved to read. God forbid, and I mean that. The romance genre needs more critics like it needs a hole in the head. Ask any author of erotic romance. It was a good try at finding some term to apply to books that didn’t deliver on the historical front, but unfortunately readers got upset, so maybe we have to move on from that term.
When I review a historical romance, I’m being strictly personal. Whether you can be objective by writing a review is a whole ‘nother barrel of fish, but I have never claimed to be, because I don’t think there’s any value in writing a review of a novel and not getting personal about it. I’ve read and reviewed books by authors where I’ve loved one and disliked another. What I do try to do is to say why I didn’t like the book. Then readers can make their own decisions based on that. You might love Big Misunderstandings. I don’t. So you can read one of my reviews and go “hey, that sounds good” and even if I’ve given the book a D, you might decide to search it out. Because our tastes differ. I hope that doesn’t make us enemies or condemn your reading tastes in any way. Or that you should criticize me for preferring my historicals to reflect the time and place where it’s claimed the book is set.
It’s a “tomato, tomahto” thing.