I’ve been bouncing from Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series to a few books from the romance genre to Elizabeth Von Arnim’s The Enchanted April to Pride & Prejudice in the search of a comfort read which I can slip into effortlessly and wrap myself in. In Pride & Prejudice my search has finally come to a rest.
I’ve been thinking over what it is about Miss Austen’s well-loved work which clicked for me right now. Every reason that I can think of seems to stem from the familiarity with the story – the knowledge of how things turn out. As long as I do not know how it all unfolds I am beset with a sort of anxiety, a sort of nervousness that ensures that the bulk of my focus is on discovering how it all ends – Will the characters find eventual happiness? Will they have wizened up to the deviousness of that particular character? Will he live or will he die? Will he grow to love and accept her? Will she learn to speak up for herself? As long as these questions hold my interest everything else is sort of like the scenery you pass by when travelling in a train – you spy an interesting sight that you’d like to explore more but are helpless in the face of the onward tumble into the journey.
However, this time around with the knowledge that Miss Bennett most assuredly finds her happily-ever-after and with the knowledge of the general lay of the land I am finding myself enjoying each and every word that Miss Austen has written much more. I am making new discoveries – that while Pride & Prejudice could certainly be held as the original exemplar of romance novels it’s also quite a bit of a satire on the times that Miss Austen lived in; that Miss Bennett is a bit of a nitwit and perhaps not as picture perfect as I’d previously thought; that Mr. Collins is really delightfully ridiculous. This re-reading that I’m in the midst of is resulting in a deeper delving into the characters and that is one aspect that I am enjoying hugely. Mr Bennett seems somewhat callous in his utter indifference to his wife; Mr. Wickham’s earnestness and eagerness in sharing his past and blackening Mr Darcy so readily, his immediate latching onto Miss King as soon as she inherits – all seem a bit suspect and seem to be a clear and early signal of his unsavory character.
And yet if it was the element of familiarity that is contributing so much to my enjoyment and consequent labeling of Pride & Prejudice as a perfect comfort read then I’m compelled to think that this would be true of genre reading too. Genres with their tropes and elements that are constant across stories would afford that same familiarity with the promise of a new packaging. One would not have to confront the anxiety of uncertainty. All the energy could be focused on the way the character is developed or the lyrical quality of the text or the bigger themes being discussed in the novel or any of the other elements which go into developing a story.
The only genre I can speak with any sort of authority is the romance genre – having read quite a few stories over the course of the past few years. And yet, as I think back over my recent reading experiences of the romance genre I find the above anything but true. I find myself becoming increasingly impatient with the tropes – the hero who values his freedom too much for a commitment, the happy sparkly girl who captures our brooding hero’s heart, the heroine who quietly loves the hero from a distance and continues being his best friend while the hero potters around and takes the length of a book to realize he actually loves her too – and so on and so forth. I am besieged with the desire to yell at all of them and to tell them Enough-Already! Get a life! I’ve been prepared to be enchanted and yet the magic of Eloisa James, Carla Kelly and Susan Elizabeth Phillips have failed to work this time around. Perhaps, that is the subject for another post. In this one, I am just thinking that perhaps at certain times genre-reading could fail to exercise its usual charm and magic.
Familiarity of course is just one element of a comfort read. I think I’ll continue using Pride & Prejudice to discover the other elements that constitute a perfect one.
In the meanwhile I’d love to know your favourite comfort reads. And also your experiences with genre reading and how well (or not) you think it lends itself to comfort reads.