Currently I’m reading The Island by Elin Hilderbrand. Her books have become autobuys for me and the funny part is, I realized I like her books so much because they’re so different from the books I typically read, edit and write.
Ms. Hilderbrand writes about the wealthy and privileged who tend to live on or near Nantucket – where she herself lives. She seems have great insight into the desperate lives of the people the rest of us may envy for their money, their opportunities and the views out of their beach house windows. Her books are compelling and the fascinating thing is, her characters are not likable. At least to me.
I’m a big one for reminding authors whose books I edit that their hero and heroine need to be likable and sympathetic. The worst thing you can do in a romance novel [aside from kill one of them off] is to make either of the main characters do something that will have readers jeering and hoping the other one kicks them to the curb. Secondary characters can be as nefarious as you want but the leads have to be people we would invite into our homes, serve a cup of coffee and insist they tell us all their woes. They need to be people we not only like, but that we like so much we root for them to fall in love and live happily ever after.
Ms. Hilderbrand doesn’t write romance. She writes women’s literature which often contains romantic subplots, but the stark beauty of her books is that I love them even though I’ve never once identified with or rooted for any of her characters. They all seem to have too much of everything. They’re wealthy, attractive, talented and usually sit within arm’s reach of all they ever wanted – yet they manage to find ways to screw up their lives and do a lot of whining about it and feeling sorry for themselves along the way. They’re people you want to smack.
Yet I can’t put the books down. And I realize I feel guilty about this because reading her books for me is like reading a gossipy letter from a friend – ‘remember so-and-so? Well, you’ll never guess what happened to her. Can you believe this?’ In real life, it’s feeding the green eyed monster, getting your jollies when someone who sits well above you on the ladder of ‘success’ turns out to have dirty clay feet. In real life, it’s bad – but in book form – pure heaven.
Do you have any favorite authors whose books make you feel guilty because you wonder if maybe you enjoy them for the wrong reasons? Is there a wrong reason to enjoy a good book?