The Week in Arts: Let's leave realism out of romantic fiction

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The Independent Online

I was pleased to see my former Independent colleague, Jojo Moyes, win the Parker Romantic Novel of the Year award for her book Foreign Fruit. Or perhaps I should say in the vernacular of the award: "My heart gave an involuntary flutter as the shy, innocent girl I remembered seemed every inch the confident woman as she went to the podium, quivering only slightly as she received her prize from that redoubtable matron, Germaine Greer."

I was pleased to see my former Independent colleague, Jojo Moyes, win the Parker Romantic Novel of the Year award for her book Foreign Fruit. Or perhaps I should say in the vernacular of the award: "My heart gave an involuntary flutter as the shy, innocent girl I remembered seemed every inch the confident woman as she went to the podium, quivering only slightly as she received her prize from that redoubtable matron, Germaine Greer."

The Romantic Novel of the Year award tends not to receive much coverage in the press, and Ms Greer's speech at the Savoy Hotel has gone unnoticed. But this column is not at all scared of romance, and is only marginally scared of Germaine Greer.

So let's examine what she did say in her speech, a speech which caused startled mutterings, and some decidedly unromantic hissing, from the diners at the ceremony. She spent some time talking about how all men in romantic fiction, from Mr Darcy onwards, were absent, unemotional and forbidding, basically representing "the unrequited love for the father". She also talked at some length about her own father, who couldn't kiss or hug her because of his own complicated sexual feelings, and claimed that all little girls long for the man "who could never love her in the way she needed to be loved" (a few very audible hisses at this stage).

She ended by entering a plea for more romantic fiction about the love between older women and younger men - "Let's substitute the son ... for the father!" she declared. Actually, in the winning book, one of the male romantic leads is the teenage son of a fruit importer, the other a quiet, unassuming pensioner.

Nevertheless, Greer may well have a point. She has her own commercial imperatives for talking about the supposed attraction for older women for teenage boys. It forms the subject of her most recent book. But she is right that, generally, romantic fiction rarely moves away from the stereotypical attraction of young woman for older and, usually, emotionally restrained man.

Romantic fiction still represents only a percentage of romantic love. Gay relationships remain a rarity, and one would need encyclopaedic literary knowledge to name five in the whole of romantic fiction. Indeed, recalling just one isn't that easy. And for all Germaine Greer's best efforts, older woman/younger man is still not seen as the stuff of romance. Romantic novelists and their publishers have the opportunity to extend the boundaries of fiction. They can not only redefine accepted criteria for the novel. Perhaps Germaine Greer should write the new romantic novel.

Lights ... sexual chemistry ... action!

* Screen chemistry is actually all about chemistry. So say the chemists. The Royal Society claimed this week that the most successful on-screen pairings had a chemical reaction. A spokesman said: "Like anything to do with chemistry, it is all about mixing up a cocktail of ingredients to get the right result. With men and women it can be the chemical attraction of love, with pheromones and other hormones being released and the two obviously attracted to each other. Tracy and Hepburn, Bogart and Bacall, Taylor and Burton are all good examples."

Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe had a negative reaction on The Prince and the Showgirl. I suspect this was also to do with Olivier telling Monroe: "Marilyn, be sexy." She did not appreciate the implication that her most celebrated innate quality was a trick any decent actor could do. I take the Olivier view. The chemistry between Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray in Lost in Translation (pictured) is terrific because they are both fine actors. And fine actors cannot only "be sexy"; they can also "do" chemistry.

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