If you’ve just stumbled upon this blog, you could be forgiven for thinking I’m obsessed with Susan Elizabeth Phillips. I’m not. Certainly not in the “why-hasn’t-she-returned-my-calls-and-what-is-this-about-a-restraining-order” sort of way.
I do like her, though.
So when my husband suggested we swap reading material, I knew she was the one author who might have a chance at helping him appreciate the romance genre.
So far, so wrong.
Hubby’s reading Natural Born Charmer, and he’s full of questions. After about 70 pages, he turned to me and asked, “What’s the deal with all the deception?”
“What do you mean?” sleepy wife asked, mostly hoping he’d turn out the light and snuggle under the duvet soon.
“Everyone’s lying. Blue pretends she doesn’t know who Dean is when she first meets him, and then she tells him his mother’s dying, which is a horrible thing to do. His mother’s deceiving him so she can do something nice for him. And the lies don’t seem to have much purpose. The person being lied to figures out it’s a lie pretty quickly.”
I had to think about it. There are quite a few lies romance characters tell, and in other forms of fiction this would be a sign that you shouldn’t trust the protagonist. Maybe even that you shouldn’t trust the narrator. But in romance, I think the lies characters tell each other have more to do with ratcheting up the tension between them.
In some novels, the lies are an integral part of the story. In Joanna Bourne’s books, for example, the characters are all part of the world of intrigue. Their lives depend on making other characters believe they’re something they’re not, and the gripping thing for the reader is trying to figure out how their lies will unravel so they can finally be honest with the person they fall in love with.
In romance novels that don’t contain an element of espionage, it’s harder to see why lying works (although, from my husband’s point of view, it’s clearly not working). Some characters lie to cover up the pain of their past. This can help the reader understand how truly painful those past experiences were. After all, if a person can talk candidly about painful experiences, isn’t it a sign they’re no longer much affected by them?
Sometimes I think deception is a way of creating mini-conflicts, each of which provides an opportunity for the characters to come clean create a bit of trust with their lover.
What do you think is the purpose of deception in romance novels? Is it effective?