The sticky issue of taboos in romance novels popped up in a facebook writers group that I am a member of this morning, and it got me thinking about romance novels, and issues that affect women, issues that are often shameful and private and secret (and I’m not talking about a secret desire to be ravaged by a dinosaur, or the fact that your significant other uses a penis beaker). It was suggested that some areas are a complete no-go. Readers might not like them, might find them upsetting, might abandon a book because those issues are in it.
Does this mean that we shouldn’t write about these things?
In Blue Eyed Devil (Lisa Kleypas) the heroine is raped by her abusive husband. In Rachel’s Holiday (Marian Keyes) Rachel has problems with drugs and alcohol. Once a Ferrara Wife by Sarah Morgan is about the aftermath of miscarriage, Nora Roberts’ Chesapeake Bay saga tells the tale of 3 men dealing with the fallout from childhood sexual abuse. All the books show the importance of love and it’s role in helping us journey past traumatic events. There are books about adoption, anorexia, physical abuse, poverty, bullying, incest.
When it is done well, with care and integrity, fiction can provide a wonderful, private place to explore difficult events. It can provide a place of solace, a sense that the hurt is shared, and a way to find understanding. Fictional characters can discuss feelings that we can’t discuss with our friends in real life, because shame and embarrassment and fear won’t let us. It is one of the reasons why fiction is so important, and why writers must not be afraid to tackle the dark secrets that we all try to hide. But it has to be done well.
Domestic violence is a difficult topic for me to read about, my biggest problem being that I often feel the writer hasn’t really understood it and has merely used it to create emotional tension in the book. Blue Eyed Devil is an exception, and if you haven’t read it, you should.
My book She Who Dares features a heroine who has self-harmed, and is scarred both inside and out as a result. The Holiday Survival Guide, which will be published in January, deals with abortion.
And this is before we even start on the topic of sexual taboos (though anyone wishing to see a whole load of sexual taboos blown out of the water should read Control by Charlotte Stein). Slut shaming, anyone? I shall blog more about that next week, as I have recently sold a novella in which the heroine breaks up with the hero and has sex with someone else, and nothing seems to have more boundaries around it than women’s sexual behaviour.
So what taboos do you shy away from, and which books do you think deal with them well?