I began reading at a very early age, thanks to my parents. My mother was the first person who introduced me to the wonderful worlds that lay in the pages of books; from the adventures Sinbad, Puss in Boots and Peter Pan, to the seemingly easy lives of the various princes and princesses.
As I grew older, I had the liberty of choosing the books I wanted to read. The library became the best place in the world to be. I could hide there for hours, oblivious to the world around me. Once, while immersed in a book in the quietest corner of the library, I didn’t hear the librarian arrange books on the shelves, prior to closing up. I didn’t hear him lock up. Two hours later, I had to call someone, who knew someone, who knew and called the librarian, who fortunately, wasn’t too put out about coming to liberate me.
When I got to my teen years, a visit to an uncle opened the curtain into another world- romance. I mean, I had read Romeo and Juliet, the Princess and the Pea, Sleeping Beauty etc, but they couldn’t hold a candle to the heroes and heroines I found in Mills and Boon novels. My voracity for novels, sometimes, surprised even me. With an average of four books a week, I managed to go through quite a large number of books. Here were true heroes; from the accomplished business men to swash-buckling pirates, who weren’t boyish in any way, but mature men, who oozed virility, confidence, just the right measure of arrogance and suave enough to get any woman he wanted. And my heroines were delicate, sophisticated, innocent, beautiful and just pliant enough to be won by the men.
Ten years and two thousand eight hundred and ninety four romance novels later, (believe me, I kept count), I find that I am no longer enamoured with the characters. The stories all seem the same; the clichés and adjectives do not excite me, but make me cringe. Some of them are so corny that they make you want to find the author and ask her what she was thinking when she wrote such words. Rather, I find myself constantly critiquing as I read, and thus losing any fun I may have otherwise had. Certain mannerisms and actions that once bespoke sophistication now smack of silliness. The following are examples of such clichés that I have discovered, and my comments on them.
The Men: from the ancient Mills and Boon to today’s modern romances, the male physique remains out-of-this-world. They are tall, dark or fair, cleft-chinned, well-muscled and toned, lithe-framed, mesmerizing-eyed, arresting-faced men, who ooze charm and are debonair and above all, gorgeous in a way that not only stops your heart, but also melts it; and the men who have no charm, use force and to make their fair ladies acquiesce. Such caveman tactics are supposed to make the lady and you the reader, scream blue murder, but somehow, the author expects you and the silly heroine to like it.
I have since carried out a survey and arrived at the conclusion that such men, though they exist, are few and far between. If you don’t believe me, take a look round your neighbourhood and tell me how many men you’ve met who possess all the above-mentioned attributes. Lithe? No way! What you’re likely to see are bow-legged or knock-kneed, squinty-eyed, passable or downright ugly young men whose dentition have no acquaintance whatsoever with their toothbrushes, whose clothes have never made friends with the pressing iron, who walk around, constantly lifting their trousers by the crotch, and to whom charm and finesse are a vague and incomprehensible concept. You would notice the obvious absence of toned biceps, and any sort of asking out would begin like this “Excuse me, baby girl”, or “Hello, baby”, and from the really crass and uncouth, “Nne, excuse me”. In often grammatically malfunctioning English, they would try to start up a conversation. Their wardrobes may range from the fashionable, clean and serviceable, to the outfit stained with fluids you would rather not know about. And seeing that potbellies seem to be the current accessory among the men folk, your dreams of a six-pack quietly walks shamefacedly, out the back door. In all my days, I’m yet to see a remotely good-looking or sexy gardener, delivery man or next door neighbour.
As for those heroes who never ask, but take, note to authors: this is the 21st century. Gone are the Dark Ages, so could you please dump the caveman tactics? I can just picture a girl of today, who, being toasted by a swashbuckling pirate, says ‘No’. Since he cannot take that for an answer, he slings her over his shoulders and proceeds to his ship. You can be certain that if the girl is of Warri or Lagosian stock, that pirate is going to wish he knew some kung fu!
Don’t even get me started on their finances. Seriously, when do we get to see more of the hardworking, sweat-breaking heroes? The majority are either as rich as Croesus, or come from old money. The least these authors, can do for their faithful readers is to prepare them for reality.
The Women: I do not know where to begin. Beautiful, well-proportioned, sexy, intelligent, proud but humble, heiresses or career women, the heroines really a target of my derision. In the M&Bs, I constantly read of females who often went around, twisting their ankles, which led me to the conclusion that Caucasian women either did little or no exercises, or had really weak ankles. Trying to prove the theory, I tried several times to twist my ankles, all to no avail. And why did these women have to choose the house of the unwanted or disliked hero, to break their legs? Why couldn’t do it in the comfort of their homes?
Then there is the annoying habit they have of running off before they can hear the hero tell his ex-girlfriend, that he has a new-found love. The poor man has to chase after the lady and explain before she sees the light. I also can’t stand those women who, in local parlance, “dey form independent career women”. Abegi! It’s alright and quite possible to love a man, marry him and still have a career. And I absolutely abhor the fluffy-brained ones who faint at the slightest upset. What in the name of all that’s edible are you falling to the floor for? I mean, she sees a handsome man *swoon*. She spies her man with a rival *swoon*. She enters a crowded room *swoon*. And woe betide her if she’s pregnant *dat one na faint*. If it were in Nigeria, methinks those babes would be more careful….our men aren’t good catchers.
Looking around, one hardly comes across women who are this perfect. If her face fine, her body na missed call. If body fine, her character is not reachable at the moment. And if both character and body are okay, her general education (English, housekeeping, work) no go get network.
The adjectives are not left out. Some of them are so out of this world, I often wonder from whence the author excavated it. Examples, are these excerpts: “…..as passion gripped her with fiery fingers, burning through her skin, turning her insides to liquid, making her want to shed her skin and meld into one with him”. “His face was chiseled, with a cleft in his chin, prominent cheekbones, Roman nose and forehead, skin that hinted of his Indian ancestry,….blah, blah, blah”. Or “her well proportioned hips, clear skin, dimpled smile, unusual eyes of jade(almost every heroine has unusual eye colour; makes you wonder who then has ordinary eyes), legs that seem to go on forever(what?), balderdash, balderdash, balderdash”!
And last but certainly not the least; I have to mention those bedroom scenes. Word of advice to most authors out there: educate your readers- AIDS is real. There is nothing that puts me off as seeing two people who barely know each other, jump into bed together without protection. It’s irresponsible to portray love as better than a rubber, because it isn’t, not even close. And for those who do use protection, it isn’t a hundred percent foolproof.
Having said that, I should add that there are some people who just don’t understand what fiction means. They are the ones who steal those corny lines from those books and use them on real-life women and vice versa; they are the ones who run off instead of staying and working out the kinks in their relationships. To them, I have this to say: wake up and smell the nchanwu or ugwu leaves. Your life isn’t a fairytale and can never be. Live it the way it was meant to be lived- reality and a healthy dose of love, laughter and patience.
Now I’m into thrillers and biographies. Wonder how long it’ll be before I start solving the mysteries myself or tire of reading about other people’s lives.