Book review: The Romance Reader’s Guide to Life by Sharon Pywell

  • May. 26, 2017 12:30 a.m.

The Romance Reader’s Guide to Life by Sharon Pywell

Fiction

Published: April 4, 2017, Macmillan Publishers

This novel is basically two books in one, along with two narrators. Both structured in the frame of the world’s most popular genre: romance. The main characters are two sisters, Neave and Lilly, and it’s their voice readers will hear about of growing up and entering the adult world pre and post Second World War in small town America. The second narrator, which intertwines Lilly and Neave’s story, is called he ‘Pirate Lover’ and it uses the typical romance style of the stricken heroine, the handsome and wealthy hero and a terrible villain to tell a tale of love, loss, and triumphing over evil.

While the ‘Pirate Lover’ is an amusing romance that’s played out in Parisian salons and the high seas, what occurs between the characters is echoed meaningfully and with chilling consequences in the sisters’ story. Both narratives also deal with the social expectations of women; how marriage is regarded as an inevitable outcome that should socially elevate them. Independence of thought action and through being financially independent is an outrageous prospect for women, yet it’s precisely this that the sisters want to embrace.

When Neave is still quite young, she is hired by a wealthy woman to read to her daily, and it’s the relationship between the woman, Neave and the stories that provide her with imaginative foundations, but emotional ones as well – which, for better or worse, will guide her throughout life. In the meantime, Lilly embraces life, refusing to think too deeply about people’s motives or lack thereof or enter into arguments. Lilly could not be more different to her more forthright and yet romantic sister.

The sisters establish a successful business together, proving that women aren’t just objects of men’s desires. They use their knowledge and influence to empower other women towards freedom: social, economic, romantic and sexual.

But it’s the very same ability to forge careers and be single-minded that also drives them towards men who don’t have their best interests at heart. When Lilly disappears, Neave’s world – real and imagined – collide in ways she never could have foreseen. Danger begins to stalk her and the family she loves and, unless she is able to utilize the help she’s being offered from beyond, then she, and the business she and Lilly worked so hard to build, is doomed.

While the novel draws on romance conventions, it also analyzes and deconstructs them. Readers get to explore the elements of fantasy, history, crime and other genres to an extent. Both of the stories, one being literary while the other falls more into the typical old fashion romance style, are well written and the overall story is something new (at least to me) when it comes to plots.

Kirsten Lowe studies at Athabasca University.

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