Today, this cynical old blogger wants to talk about love. *
Because just 2 short weeks ago, I fell in it. I found myself swimming in sticky, glorious, all-consuming love.
I tumbled into it while reading a book. I’m going to be mean, and not tell you which it was, because it was an old book, already famous, and I don’t want this to be a discussion about one piece of art in particular. I only want to talk about love.
For the past few years, despite wading through oodles of books, and enjoying plenty, I got no magic. I met no book which cradled my face between its covers before delivering a good slap to my hippocampus (or if we’re being more lyrical, heart). Nothing to give me all the glorious chemical releases and stomach-flutterings which only a cracking story and complete immersion in a fictional world can.This is storybook love, and when it’s done well, it can be better than the real thing. It’s by no means confined to romances. I’ve fallen in love with historical epics and fantasies and – in one sordid little affair we won’t mention again – a violent thriller with insanity at its core.
In the real world, I favour predictability and easy contentment. I don’t want thunderclaps or action sequences or torrid episodes of tragic endeavour. They would make me demented. But that’s real life. In fiction, the more torrid and demented, the better, I say.
You know that feeling, when you’re about to see someone you have a massive crush on? Well, it’s the same feeling with storybook love, when you know that soon you’re going to be able to get back to reading again. You’re warm. Someone’s moving furniture in your abdomen, but it’s not unpleasant. Your pupils dilate.
And, while you’re waiting to reunite with that story, you’re nicer. You find more kindness to inject into everyday interactions. You feel the characters you’ve fallen for standing behind you, watching, urging you to be the best that you can be, so that they can love you back. You find vitality in the weather, amusement in the air.
When you’re finally back to reading, your face acts it out. Your pulse races when it’s coming up to a bit you sense is going to be very, very good. And when the battle, the chase, the kiss, or the tragedy is over, you are torn between heart-thudding thrill, and that sense of overwhelming loss, deep in your chest, that you can never again read that for the first time.So basically, I’ve been fangirling all over the shop. Me! A grown woman of [indeterminate] years (ha!). But it’s been no less powerful than my first time. I remember reading The Thorn Birds as a teenager. I remember sneaking away from the coalface of my summer job to read just one more chapter, hoping nobody would think to look for me. I remember that feeling of obsession, the inability to think about anything else other than the world of that story. I know now that it was love.
It allows me to better understand the frankly scary teenage superfans of boybands and celebrities today. They’re in love, too: they just don’t feel they have to hide it, and they’re even more consumed by it, because social media gives them a constant supply of digital pheromones to feed on.
And the feeling is addictive. It’s not about the allure of fame, or even the pretty actors who make these books come alive sometimes in even more wonderful ways. It’s the fact that total immersion in a story can have the same physiological effect as falling in love. Torrents of home-made party drugs are released into our brains and a spring is injected into our step. Even after we’re forced to put these books down, our brains trot off on holidays whenever we’re not looking, back into the world of the story, serenely retreating to a place they would rather be.It is heady, powerful stuff. As a reader, it’s what I spend years looking for, but find only once in every three or four. Whether it’s a whodunit grabbing the reader by the throat until they know who, in fact, dunit; a romance, where the will-they-won’t-they protagonists are dancing painfully around a strongbox of potentially explosive emotion; or a fantasy epic, walking the reader through purple fields of jeopardy on a quest for the ultimate fulfilment – they all have the potential to make their readers fall in love.
I’m going to do my best to hold fast to these feelings of love. It might be years before I fall again.
It’s both the aim and the duty of a writer to tell the story well enough so that people can tumble easily. But could there be any more noble pursuit?
*Normal cynicism shall resume next week, when current affairs have once more poisoned my poor brain. Thank you for your patience.