I have developed a sudden and severe addiction to the work of Keri Arthur, an Australian writer whose Riley Jenson novels focus on a protagonist who is, I quote, “half vampire, half werewolf, all trouble”. The storyline, a combination of romance and dark fantasy, centres on Riley’s activities as a Guardian; a supernatural police officer who protects the streets of Melbourne from rogue monsters, mad scientists, and even the God of Death himself.
I owe this pleasure to one of my colleagues, who has kindly allowed me to borrow her copies of Arthur’s sizeable oeuvre. The colleague in question has also apologized because, I quote again, “they’re not literature, or anything, but I kind of like them”. And so do I. My longstanding conviction is that it’s all good and well to read so-called high literature in conjunction with intellectually less demanding fiction. After all, variety is the spice of life.
And spicy Riley’s life is, for Arthur’s books unashamedly nest themselves within the romance genre. Usually the plot isn’t great, but who cares, as it’s mostly a vehicle to transport the reader from one steamy sex scene to another. In Riley’s world all men – at least the important ones – are drop-dead gorgeous and instantly fall for her charms. Oh, if only real life could be a little bit more like that. But of course, given that the novel features vampires, werewolves, and even more colourful characters, it’s not supposed to be realistic in the first place.
It seems there’s an entire genre consisting of books, written by female authors, in which strong and beautiful heroines fight their way through hazardous dark fantasy environments while frequently pausing to make love to attractive bystanders. For many Fifty Shades of Grey‘s popularity may have come as a surprise, but not so for the horror romance lover. Writers like Charlaine Harris and Laurell K. Hamilton were successful long before Christian Grey invaded our collective unconscious. It shows that whoever wants to predict the future of the mainstream only needs to look at what’s happening in the dark underbelly of the literary world.
I have written about this type of fiction before, and I must admit, they don’t always lend themselves easily to academic scrutiny. Plot-wise, there’s little to discuss. But I do think that there’s value in studying this type of popular fiction that does not adhere to generally agreed standards of good taste. If only because those standards are arbitrary in themselves, and will probably change in the future.
For now, though, I need to start looking for a new fix. I’m reading the last Riley Jenson book at the moment and I don’t know what I’ll with myself once it’s finished. Perhaps it’s time to counterbalance pulp with something a bit more serious. I’m sure I’ll get there. In the end.