I've been Mills and Booned. It sounds dirty, doesn't it? Trust me, it isn’t.
What is it, to be Mills and Booned? Well. It involves shuffling down the book isle in Sainsbury’s. Then one pretends to be interested in the best-selling books when really you’re looking at the bottom shelf. Shock! Horror! The bottom shelf, she says. Why yes. Those lust filled romance novels published by Mills and Boon sit there, seemingly unwanted. Because, after-all, it's embarrassing to admit you read them. Let alone buy them.
It started a few years ago. Boredom had crept upon me, sudden, without warning. I had rifled through my bookcase, longing for something new to jump out at me. Alas, I had forgotten I don’t have a library in my house. Not yet.
The Hobbit sat there. Spine bent, scratched. No. I hates it. I hates it, I does! Or there was Ulysses. Spine pristine, untouched. No. It wasn’t the time to attempt a reading marathon. I wanted light-hearted. I wanted mind-numbing fun. I wanted romance!
Jane Eyre caught my eye. I picked it up. The spine had melted. Pages, unglued, fluttered to the floor, bewildered. I didn’t have the patience to put them back together. The same problem occurred with Pride and Prejudice. My bedroom floor was suddenly littered with an amalgam of Mr Rochester meeting Miss Bennett and Mr Darcy lost somewhere in Thornfield Manor. Interesting? Yes. But wrong on so many levels.
This is what happens when you read a book a thousand times. It starts to lose its patience with you.
I mentioned my boredom to my mum. With her usual eye-rolling grace, she directed me to her wardrobe. I was intrigued. I hadn’t envisioned curing my boredom with a good old game of dress-up. That hadn’t cured boredom since 1992.
A quick tug of the doorknob, I finally saw the sense of her plan. Hundreds of brightly coloured books poured out of the wardrobe and landed in a pile at my feet. Hunky, chiselled men; their arms wrapped seductively around a woman, graced the covers. Titles such as ‘The Billionaire’s Secretary Mistress’ and ‘His Virgin Bride’ jumped out at me. I laughed. They certainly weren’t Jane Eyre. I could almost see Charlotte Bronte frowning at me from beyond the grave.
‘Don’t read that!’ she gasped. ‘It will infect your brain. It’s mindless. It’s not literature!’
Her pleas were still ringing in my ear as I sat down with a cup of tea to read my very first Mills and Boon. I can’t remember the title. It was some laughable formulaic gibberish. A bit like the book itself. I have since come to realise, they’re all pretty much the same. It goes something like this: arrogant, self-made billionaire meets woman. Said woman thinks she has too small breasts, too red hair or is too curvy for said man to find her attractive. But woman is wrong. Man loves woman but treats her like crap until she can’t take anymore and he realises what he’s missing. There’s usually an unwanted pregnancy in there somewhere. Plus a vomit-inducing cringe-worthy profession of love at the end. Because a happy ever after does exist! For Mills and Boon, at least.
My relationship with Mills and Boon hasn’t been an easy one. I grapple with the shame that comes from reading them. That’s because I’m a self-proclaimed book snob. And because they throw out all the rules I learned during my writing degree. They state the obvious. They tell rather than show. And I can pick out the times they’ve used a thesaurus to find a better word.
Still, I can’t help but love them and their uncanny knack of putting a smile on my face. I love them for their championing of happy ever afters and their 100 year belief that true love never dies. But mainly I love them for their amazing mind-numbing abilities. It’s escapism at its best.