Spoilers for the following books in this blog post. If you don't want to know, go and read them and come back later and tell me what you think.
Lucy Gordon - Miss Prim and the Billionaire
Lucy Gordon - The Italian's Wife by Sunset
Robyn Donald - An Old Passion
Kate Walker - The Sicilian's Wife
Rosalind Brett - Love This Stranger
You know that feeling that romance writers describe when the heroine feels a tightness in her chest somewhere in the region of the heart and a lump in the throat that won't go away by swallowing. I know that exact feeling because I get it all the time when I read a romance with characters that engage me. Usually it gets to the excruciatingly painful stage at around page 140 and I console myself that in another fifty pages it will all be sorted and I'll be smiling.
Except sometimes it doesn't happen that way. Sometimes you get to the end and the tightness doesn't quite go away. The feeling of wanting to cry lingers and even long months down the track remembering that particular story brings a catch to the throat.
I was reminded of this today when I finished reading Lucy Gordon's "Miss Prim and the Billionaire" and I found myself trying not to cry. Technically everything should have been fine. The usual suffering and angst followed by the getting together and the happy ever after. All very nice. But the hero and heroine are still so very damaged from their history. Torn apart in their youth, Marcel and Cassie's idealistic romance comes to a shuddering halt with the intervention of an obsessive third party. Mistakes on both sides compound the issues and they have ten years of suffering and misconceptions to deal with when they finally meet again. The blurb on the back asks the question. "Can it ever be the same again?" Obviously not because they are not the same people. Will what they do find together be enough to overcome the past and bring them a real Happy Ever After? Frankly I'm not sure if I believe it in my heart, or why else would I be trying not to cry?
This is not the first Lucy Gordon that has left me feeling this way. I often think of her lovely story "The Italian's Wife by Sunset" in this context. The story of Della, an older woman, and a fabulous young Italian alpha male looks to have enough angst in it without the addition of a tragedy that leaves you with the knowledge that their romance, however perfect at the end of the book, will probably not see them growing old and grey together. Perhaps Carlo will get another story later. He's certainly gorgeous enough but I know I'd cry all the way to the Happy Ever After, knowing what I do about his first love.
New Zealand author Robyn Donald is another author that pretty much knows how to pull your heart out and trample on it, stab it a few times, wrap it in coarse sandpaper and then stick it back into the raw and gaping wound. No wonder we love her writing. Stories like "An Old Passion" where the young heroine is driven away and in desperation makes a fatal choice that seems to end forever the hope of a HEA. When Merrin and Blase finally meet again the bitterness and guilt seem likely to keep it that way. When the whole story is revealed and all is resolved you can't help but regret the tragedy of the wasted years and unnecessary suffering.
I first read Rosalind Brett's book "Love this Stranger" back in the 70's and it was a story memorable enough that when I saw a second hand copy on ebay I immediately wanted to read it again. If thirty years hadn't passed to fade the memory a little perhaps I wouldn't have been so keen. This is a story to wring the heart. A strong alpha male who falls for a young eighteen year old tomboy who has a lot to learn about life and love. What the hero and heroine go through to get to their HEA is gut wrenching. Both protagonists suffer, Dave from the intensity of his feelings for a girl who is too immature to understand the depth of his love and the sacrifices necessary. The heroine, Tess, finally matures but at a tremendous cost to those around her and to herself. When they finally have their meeting of heart and mind in the very last paragraph of the book it comes with the sorrowful awareness of all that has gone before.
My final choice for a story that leaves me with a melancholy ache is Kate Walker's "The Sicilian's Wife." Cesare is one of the most adorable heroes ever. This poor guy, alpha male, super control freak, has been in love with Megan for years, ever since she was not much more than a child. All that time he's been waiting because of an arbitrary decision by Megan's father about a suitable age for Megan to marry. Then, just as he believes he is getting his hearts desire it all falls apart on him. Megan is in trouble as a result of a relationship with another man. What's a proud Sicilian alpha male to do when he's lost his virgin bride and apparently her affection. Watching Cesare deal with these blows is hard enough until we add Megan's situation. One stupid mistake after her pride was dashed by Cesare's seeming rejection has destroyed all her hopes and dreams in one fell swoop. They both get the marriage they desired with all their hearts but neither believes they will get a Happy Ever After. While the story demonstrated how great Cesare's love really was I can't help feeling a little sad that after serving his time for his bride that moment of triumph was marred by circumstances beyond the control of both of them. But then of course we wouldn't have a story. <smacks head>
So the questions I'm puzzling over are these. Does a happy ending always make you feel happy? Should it make you feel happy? Is an ending where you wish it was different really a satisfactory result? Or am I just taking this all too seriously? These aren't real people. They are constructs from some very talented authors who can create characters you care about, who engage you enough to want to travel the journey with them, no matter how painful, no matter how traumatic. And I guess that is an end in itself if the journey is the reason for being there. To travel with, rather than to. But I admit to loving my happy endings. Because in every fictional happy ending there is a kernel of hope for the real world.