Sunday, February 13, 2011

Pulp Fiction

This week has been all about the trashy and it’s been great. A couple of weeks ago a nice man called Doug sent me an email asking if I’d like some Mills & Boon to read, my first thought was not for me, but on reflection I thought it might be fun. I’m not exactly a stranger to M&B – granny used to love them and it was my job to procure them for her. Back in the day her drug books of choice could be bought for 20p apiece of the market with an exchange system where you got 10p back for every book returned. I used to read them after her and must have got through scores of them.

Sadly that stall has gone but Mills and Boon still turn up everywhere and from time I like to gather together a pile and retire to bed for a day of hibernation. My preference is for the older models which read – well they can be a touch camp and unintentionally funny but the basic formula is very comforting. It’s a couple of years since I’ve had an M&B binge though, and I’ve always steered clear of the newer stuff so I wasn’t sure what to expect from these new ‘Riva’ models.

First up and in the interests of absolute honesty – the covers suck, I really don’t like them to the point that I Would Not Buy A Book That Looks Like This. Ever. I’m making this clear because I’m definitely part of the target market (female) and I always like to make my contribution to market research. I was sent two books – one rejoicing in the title of ‘Surf, Sea, and a Sexy Stranger’ (which I had low expectations of) and another called ‘Molly Cooper’s Dream Date’ which sounded vaguely promising. I got it wrong. Molly’s dream date is a banker and that’s not a fantasy I can go with. A chunk of it is also written as emails and I wasn’t feeling it.

Surf, Sea, and a Sexy Stranger’ however was far more entertaining than expected. True I still think that zones even if they are erogenous probably only sound sexy to planning officers, and wherever the author was going when she kept mentioning pebbled nipples I was ending up with visions of shingles or similar unpleasant ailments, but... Well it’s a big but – I didn’t stop reading once I’d started and I feel absurdly protective about this book. Like all good fantasy’s (girl meets handsome rich stranger, they have amazing sex and live happily ever after – and who hasn’t daydreamed about that from time to time along with winning the lottery) you feel sure it must happen from time to time – it rings true.

Mills & Boon have quite the history – which I don’t know very much about – but what has always fascinated me about these books is how on the one hand they’re incredibly disposable; cheap, easily available, easily digestible, and easily replaceable yet at the same time they endure. Copies 40 years old are still all over the charity shops and still being passed from woman to woman which says something.  From time to time it makes a nice change from reading about surplus women and heartbreak – and to mark Valentine’s Day Mills & Boon are running a day of competitions. Tempting?


  1. I have to confess that I've never read one, but I can see that there is a place for good old fashioned escapism. I don't think M&B needs to be so blatant as to use "sexy" in a title and I think that I would be more attracted to the older-fashioned ones.As for "pebbled nipples", well, I am a woman of the world and I have just pushed my elbows protectively against my own upon reading that! Whatever next, marbled buttocks??!!!!

  2. I have read quite a few M&Bs in my day and in fact had a go at writing one some years ago (turned down, but with a quite encouraging letter). I haven't read any of the newer ones, though. Like you I think this cover is appalling, and I think if I were to return to them I'd read the older ones, too.

  3. Like Ruby, I've never read one, but I always remember looking at a some copies one day in the local library and discovering that they all had what looked like a secret code written on the inside of the back cover. When I asked the librarian about it she said that was the way in which avid M&B readers kept track of which ones they had read and which they hadn't. If their personal symbol was there then they had already devoured it.

  4. Ooh - that is fun! I haven't read one in years - my friend and I used to read them at school, aged 10! I saw yesterday's Telegraph knocking around the library this morning and there was an article about M and B - I htin maybe there is a TV programme about them later this week - must go back and retrieve it! This review really made me smile Hayley!

  5. Harriet I'm impressed - that's something I'd love to read...

    Ruby - this book is heading your way like it or not.

    Annie - the way people engage with books is fascinating. I think of M&B almost like a drug (sedative variety) my gran devoured them which didn't seem very sinister to me at the time but when I think how unhappy her married life ended up being it makes me wonder what she found in there. English was a late second language for her though so it may have been that she just found them easy to read.

    Verity - I bet you felt like you were doing something a bit naughty and that your parents disaproved? I remember that being part of the charm. Mostly for this sort of entertainment I watch tv and had forgotten how nice it is sometimes to read something so lightweight. Glad you smiled:)

  6. Enjoyed your post again, and M&B were the staple diet of many a household for years! Thought you might like the theme of this weeks old Punch cartoon, if you've not already seen it :)

  7. I have seen it Magnie - I follow regularly I promise, and actually they're a bit of a highlight so keep up the good work:)

  8. Thanks for that, glad they brighten up the day and as I said before they're fun to do! Your post on M&B brought back memories of the 'male' series of pulp fiction which was the cowboy 'penny paperbacks'. They also used to be devoured by many and found their way to the stalls of 'jumble sales' that were the forerunner of the now infamous car-boot sales. The likes of "Guns of the Timberlands" by Louis L'Amour, "The Gun Tamer" by Max Brand, "Play a Lonely Hand" by Luke Short and so on were also always on the Library 'just returned' shelves nearly every week! I had forgotten all about them till your M&B post reminded me. Always interesting posts, thanks again, all the best.