I don’t normally read Christian fiction or historical romance, but I do read a lot of blogs about writing, so when I found out that one of my favorite writing bloggers had published a book I decided to read it.
The Preacher’s Bride is a fictional retelling of John Bunyan (the author of Pilgrim’s Progress) and his second wife, set against the conflicts in England at the end of Cromwell’s rule and beginning of the restoration of the monarchy. I thought it was a good story and enjoyed the way Jody Hedlund brought life and emotion to her characters.
I emailed Jody to ask why she changed John Bunyan’s name in her book, since I’ve read a lot of historical fiction that makes free with details but still uses the names of historical figures. She replied (it’s so gracious of an author to reply to a nobody, I really appreciated that!) that her publisher requested the change thinking it would be harder to market the book as a historical autobiography of sorts and would be easier to market it as a romance.
I thought that was odd, but probably indicative of the genre. The fact is, I think this book could have been tweaked a little and published as a secular historical fiction just as easily as being tweaked to be a Christian historical romance. I read recently that so much of Christian fiction is the historical “bonnet” variety because it’s easier to keep it clean, and that’s a requirement for Christian fiction, obviously. I would argue that a lot of the conventions of “romance” novels are designed to get the blood pumping even if they don’t go into lascivious detail, and if you are trying to avoid the blood pumping thing you’re probably better off reading secular fiction than Christian romance. But that’s just me.
Because I’m not a romance fan, I found myself wishing for the story to be more of a historical fiction – which is to say, more emphasis on the details and history and life at that point of history. In secular historical fiction that sort of detail is woven in to the larger story of character crises and falling in love and whatnot. The Preacher’s Bride does include some historical detail, but I kept wondering things like what did the streets look like? Where there rushes on the floors inside and was that just unbearably nasty? I guess what I was missing was the richer feeling of really being present in that time period and understanding the character’s motivations through the lens of their era. My guess is that length and space concerns prohibited Jody from using all of her research, because I read on her blog about how much research she does on time periods before writing. The overall impression I got was that she could have gone into more detail but didn’t. A richer setting would be my preference, but the story itself doesn’t suffer from the setting as it is.
The reason I don’t normally read Christian fiction, in spite of being a Christian myself, is that I think sometimes Christian fiction is fluffy and not literary. One difference, for example, is how explicit Christian themes and statements can be in Christian fiction, whereas in literary fiction those themes are more deeply woven in to the narrative. The advantage of the Christian fiction up front approach is that no one wonders what the author means. The advantage to the literary model is that it gives people something to think about and ponder even if they are not Christians, with the potential for reaching a different audience and changing the ways people think and understand the world.
I enjoyed reading The Preacher’s Bride and even gave it to my grandmother for Christmas (she enjoyed it too). I don’t mean my post as a criticism against Jody for choosing the genres she did, but since reading her book got me started thinking about the differences in genres I added that to my review. I would recommend her book and, if you write or would like to write, I’d also recommend her blog.
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