The other week I guest posted a Five Word Review on Charlotte Lamb’s Desire. The review reads “Drunk Fuck Pregnancy Equals Luurve”. I stand by this review. It relays the exact premise of the book. But what it doesn’t relay is the love I have for this book.
The heroine, Natasha, gets drunk after breaking up with her fiance. She goes out with friends and becomes uninhibited after drinking champagne and takes off with a hottie called Lee Farrell with whom she has a one-night stand. When she wakes up the next morning she is mortified and he drives her home upset that it was the alcohol and not her desire for him. She falls pregnant and doesn’t keep the baby secret. Inevitably they marry for convenience but are stand offish and suspect of each other until the grand grovel and love reveal at the end. It is a fab read that very much reflects the mores of the early eighties.
I have reread Desire at least once a year for the past 25 years and I still love it. Published in 1981, the year that Charles and Diana married (why is this relevant), the protaganists have a 16 year age gap (Charles and Diana had a 13 year gap so it is relevant to set it in context) which I find irksome when the heroine is 17 but seeing that 20 is my tipping point into acceptability these two characters are fine by my measure as she is 21 to his 37.
The standout for me is that Natasha has been brought up conservatively and to believe that love is soft and gentle. After breaking up with her fiance “Natasha had always played the submissive, female role…” it is through alcohol that she feel uninhibited. She feels desire and she matches Lee’s desire as an equal.
She had been conditioned to see herself in that yielding female role, to accept the qualities which society expected in a woman, to be soft and gentle and pliant, to submit and give what was demanded. She had not been taught to demand in her turn, to be strong and self-sufficient, to claim her right as a woman, to match the male on her own terms
It is paragraphs like these that I feel are lacking from many romances today. As a 12 year old the sex flew over my head. However the concept of not being subservient, not being shy and reticent, stating my terms and refusing to compromise those values is what stays with me. It is finding a partner who matches you, not a partner who subsumes you that clicked in my reading.
They start conditioning you when you [are] in your cradle
My belief is that many romances (particularly from the 70s and 80s) may write what at face value is an unbalanced relationship but it is the reading between the lines that I am interested in. The relationship may fade but the knowledge that with this man, Lee Farrell, Natasha feels strong and self-sufficient yet with others she was submissive. Natasha recognises society’s expectations of her and chooses to not adhere to them but it takes courage to do so.
The book is pretty much angsty from beginning to end. Angsty in that good, melodramatic way with fainting, fisticuffs, jealous fits over beaux and belles, alphabrute chest beating and other ridiculous misunderstandings that drive the story.
You have some crazy notion that love and sex are separate issues
This book is about sexual love. Not a love of companionship which no doubt will eventuate in years to come but a love of physical desires firing the soul and Charlotte Lamb’s aim is to allow Natasha to not feel shame and guilt for her sexuality. The book also gives a passing nod to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice for that is really what drives their inability to communicate. Natasha is prejudiced against Lee believing in his public image rather than the man she was attracted to. Lee’s pride takes a battering every time Natasha claims she loved Mike, her ex-fiance, and she was ashamed of her actions with Lee and, as is expected in a Mills and Boon, these issues are resolved at the end of the book in their declaration of love for each other. But not before Lamb uses Natasha as a vehicle to remind the reader
Men have organised the world for their own convenience for years. They made the laws, moral and otherwise, and it was men who sold women the idea that sexual desire is okay for a man but shameful for a woman
I believe that Lamb uses romance to subliminally embed ideas of feminism in her reader’s mind (remember its 1981 publication date). But even more importantly, she uses Lee to remind the reader it is love in its many variations that drives us
Love is what we want it to be, what we need. It doesn’t have any rules. There’s no such thing as law or morals where love is concerned. It’s just a question of feeling, of real emotion, of caring for one person rather than another, of needing one person rather than another.