Not that it really needs defending….but I was having a discussion/argument/ wild gesticulating raised voice conversation the other day with a nice-but-snobby-reading-friend (you know you’re not destined to be kindred spirits when someone refers to Anne-with-an-e as ‘that carrot-haired girl with plaits right?’)
- Her name is Anne.
- You are confusing her with Pippy Long Stockings
- I don’t think I can be friends with you any more…
The conversation revolved around the point of a comfort read. My friend (I think I am probably using that word in the euphemistic sense at this point) was adamant that there was no need for people to have comfort reads if they were ‘tough enough and sensible enough’ to start with.
Comfort reading is SO important. You know why??
Because generally life sucks. There are strange, unexpected occurrences; dramatic events, weird coincidences or even just mind numbing boredom…but whatever happens? It isn’t predictable or systematic or mundane…
Comfort reads provide that necessary familiarity that can be so easily missing from life. A connection; a talisman, a touchstone that creates a sense of personal ritual.
Now in the past, my comfort reads have generally been Georgette Heyer and Betty Neels….
But sometimes, life is so immeasurably horrifying that…it’s just not enough. You have to bring out the big guns.
In this case?
Sara Seale. In case you weren’t aware; Sara Seale is the demigod of comfort reads.
There is never a time that I haven’t read a Seale and not felt infinitely better from doing so.
There is just SOMETHING about them.
They are sweet and funny and romantic. They have the best descriptions of food and clothes and places and they are just PLAIN GOOD. Whenever I read them I feel like have fallen into a romantic comedy from the 50s, complete with poodle skirts and upswept ponytails and retro diners.
Written from the 40s through to the 70s, like Neels, they have that intrinsic sense of timelessness and old-fashioned jolly good romps.
And the plots too, are all insane movie-type things like Funny Face, or Sabrina, Pillow Talk or His Girl Friday…
I love them to pieces. And I usually try to space them out, because although there are about 45 published and roaming the world at large…I have only been able to find about 25 of them.
So you can’t wear them out. You have to give them room to breathe. If you read them to death, what else would you have to rescue yourself from the miry depths of crap life-events???
This month was a bit of a doozy, so I over indulged in the Seales…. I won’t tell you how many I re-read (*cough* 16 *cough*), but suffice to say, they really did make everything just that little bit more palatable.
This also, incidentally, fitted in perfectly with Wendy-The-Overwhelmingly-Impressive-Super-Librarian’s TBR Challenge for March: Comfort Reads. (It’s like she’s physic (!))
I list a few below:
Stephen Spencer reluctantly sublets part of his picturesque country cottage for financial reasons. Amanda Page, desperate to make a place for herself somewhere, falls in love with Mill Pond and decides to rent half the house.
The house is undergoing constant repairs, and is supposed to eventually become a semi-detached dual residence. Only the renovations are taking forever, the weather keeps interfering and the invisible kitchen wall that Stephen and Amanda share doesn’t keep out delicious food smells or raucous singing.
Between the house collapsing around their ears and the secondary not-so-love-interests…either one of them keeping detached (hehe 😉 ) is a tall order.
Glamorous Sylvie has been writing to Adam Soames for the last year. He connected with the personality in the letters so deeply, on returning from exploring far-flung places, he comes to visit.
Only….Sylvie hadn’t been writing the letters; Sarah, her cousin had.
Did we forget to mention Sarah was the plainer, more sensible cousin??
That she had fallen in love with Adam via letters?
That Sylvie might have been beautiful, but she was also flighty and undependable and… not even remotely bookish?
Oh the to do (!)
An arranged marriage, a scarred hero and a year and a day for Shelley Wynthrope to find out she was in love with bitter and depressed Nicholas; but have no fear: her love will heal all emotional wounds and there will be a HEA.
Don’t Laugh. It has my plot Kryptonite: Beauty & The Beast.
Richard Saracen went to Ireland to buy a horse (that is, after all, what gentlemen of leeeisuure do isn’t it???) and after persuading Gael Cassella to sell him the horse on which he had set his heart, takes pity on her and offers to arrange a winter in London with his aunt.
Of course, Gael falls for Richard; Richard for Gael, (although Richard takes a whole book to realise this). This one has horses and races and derby-type-things and dances and gambling dens. It’s so outrageously far from any kind of reality, it really is the perfect pick-me-up.
And that is not to say, that there aren’t inherent weaknesses in Seale’s novels. There are. Sometimes really big ones:
- Plots can meander FOREVER, caught up in the minuscule happenings of day-to-day life. If you are not in the mood, they can drive you crazy.
- Evil Other Women in slinky dresses with pouting lips and coiffed hair seem to lurk in dark drawing room corners, ready to steal the hero at a moments notice.
- There is absolutely NO diversity whatsoever. If you were wondering at all what life looked like in 1960? According to Seale, it’s very very white. There is not a character from another country for love nor money (unless you count Cornwall, or the Moor…which Seale talks about like it’s from another tectonic plate…)
- The heroines are all about 18. Or if not 18, then 24. There seems to be very little swaying from these two ages…which can become monotonous, but only if you’ve read a dozen in a row…
- The hero is always the brusk, dark, swarthy, moody one. Not a bad thing. But I haven’t come across a beta hero yet.
On the other hand though, there are some surprising truths that pop out when you least expect it:
‘It was, she thought, so difficult to judge another person’s moment of truth, to know when it matched with yours…’
And descriptions that are just lovely:
‘Penzion itself had to Laura’s unaccustomed eyes a harsh, unfinished air as though the house had been carelessly dumped on the cliffs and then been left to nature. The grass which did duty for surrounding lawns was coarse and bleached white with salt, and although stone paths and steps and terraces, white with seagull droppings, had been laid out to lend an air of formality, they only seemed to accentuate the lack of flowers.’
But the thing about a comfort read is that it allows you to bypass all of that, and go straight for that snuggly, cozy feeling that you get from reading it, regardless of it’s issues.
It allows you to look the other way; because a comfort read is there to make you feel better. To make life that little bit nicer. To make escapism that tiny bit more reachable.
And in that sense, they will never let you down.
Valancy: Prescribing 1 x comfort read; to be taken with 2 x cat hugs. Because otherwise it’s just not the same.
Header Image: a piedmontese chinoserie wallpaper panel, 18th century: pheasants, a cockerel and other birds with blossoming trees