Young virgin seeks Greek tycoon: 40 shadows of Harlequin

Don't break up, don't say you haven't seen them. How not to see them! Those unmistakable covers, woman and man entwined, chimney in the background crackling, fantasy scenery set at midnight ... Few things as recognizable in a kiosk as the kitsch covers of Harlequin, a genre in themselves. They have been attracting the reader's attention for 40 years in Spain; Well, the reader. Promising "happy ending" and, in between, all kinds of romantic adventures that go from pink to yellow, from yellow to red incarnate. From the kiss to the bed.

“The sexual spectrum is broad. It goes from very little, a few kisses, to more explicit scenes, without becoming unpleasant. Many euphemisms are used. It's really complicated to narrate sex scenes and make them look good”, Considers María Eugenio Rivera, editorial director of Harper Collins Iberian, a group that includes this label. The romantic novel, pink, erotic - call it what you want - also has its codes, tuned and molded to the tastes of its readers. Sometimes romance interests more than pure and hard consummation; on other occasions, the bed and its contours are more decisively sought.

Harlequin arrived in Spain 40 years ago with a long previous experience in the Anglo-Saxon market. The kiosk was his bookstore. Already then there were several ranges of torridity in the thing: The “Jasmine” collection, the first to be presented in our country, “was whiter and innocent, without explicit sex. Instead '' Bianca '' is (Rivera thinks the adverb thinks for a moment) ... more passionate, like "Desire" ". What unites all is its vocation of pure and hard evasion. Do not look for high literature or the precise word. They are made to read almost flip. No more than 160 pages. "The reader was looking for a story in them that made them forget everything for a while."

But Rivera, in the face of literature that has been criticized by critics, values ​​the ability of its authors (or authors, that there are) to maintain reading tension: “These are novels that are known in advance that have a happy ending, so It is very worthwhile to keep readers awaiting resolution. It is not easy to do something like this if you already know that there will be a final kiss ... or more. The path, and the lord with whom the path is made to the altar or the bed, has its importance.

-But what kind of protagonists do we find in Harlequin?

-At the beginning, for example in collections such as `` Bianca '', the protagonists were always British (due to the origin of the publishing house), more innocent and submissive women. In the 80s, when we started publishing in Spain, many of these protagonists were virgins, something that was important for the plot. Instead, they were powerful and rich. They were generally handsome and foreign, Greek magnates and exotic things like that. Because ... for a normal one I already have it at home!

-The thing doesn't sound very “empowered” ...

-The books have been parallel to social life since the 80s, evolving with it. In fact, the change has been taking place before the MeToo. Over time, the roles have been matched. Now the weight of virginity has no weight and the women in these books stopped being so submissive to have their own life and make their decisions, or they don't depend on parents and siblings as before. It would be outdated that everything remained as it was years ago. But, on the other hand, it is essential to leave room to dream.

The fantasy of the blue prince, made up or reformulated, will always be there. It is absurd to make an amendment to the whole. The clear example of them is the overwhelming success of “50 shades of Gray” by EL James, a huge editorial phenomenon of this century that, in the background, follows the schemes prefixed since ancient times by the romance novel, with a man in a situation of preponderance and an innocent girl and quick to submission.

- Has the phenomenon “50 shadows” been a tough competition for Harlequin or an ally?

-It has the double slope. The good thing has been that it has helped give visibility to the romantic and erotic novel, so that people will not be ashamed to read that. So it is a boost for everyone, so that gender is visible. Today there is a table in bookstores and large stores dedicated to the romance novel.

The kiosk novel has been disappearing in recent decades. The western booklets of our parents or grandparents are directly a relic, but the romantic refuses to disappear. Of course, its sale is increasingly rare in these establishments. “They have closed a lot of kiosks, before there was one in each door almost. It is something that affects, but we have many other collections in bookstores and we work hard on the digital book, which also allows a more anonymous download. The new generations, in fact, are being incorporated through the ebook.

- Is there a generational change, therefore?

-At the beginning, when we arrived in the 80s, the reader base was younger. Now there is also more offer of this type of romantic novel, but there are younger readers who come because they remember that their mother read these books or had them at home.

Globally, Harlequin figures remain "macro." More than 50 million regular readers, 160 million books sold in 2018. For 40 years in Spain, Harper Collins jokingly adds, the protagonists of Harlequin "have kissed about 20,000 times, shared around 30,000 hugs and have gone to the altar at least 7,000 times". For years, the publishing house was nourished by translations of the great Anglo-Saxon novel base that it had. But the Spanish authors have been finding a growing gap, especially in the sale in bookstores, with more careful editions than the popular "kiosk" of a lifetime.


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