Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Romance Novel as Travelogue

You've read them -- the romance novels that make you want to travel.

Often, the story is set someplace I've been and want to visit again: Cornwall, New Zealand, Paris.  But most recently, I read Desert Honeymoon by Anne Weale (a Harlequin Romance from 1999) and -- for the first time in my entire life -- I wanted to see India.

I don't know why I haven't wanted to visit India.  I have friends who have been and adored it.  I've seen movies, PBS programs, even episodes of The Amazing Race set in India, and in all of them, it looks exotic but accessible.  I just didn't want to go.

Then I read Desert Honeymoon.  It's not a great book -- Anne Weale writes consistently opinionated romances that you either like or you don't like -- but as a Chamber of Commerce advert for India, it's amazing.  And although she's given her locale a fictitious name, she explains at the end that it's based on various cities in Rajasthan, which is the northwestern state in India, on the Pakistani border.

Here's the plot:  Nicole gets a job as a graphic designer that takes her out of London, where she lives with her 12-year-old son and her dad & his second wife.  Her son, Dan, is old enough to be busy with school, and the money is good.  The job is in India; although she's employed by His Highness Prince Kesri, the Maharaja of Karangarh (that would be your fictitious locale), she's actually interviewed by Alexander Strathallen, an anthropologist who spends a lot of time in the prince's compound.  Alex and Nicole fall fastidiously in love.

All Weale's characters are very fastidious.  I recall one of her romances, read over two decades ago, in which the heroine makes the point that women who don't remove their eye makeup before going to bed are so NOKD (not our kind, dear).  One just knew that this is actually Anne Weale's own personal opinion.  It says something about the uh, force of her opinions that I remember that specific detail in a book that has otherwise faded entirely from my memory.

Anyway, Nicole had Dan out of wedlock, which Weale is hip enough not to criticize.  But how to reveal the existence of a son to both Alex and the prince?  Once that bombshell turns out to be a squib, Alex proposes, they marry (because this is a Harlequin Romance, natch) and have the titular desert honeymoon.

Even without the postscript about how Karangarh is a mash-up of places Weale herself visited, the book fairly screams, "I took a holiday & here's the book I'm setting in the place(s) I stayed."  What's unusual, and what makes the book worth reading if you do stumble upon it in a used bookstore, is that she has a deft touch with the details.  Oh, her writing isn't great -- I'm sure there are info dumps in here -- but she describes interesting details like the texture of the sandstone and the intricacies of the grille-work.

And she made me want to visit India.

So I thought, "Hmm, I wonder what photos I can find on Flickr of Rajasthan?"  I have to do this for my "other" blog; I routinely raid Flickr's Creative Commons-licensed photos for the bi-weekly posts I do for Ross's Crossword Man blog.  (Quick example:  here's the puzzle & some related photos to figure out, and here are the answers.)

All of these photos are of Rajasthan -- click on any of them to see the original Flickr photo and its explanation.

Want more?  Here's the search I used.


  1. The 3rd photo is my favorite. So pretty! I want to visit India. It's actually my plan to visit all 7 continents and at least 100 countries in the course of my life. I have 2 continents to go (Africa and Australia) and quite a few countries, but that's what makes the world worth exploring.

  2. Those photos are absolutely stunning.

  3. For me, back in the early 80's, it was Robyn Donald and her obvious love of NZ. That woman should have been paid by the tourism bureau! There were several stops on our (very short) tour of the North Island (in 1985) that were prompted by descriptions from her books. Of course I did not inform my husband that a romance writer was my tour guide....

    As for India, I really want to see the India that MM Kaye grew up in--pre-WWI. Alas, time machines are not readily available. The pictures you selected are gorgeous though.

  4. Rumor travels faster, but it don't stay put as long as truth.


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