I mentioned when talking about the Ann Burton books, below, that I’ve always had this sort of ingrained prejudice against books that could be easily labelled romance novels — even though I do like a good love story with a happy ending. However, the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo this year seems to fall into the category of “inspirational women’s fiction” — maybe even “inspirational romance” — and I figured I should do some more reading in that genre to see what it had to offer.
Vanessa del Fabbro’s Sandpiper Drift (the sequel to an earlier novel called The Road to Home, which I haven’t read) is published by Steeple Hill, the inspirational imprint of Harlequin books. It is, however, far from being a stereotypical romance novel. Yes, it’s very much popular (as opposed to “literary”) fiction, but it’s classic women’s fiction with an emphasis on characters and relationships, a very strong and well-drawn South African setting, and a spiritual underpinning that is simply part of who the main characters are.
These characters are Monica, a white South African journalist and single mother of two adopted black sons, and Monica’s housekeeper and friend, Francina, a black woman who has never dared to trust another man since her abusive husband. If there is a romance in this story, it is Francina’s — but it’s very far from a romance-novel stereotype as the practical and unromantic Francina is wooed by a gentle, soft-spoken teacher who is still clinging to the memory of his dead wife. There’s a hint of romance for Monica too, but it’s very underplayed, presumably deferred to the next book (there is another in the works). The focus here is on how Monica’s non-traditional family makes a home for themselves in a small town called Lady Helen; in the broader sense, it’s about how people, both black and white, are adapting to life in the “new” South Africa.
The pacing of this novel sometimes felt “off” to me, but I found the setting and the story intriguing. When I’m looking for another fix of inspirational fiction, I’ll gladly read another book by Vanessa del Fabbro.