It's a long story about why I finally read Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. But I had a lot of opinions on the book before I had even read it. One of these opinions is my annoyance that the Christian fiction genre is mainly composed of romance novels. I like a good love story, too, sometimes (or even a trite one occasionally), but romance novels are a slightly different angle than simply love stories--and anyways, do we really have nothing else to create for the Christian fiction genre? Why can't the Christian romances just be a subset of it, instead of its bulk?
But why get mad at one book for this? Especially a book that so many people love and describe as life-changing. While I wouldn't go so far as that, there were certain things in it that were well done and that I could relate to. One of the things I have been working on in my life is learning how to have relationships--and when I say learning, I mean that I'm going about it differently than I have in the past. So I did greatly relate to Angel's difficulty accepting/understanding a new way of looking at relationships in her life. Sometimes Christian fiction (whether novels or movies) places emphasis on a character's big moment of discovery. But like Francine Rivers says in her endnote, sometimes those changes take time to become part of our lives. And when we are choosing to live differently, that transition will happen gradually as we come into more awareness and let it sink into each aspect of our lives.
For anyone unfamiliar with the book, the plot is inspired by the book of Hosea in the Bible. Hosea was a prophet that God led to a marriage which became a metaphor for the way in which Israel kept breaking their covenant with God and seeking other gods. Just as God would still call his people back and still love them no matter how often they turned from him, Hosea also still accepted his wife back after she kept turning away to prostitution (and I think the reminder is relevant that many of the other religions at this time included prostitution as part of temple worship). So in Redeeming Love, Michael marries Angel, who has been a prostitute since she was a child. There are some notable differences there with the story in Hosea. I think the book does a better job at describing the transition out of trauma back into love and fellowship than it does describing continued acceptance in the face of continual backsliding into sin. But I suppose it's still a picture of God's redeeming love either way.
By the way, the original version of the book came out in 1991, and the version that is in print now came out in 1997. I think it got a little "cleaned up," though I can't speak to the differences since I only read the current one, not the original. This one is not explicit, though it does talk about sex a lot and then some more. It also, within the plot, compares and contrasts rape and consensual, God-designed sex. Just in case you were wondering.
Reading this book put in mind a couple of other stories. Because it came out in the nineties, did it launch the Christian romance novel genre? Most of those books seem to have been published since then, no? I remember really enjoying Deeanne Gist's The Measure of a Lady, which dealt with some similar topics. A young woman finding herself alone with her younger siblings in a wild Western town had to learn how to hold herself as a Christian and protect her siblings while also allowing them to make their own choices and offering help without judgment to the people of the town. I found it very relevant to what it's like being a Christian in society today. It's reminiscent of the way in which many of the characters (Michael in particular, of course) offer help and acceptance to Angel. I also thought of Love Comes Softly, which is kind of like a G-rated version of Redeeming Love, no? Clark shows Marty a new kind of love that she couldn't have imagined before--and through his love, she gets a glimpse of God's love and also gets an entirely new way of living. And it comes "softly" and slowly, just like with Angel.
And the other story I thought of was The Copper Queen, which is the opera film that Arizona Opera just released last year. I suppose I thought of this one easily because I haven't read/watched a lot of stories about prostitutes. So of course this one would come to mind. But it also came to mind because all of the complaints I had about how redemption was portrayed in that story were done completely differently in Redeeming Love. (Click here to read that post) All of my issues with the opera were flipped and changed in this novel. Angel isn't redeemed by a man--and Michael never used Angel, so his love for her is pure. Michael's love for Angel is nice, but it's God's love that redeems her.
So while I'm not on the bandwagon about loving this book, it does set up a good theme, one we would do well to remember. The content is still a little heavy for me personally. But if the story is helping people reflect on their own lives, then that is something good.