This theoretical analysis is based on the novel extract from Midnight at the Miro, which you can access by clicking here.
“Midnight at the Miro” is a single-title, conventional romance of the suspense sub-genre. Presented in a modern, urban setting and responds to the Brit Art movement of the 1990s. The target market includes women in their twenties and thirties, who might be classified as the “Sex and the City” audience. The author uses third-person limited narration to preserve the viewpoint of the heroine, who represents an independent woman with a successful career and financial autonomy. The traditional character of the heroine is subverted by defining her as someone who directly engages with the world, not someone whose identity is defined through her relationship with others.
The author’s first hermeneutic reference draws the reader in by describing the heroine’s psychological state: “Melanie was excited and had never been happier.”. We understand by this that something has happened which will soon be revealed, and we are immediately propelled forward by the narrative. Our suspense is sated in the following paragraph, when reading about her impending exhibition. This and the cultural codes that follow “Kurt Geiger…stilettos” and “calf-skin leather briefcase”, begin to explain something about the world the heroine lives in: she has a sense of style and, possibly, money. Here the author directly connects the heroine to the novel’s intended audience.
Up until the third paragraph, where the author first describes Melanie directly, she is still only seen through cultural references or as “the agent of an action” (Barthes, 1977, p104). Our greatest sense of Melanie’s character is not only derived from these proairetic and cultural codes but also from the semic ones which, when taken in isolation can appear, to some extent, contradictory. Her “ethereal look” seems at odds with the self-assured person leaving the cab and heading purposefully up the path. If the reader senses any conflict at all this is soon allayed as the author presents the themes that form the heroine’s character by offering important semes, which occur in various forms throughout the novel.
Williams’ description of ideology as “A system of belief characteristics of a particular class or group.” (1977, cited in Fiske, 1990, p165), eloquently describes the novel’s subverted ideology in relation to the heroine’s character. As a successful female Melanie is portrayed as emotionally and financially independent yet does not represent the hard-nosed - feminist reminiscent of the 1980s - but a psychologically well-rounded ‘strong’, yet feminine, woman. Whilst the author connotatively describes her physicality as “delicate” we are aware that she is a businesswoman. This binary opposition helps us understands that despite her subtle facial features, she must contain an inner strength to be competing in a male dominated world. The tension between these opposites reinforce Melanie’s strength of character in the reader’s mind. So, too, her pinstripe suit, which shows that she is ready to willingly launch herself into the Lacanian symbolic order of male power in an attempt to be taken seriously. As McCracken states: “…the heroine of popular romance is inextricably bound up with her position as woman in the modern world.” (1998, p80).
With the contrary semic references and binary opposites used to describe the heroine, the author creates a character with a less classic, less definable, female identity. This very identity is sharply brought into focus with Melanie’s rhetorical question: “Who are you?”. The reader will not immediately recognise the significance of the remark. Nevertheless, it transpires later in the novel that Melanie finds out that her father is not dead after all and upon his reintroduction she is forced to deal with issues concerning her own identity. This intertextual accent in the novel can be compared to “Great Expectations” as, unbeknownst to her, Melanie’s father had been her benefactor. At this point in the novel we see the first glimpse of the denouement of the plot in the form of the reappearance of her father and the breakdown of her relationship with James.
Included in the exposition is the setting of the flat where Melanie lives with James, which is also described binarily and can be seen as a symbolic representation of Melanie herself; the “unpretentious” yet “refined” lounge suggests a contradiction that remains unnoticed in the reading. What the author describes is an attractive, intriguing room, enabling the reader to add her own interpretation to the details that are omitted. As Radway says: “…the reader is never forced to recognise that it is indeed she who actively supplies the significance of the words she encounters.” (1991, p197).
While the author does not challenge romantic conventions, she does challenge the stereotypes of gender roles by introducing atypical, complex characters that are hard to pin down. Well-placed narrative enigmas, provided in the form of “lexies” (Barthes, 1974), seamlessly bleed into the narrative assuring a smooth transit. The interlacing of “voices” (ibid), and overlapping of “associative fields” (1972, Hall), enables the reader to successfully engage with the text. Additionally, the interpretative space allowed by the author offers the reader a degree of subjective control over the descriptive details. As Gennette says “…the real author of the narrative is not only [s]he who tells it, but also, and at times even more, [s]he who hears it.” (1995, p262).
Barthes, R (1977) “Structural Analysis of Narratives” in Image Music Text. 1st ed. London: Fontana Press.
Barthes, R (1974) S/Z: An Essay. 1st ed. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Fiske, J (1990) An Introduction to Communication Studies. 2nd ed. London: Routledge.
Genette, G (1995) Narrative Discourse. 6th ed. New York: Cornell University Press.
Hall, S (1972) Working Papers in Cultural Studies. 1st ed. London: Taylor and Francis.
McCracken, S. (1998) “Popular Romance” in Pulp: Reading Popular Fiction. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Radway, J.A. (1991) Reading the Romance – Women, Patriarchy and Popular Literature. 2nd ed. North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press.