For most writers, Valentine’s isn’t what it seems

Business woman Farida Khamis [right] sells Valentine flowers to her client, Norah Wanjala along Moi avenue in Mombasa. (Omondi Onyango, Standard).

Some literary critics argue that writers have unique lenses that enable them to see what transpires in society in a different angle from the rest of the people.

A look at writers’ view of Valentine’s Day confirms the argument that while it is a day of romance, for the creative minds, it can be the contrary.

Writers have defied the euphoria of celebrating the day and used it as an avenue to portray the ugly side of love and life. They have “Valentine” either as titles of their works or as decoys to incorporate the theme of romance associated with the day into their writings.

Perhaps what stands out among the notable writers is the flip side of love: violence, which actually echoes one of the many versions of how Valentine’s Day came into being.

The version connects the day to the accounts of Saint Valentine of Rome who was imprisoned and sentenced to death for conducting weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry.

The chronicles claim the saint restored the sight of a judge’s blind daughter who received his letter with his signature saying “Your Valentine”.

The fiction writers have used Valentine’s Day as a decoy to tell the realities of life that is full of heartbreaks and disappointments; it is deconstruction at its best.

While it is known that Valentine’s Day is a moment to celebrate love, fiction writers have depicted the horrible side that appearance can be deceptive. What you see as people exchanging gifts is a mere mask hiding the haunting facts behind the scene.

One such writer whose work hinges on the bitter and violent side of love is Tom Savage who comes with his thriller novel, Valentine. It is a story of a character who finds herself in trouble after a psycho killer trails her.

The killer makes his victim aware that she will face a brutal and inevitable death on Valentine’s Day. In essence, the writer insinuates that the day may be celebrated as one of romance but to some, the reality might be the opposite.

With the same title Valentine, Elizabeth Strout uses the concept of valentine to tell a narrative of brutality on women. The climax of the story is on the Valentine’s Day when 14-year-old Gloria Ramírez surfaces with serious injuries from the brutality she has suffered from having been attacked in an oilfield.

After the incident, the test now rests on the elusiveness of justice as the victim of violence is disappointed in every stage of her quest. In essence, the author reminds its readers that the excitement of Valentine’s Day should not overshadow the pursuit for justice for women who have suffered in the hands of men.

Also, Erica Morrison with her novel Remembering Valentine questions the games played in the name of romance by taking readers into the tormented mind of a woman. It is a sad tale of Katie who starts receiving Valentine’s Day gifts some weeks before D-Day from a secret admirer.

The quest to know the admirer torments her until she decides to work with a friend to investigate the man. The story line is inspired by an apparent philosophical question in the novel on why love should be tormenting. Do the secret lovers know the pain of seeking to unravel a mystery of their existence?

Other writers inspired by the day include Jo Gibson (My Bloody Valentine), Felix Alexander (The Last Valentine), Elizabeth Wetmore (Valentine) and Liza ward (Outside Valentine: A Novel).