Sometimes I define my role with Smart Bitches as that person who says, “What ever could that strange noise be! You wait here – I'll go into the basement with a malfunctioning flashlight to check it out.” What I mean by that is that I investigate a lot of books that look romantic but aren't on the “romance” shelves of the bookstore, and I report back to you on the romance or lack thereof in said books. In keeping with this, I checked out the graphic novel, “Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie, a tale of Love and Fallout.” I'm going to give you a quick spoiler-free summing up in the first paragraph, and after that paragraph, spoilers will abound.
n short, “Radioactive” contains a gorgeous, inspiring romance, but is not in itself a romance novel. It also contains a lot of tragedy and is only partially about the Curies as a couple. The science and biography and storytelling and art are wonderfully crafted and I absolutely recommend this book to anyone with an interest in science, women's history, or the graphic novel format. However, I don't recommend it as a straight-up romance, even though it does contain a wonderful romance as part of the larger narrative. Run, don't walk, to your library or bookstore and read it right this minute, just know that it's not a romance novel.
First, let's talk romance. Now, obviously a non-fiction biography is never going to meet romance novel criteria, because at some point somebody (and, eventually, everybody) dies. In their quest for a HEA, most romance novels conveniently ignore this inevitability. In the case of Radioactive (and remember, you're in MAJOR SPOILER land now), the love story of Marie and Pierre Curie ended abruptly when Pierre was hit by a carriage while crossing a street. So basically, what we've got here is one of the finest romances ever written, fictional or otherwise, right up until page 95. I can't overemphasize how well-written and delightful and moving the love story is, but even though the title of the book suggests that it is about the couple of Marie and Pierre, that's only true for half the book. After that it's all about Marie.
Now that we've got the smooching out of the way, I get to tell you that the book over-all is amazing. Lauren Redniss tells the story of Marie Curie through words and art by interweaving Marie's life history with the history of radium and polonium, the elements Curie discovered. At first I didn't like the minimalist style of the art but as I kept reading I appreciated the simplicity of the art and the way it enhanced the story. I also appreciated the way the interwoven vignettes about chemistry, physics, and history enhanced the story just as the story gave depth and interest to the more academic material. I was completely mesmerized by the book and yet I read it slowly because every quote from Marie gave me something new to think about and savor. Really, truly, I know the misleading title is evil, but you have to read this book, it is just so darn awesome.
Radioactive left me hungry for more, but in a good way. I felt intrigued, but not frustrated. As long as you don't go in expecting that the book will be about Marie and Pierre, I think Smart Bitch readers will love the story of Marie on many levels – in some ways it is the ultimate cross-over book. I would give it to someone who says they're not into science, or someone who says they don't like graphic novels, or someone who says they don't like non-fiction. It's that good. I just wouldn't use it as an example of a romance novel, what with all that pesky reality getting in the way of a happy ending.