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The Dulled Edge of Danielle Steel

21 June, 2008

Having vowed to read more broadly in fiction, I dipped into Mills & Boon romances, then tried a novel by best-selling author, Danielle Steel.

I’ll never read another. Given that Steel is a mega-successful writer, my comments may seem like  ‘Grumpy Old Writing Companion’. But I was disappointed at how much padding I had to contend with when reading The Ranch.

Steel is that rare bird, a financially independent writer, apparently worth over $800 million a few years ago. According to Wikipedia:

  • She has written over 70 novels in her 25-year career.
  • Her novels have huge print runs, are distributed internationally, and have been translated into 28 languages. By 2005, more than 530 million copies of her books had sold.
  • She has earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for having her books on the New York Times Bestseller List for a record 381 consecutive weeks.

The Ranch

The novel I randomly picked to read, The Ranch, was her 39th, published in 1997.

The plot is interesting enough. Three women who first meet as young university students, reunite when they are in their forties, for a fortnight (two weeks) at a dude ranch. Each faces a major life crisis. One woman’s husband (her third) can’t cope with her superstar status. Another one’s marriage falls apart after a son’s suicide. And one faces a major health issue.

So far so good, and a realistic portrayal would have been interesting. Instead, Steel opts for extreme fantasy, having all three of her characters fall in love by the end of their first week at the ranch.

Putting aside the silly plot, what finally ruined my reading pleasure was all the padding. For example, the attractive superstar singer, Tanya, is described as having blonde hair and looking younger than her age. These details are used again and again. Ditto for the other two main characters.

Why pad out the story? Does Steel think readers won’t buy her books unless they’re  door-stoppers, what I call books on steroids? Does she believe her many readers aren’t bright enough to remember plot and character details? Or perhaps she’s focused on the airport reader market, repeating information because traveling readers are often tired or distracted.

The repetition may be due to how Steel produces her novels. According to Wikipedia, she often releases several books in one year, and can be ‘researching one book while outlining another, then writing and editing additional books’. Whew! You have to admire her stamina. Once she has a huge, loyal readership, she can get away with poor writing.

The same ‘big book/padding’ phenomenon is evidenced in Di Morrissey’s romance novels and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Their early books were much shorter than the newer ones. I noticed the same padding in Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code and realised I didn’t have to commit too many brain cells to following the plot. The main bits would be repeated ad nauseam.

Steel’s books have been criticised not only for being ‘overly redundant and detailed,’ but also for so ‘explicitly telling the story’ so that readers may feel as if ‘they are on the outside looking in’ rather than becoming emotionally immersed. And it is a reader’s sense of immersion—entering wholly into the writer’s world—that identifies a great book.

46 Comments leave one →
  1. 17 March, 2018 2:09 pm

    I just read my first Danielle Steele and I was googling about why people read her books and I came across this website. I have never read such a shallow book in my life. Children’s books have better story lines. The padding is really annoying, the plot so shallow and the presentation of cliches was just too much. I told someone after I was done (or skipped through the whole book ) that my IQ has considerably reduced from reading that book. I won’t be keeping the copy , I’ll give it out as soon as I have the chance


    • Anonymous permalink
      17 March, 2018 6:29 pm

      Ha, like the idea of categorising books in terms of raising or lowering our IQ! Thanks.


  2. Caroline permalink
    13 January, 2018 10:19 am

    D.S repeats herself too much. If one was to rewrite her books and do it right, it would be condensed to 1/3 the original book. One of my pet peeves is repeating descriptive words…how hard is it to find synonyms! Her writing is very juvenile; in 2 nights in Paris (I think that was the name), each man the lead character met was the most handsome she had ever seen. She is also very predictable. I just read the prodigal son and knew exactly what would happen. I like books that have twists, turns and surprises. Her court room battles are the worst. In the prodigal son a doctor is in court claiming his son was fathered by his twin brother, which was a lie. Really, why would a doctor who was described as intelligent claim that in this day and age of DNA tests? I honestly wonder why she sells as many books as she does. Just for fun, I would like a better author to rewrite one of her books and add the drama, unpredictability and weight that hers lack. Again, why the hell does she sell so many books???


  3. Anna permalink
    22 December, 2017 1:34 am

    i thought I was the only one who felt this way. I tossed her book in the trash


  4. Catherine O'Brien-McHue permalink
    17 September, 2017 3:20 am

    I am 58 and have been an avid reader all my life, mostly the classics,historical fiction, nonfiction ie history, biographies. Recently I volunteered to organize the “library” at a senior center. Numerous donated books by Nora Roberts, Patricia Cornwell and Daneille Steel. Where have I been all my life? I have never read books like these so I decided to take a dip. I’m, like, seriously? This is what ladies my age and over have been reading? After thinking writing couldn’t get worse with Roberts and Cornwell, I read “Heartbeat” by Steel and screamed out loud in frustration after reading “..she loved it, he loved it, love, love it ” even several times on one page and nonstop throughout the book! AAArrrg! Did our dumbed down and coarser culture produce writers like these or are these authors contributing to the dumbing down of our culture? Good heavens.


    • 17 September, 2017 11:00 am

      I was as surprised as you, and I’m still wondering why her books remain so popular. Maybe you could start a senior centre bookclub to introduce people to the joys of more challenging, meaty books.


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