Romance seems to have become a bit of a dirty word in the high brow world of literary fiction. It seems to have become synonymous with terms like ‘chick lit’ or ‘guilty pleasures’ – something we readers should be ashamed of or find beneath us. Yet, love stories are some of the most enjoyable and enduring novels I’ve ever read. Thank God for the incredible Marian Keyes who recently admitted to a period of reading Mills and Boon books, because she found they lifted her spirits. I don’t think we should be embarrassed about anything we enjoy reading. So I wanted to share with you some of my favourite novels about love – new and old – in time for Valentines Day.
’When a thing has always been forbidden, and must live in darkness and silence, it’s hard to know how it might be, if allowed to thrive’. Patrick Gale A Place Called Winter.
When Harry Cane begins a passionate affair with a young man in the early 1900s, he loses his wife and children, his home and his job. Forced to start all over again, Harry starts a pioneer life in the Canadian wilderness. This is a beautifully moving novel about self-acceptance and an enduring love and loyalty that is heartbreaking. My heart soared as Harry finds Paul, and with the help of Paul’s sister the men are able to have a measure of safety. This is not a soft romance, pioneer life is violent and gritty, but if you like love stories that are emotional, intense and deeply personal this is the perfect novel.
‘You make me happy, even when you’re awful, I would rather be with you, even the you that you seem to think is diminished, than with anyone else in the world’.
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
This book reduces me to tears every time. Probably because Will reminds me of my late husband and when I’m reading Louisa’s inner monologue it’s as if Jojo Moyes has climbed inside my mind! Louisa takes a job caring for Will, a charming and active young man who has become quadriplegic in an accident. At first Will is angry, but slowly his smile, charm and intelligence work their magic on Louisa. He opens the world up for her and makes her see dreams are possible. Her humour, forthrightness and the bumble bee tights have a similar effect on Will. But, can love make someone want to live again? Or has Will simply lost too much of the life he loved? Buy tissues.
’As he looked at me, it was as if my whole heart turned over in my body and was mine no longer’.
The King’s General Daphne Du Maurier
Du Maurier’s better known novels tend to people’s favourite but I’m very fond of this novel and own a very old edition I managed to pick up in the second hand bookstore in Fowey near Du Maurier’s home. It’s the love story that grabs me and it’s a tragic one. Honor is courted by Richard, usually in the apple tree in the orchard. They plan to marry and in the week before their wedding take guests out on a hunt. Spirited and headstrong, Honor gets so carried away following the falcons that she rides her horse directly into a ravine. She is rescued but her legs are broken and her back injured. Richard comes from an important family and Honor knows he needs a wife who can support him and the family name. With her heart breaking, Honor calls off their engagement and retreats privately to mend her body and her heart. She never walks again. When their paths cross again years later will their feelings have changed?
‘It’s come to my heart as soft as dew, and as sweet as a red rose, that you’ll get love as well as give it’.
Precious Bane by Mary Webb
I’d love to write an update of this beautiful book, set in the rural 19th Century. Prue is a dutiful daughter, still living at home on the family farm and resigned that this is where she will always stay. Webb weaves a world of rural poverty and community where men run the home and traditions such as love spinning are still the main celebration. Prue is loved but also thought of with suspicion in the community because she is ‘hare shorten’. When her mother was pregnant she was startled by a hare and as a result Prue is seen as ‘disfigured’ due to her hare lip. I love Prue, she is intelligent and curious, but modest and dutifully does her background role while watching her contemporaries fall in love and marry. She is resigned that love will not come for her. Then Kester Woodseaves walks into their community and she feels a powerful emotion. She loves him. But he couldn’t possibly feel the same way. As Prue’s life grows harder still and crops start to fail, suspicions grow. Is Prue Sarn a witch? And who will save her from the superstitions and violence of the community?
‘She made you decent, and in return you made her so happy’.
One Day by David Nichols
There was a period of time when I got on the train and I could see at least three people reading this book. ‘Friends who become more‘ is a favourite romantic theme of mine. I love When Harry Met Sally, Ross and Rachel and this tale of Emma and Dex. They meet on graduation night in Edinburgh and we follow a 20 year friendship by dropping in on the same date each year. Some days they are together, some days far apart, but in these snapshots we see where their lives are heading and the state of their friendship. I spend a whole novel hoping and praying they will come together. On significant dates, like Dex’s wedding day I ended up with a lump in my throat. Are they destined to live happily ever after?
‘And there, by the fireside, whenever I look up there you shall be and whenever I look up, there you shall be’.
Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
I’m an absolute sucker for baby animals, so when shepherd Gabriel Oak brings Bathsheba Everdene a lamb and offers his hand in marriage, it’s like my fantasy marriage proposal. It’s the sort of engagement ring I can get on board with. However, Bathsheba is headstrong and determined. She’d happily have a wedding, as long as she doesn’t have to be the bride. As she becomes the heir to an estate she aims to astound them all. Instead of her hand, she gives Gabriel a job and they become friends. Through her disastrous romantic decisions, he remains steadfast and loyal, but will she ever see he is the right choice? As a bonus, Matthias Schoenharts is Gabriel Oak in the latest film and he’s an absolute dream with the solidity and integrity of the character on the page.
These are just some of my favourites, but below is a gallery of the most romantic novels I’ve read recently. Happy Valentines Reading!