Romantic Readings – for Valentine’s Day and Beyond

When I thought of good romantic books for this post for some Valentine’s Day reading I did struggle a bit: given I don’t actually read a lot of romance I had to have a big think. This is my list of 10 of the best romantic reads – mostly classics here, and an even split of male to female writers. Enjoy.

Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte. This is my favourite Bronte story. Jane Eyre is okay but for me it is the wild, demonic passion of Cathy and Heathcliff that sends them insane and survives death. It is intricately written, and stays with you forever. I think it is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand how love lasts, and how it posses you, controls you, owns you. Plus there is always the fantastic Kate Bush song.

Pride & Prejudice – Jane Austen. All of Jane Austen’s novels deal with love and the intricacies of romance and social expectations of her time and all of us have our favourite. This is mine – essentially because Elizabeth Bennett is really a very modern woman, suffering her ridiculous family and manages to be true to herself and does win the man – the best man of the lot, not just the richest, but the smouldering bad tempered, distant type – who isn’t in the end after all. It’s no wonder with Heathcliff and Mr Darcy in our imaginations that so many of us fancy bad boys when we’re young.

Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy. Ah Russian passion and suffering which is so much more bleak and unbearable than English suffering. Anna has to die, there is no other way out for her: the pressures of her social standing and her passion for Vronsky. But there’s a lot of pages to get through before she ends up under the train.

The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald. You knew this would be on the list – this book is on all my reading lists! How can you go past a man who spends years of his life getting rich just to get back the woman he loves – even if she is utterly worthless. Daisy shimmers, Gatsby shines, but it is all ill fated and he, too, has to die.

Women in Love – DH Lawrence. Many of Lawrence’s books could be on this list – Lady Chatterly’s Lover, most famously, and The Rainbow. I read Lawrence as an impressionable university student, in the throws of my own affair with one of those out-of-reach-men. The contrasting love stories of Gudrun & Ursula Brangwen was written with such intimate insight, that you felt Lawrence knew women better than he knew men.

The Go-between – LP Hartley. “The past is a foreign country”. Remember that? And off we go down memory lane to the summer of 1900 where the narrator, as a young boy helps two ill fated lovers in their trysts. It is a novel of social class, lovers thwarted and innocence lost. Read it again – it is beautifully sad.

Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier. My mother made me read Rebecca and I thank her for that still. Another famous opening: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” Mystery, intrigue, ghosts, malevolent servant (the very scary Mrs Danvers), riches, beautiful settings, love – this book has it all. Who does the wealthy Maxim really love – his dead wife or his new young wife?

The English Patient – Michael Ondaatje. You’ve seen the movie, no doubt but you must read the book. The story of the dying English Patient in the war, nursed by a young English nurse in Italy, as he relives his affair with another pilot’s wife and how his actions led to her death – alone in a cave in the desert as she desperately waits for him to return, which he does too late. This is one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read – the story is epic and the writing is truly poetic. Read this book.

God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy. The depth of feeling in this novel seeps through to your very soul. The book tells the story of forbidden love between two pairs of lovers. Set against the strict social mores of Indian society and the fetid, sweaty tropics of monsoon Kerala this book horrifies and amazes you. The evil of Baby Kochamma is worse than Mrs Danvers and the results of her lies and meddling fatal. Amu and Velutha fall in love, but he is an untouchable and has no right to be with her. Estha and Rahel are witness to Velutha’s mistreatment and are separated for many years. But their own love is too strong and finally after many years apart they accept their need for each other and the final scenes are of love. The brilliance in the writing is that we accept the two pairs of lovers are right, despite the weight of social barriers and prejudices against them.

Bridget Jones’ Diary – Helen Fielding. Finally a romantic story where nobody dies! If you love P&P then naturally you love Bridget Jones. This is fun, this is anxiety as modern women know it – falling for the wrong guy, losing the right guy, confused about it all; foolish and full of doubt but loveable in a real way. Remember Mark Darcy does love Bridget exactly as she is. And that’s what we all want at the end of the day.

Happy reading. Happy Valentine’s Day. (Images courtesy Google Images)

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