I am sure I am not alone in thinking that a great romance is intrinsic to a great novel and a great author is someone who can make you fall madly in love with a character and create romantic idols for generations of readers. Here is my list of the best romance books composed of the top 10 modern and not-so-modern romance books. Be warned: there isn’t a Jane Austen novel in sight!
“Whatever happens tomorrow, we had today and I’ll always remember it.”
One Day was THE book of 2011 and a must in my list of the best romance books. People would be reading it on the train, in the hairdresser’s, at the gym… The great success of the Starter for Ten author’s third novel lies in the fact that it appeals to both men and women equally. The story begins on 15th July 1988 when two students, the handsome, rich playboy Dexter and the studious, acerbic northerner Emma meet and charts their unlikely friendship over the next twenty years, revisiting them on that very same day. It is the ultimate “will-they-won’t-they” love story and both characters, despite numerous flaws are ultimately loveable and you long for them to be given a happy ending. Nicholls provides plenty of laughs along the way, courtesy of the wonderfully sharp dialogue between Dexter and Emma and the shrewd observations of post-university life. This is a great, easy read which would be perfect for fans of Nick Hornby.
“Every atom of your flesh is as dear to me as my own: in pain and sickness it would still be dear.”
The first Brontë novel on my list is everything that a romantic novel should be- melodramatic, gothic and bittersweet. After a miserable childhood at the mercy of her Aunt and the strict regime at Lowood School, orphaned Jane Eyre finds herself living at Thornfield Hall, working as a governess for Mr Rochester’s daughter. Before she knows it, Jane falls for her gruff but alluring employer. However the course of true love does not run smooth and she discovers that Mr Rochester has not left his past altogether behind him. This book has always appealed to me because it was one of the first novels to have such a feisty heroine. Every obstacle and sadness she encounters only makes her more determined in life. She is a lonely girl who is striving to love and be loved but is full of self-respect and ambition. If you were ever forced to read this at school, give it another go and you won’t be disappointed.
“I am driven by a greater force than I can resist. I believe that force has its own reason and its own morality even if they may never be clear to me while I am alive.”
The subtitle of the book, “A tale of love and war” emphasises the two main themes interwoven throughout this heart-wrenching novel. Stephen Wraysford’s life is turned upside down after a passionate affair with the married Frenchwoman Isabelle Azaire and the onslaught of the First World War. Will he be able to find his way back to the woman he loves? Faulks’ powerful descriptions of the atrocities witnessed by the young men in the trenches is contrasted with the later story of Stephen’s granddaughter,who tries to understand more about his life by reading his old journals in the 1970s. The haunting narrative will have a profound effect on you long after you have finished reading.
“It had never occurred to me that our lives, which had been so closely interwoven, could unravel with such speed.”
The narrator, Kathy, remembers her life at Halisham School and her childhood friendship with Ruth and Tommy. They were kept within the walls of the school and encouraged to take care of their health above all else and encouraged to express themselves through art. Yet there is a constant sense of foreboding that lingers over them. The reality is that they are all clones who have been raised to be organ donors and the only way to prolong their fate is if they can prove that they are in love with someone. The cloning back story is not explained within the book, which adds to the sinister atmosphere and Kathy as a narrator is oddly cold and resigned. Although you sense that the ending won’t be particularly happy, you can’t resist wanting to get there as soon as possible.
“I cannot let you burn me up, nor can I resist you. No mere human can stand in a fire and not be consumed.”
Possession follows two modern-day academics that begin by studying Victorian poets and end up accidentally becoming amateur sleuths along the way, uncovering a love affair between the objects of their research that history had long forgotten. As they discover more, could love blossom closer to home? Byatt embellishes this enchanting story through letters and poems sent between the Victorian lovers, which some readers may find disrupts the narrative but can be greatly rewarding in their own right. This is a multi-layered novel that would benefit from being read over and over again.
“I’ll be looking at the moon, but I’ll be seeing you.”
At number five in this best romance books list is The English Patient, yet another book that proves that war provides the perfect backdrop for a winning love story. This is the tale of a group of people hiding out in an Italian monastery in the final days of the Second World War. Hana is nursing her last remaining patient, who has been severely burned and disfigured in a plane crash. On his death-bed, the eponymous patient (who it actually turns out is Hungarian) recounts his tragic love affair with a married woman. Kip, the Sikh bomb disposal expert becomes friends with the patient and in doing so also gets closer to Hana. The narrative is not chronological but rather built up through many layers and we learn more and more about each character through a series of described incidents. Ondaatje’s beautiful prose should be savoured and will leave you stunned.
“Find you, love you, marry you, and live without shame.”
Young Briony Tallis is a middle-class girl growing up n the 1930s who dreams of being a playwright when she is older. One day her overactive imagination causes her to make a terrible mistake and she accuses the charwoman’s son, Robbie, of the rape of her cousin Lola. Robbie is deeply in love with Briony’s older sister Celia and despite his being sent to France to fight during the Second World War, they are determined to be together again one day. Atonement is a deeply moving tale about how one action can alter the course of fate and a young girl’s struggle to overcome the guilt of her betrayal and atone for her mistake. The final twist comes as quite a shock, so ensure that you don’t forget the tissues.
“Reach me a rose, honey and pour me a last drop into that there crystal glass.”
An American classic that has not aged a bit since it was published in 1925. This is the fable of the American dream and an ill-fated love story of poor boy that fell head-over-heels for a rich beauty. The novel is set in Long Island during the jazz-age. The handsome and aloof Jay Gatsby throws lavish parties for guests all summer long, in the hope of attracting Daisy Buchanan, an old flame who has continued to pursue. But there is something mysterious about the great Gatsby and there are too many lives entangled in their affair. Sooner or later someone will get hurt. The luxurious prose offers a fascinating insight into the superficiality of the golden age of glamour and the rottenness at its core.
“Always either on a peak of happiness or drowning in black waters of despair they loved or they loathed, they lived in a world of superlatives.”
This is a stand-out book on the list in that first and foremost The Pursuit of Love is very, very funny. Set in the interwar period, we follow the lives and loves of the eccentric aristocratic Radlett family, which is clearly heavily based on the notorious Mitford sisters own exploits. The Radlett girls’ aim in life was to marry and The Pursuit of Love focuses specifically on Linda’s search for love as she lurches from doomed love affair to doomed love affair. This is told with Nancy Mitford’s trademark wicked sense of humour. The descriptions of family life at Alconleigh and Uncle Matthew’s (now) fabulously politically incorrect views and cynical world outlook are the stand out passages. This is definitely an uplifting read and a worthy runner-up in this best romance books list.
“He’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”
They develop an unshakeable bond that even traverses the boundary between life and death. There is no doubt that Wuthering Heights was ahead of its time.
Wuthering Heights has been my favourite book since I was 16 years old and I am yet to find another novel that has had such a profound and enduring effect on me. Yes, this is a love story above all else, but it is also a tale of passion, revenge, obsession and jealousy. When Cathy’s father brings home Heathcliff, the gypsy boy, the two children quickly become inseparable, roaming the moors together to avoid Cathy’s cruel older brother and the fanatic Christian servant, Joseph. They develop an unshakeable bond that even traverses the boundary between life and death. There is no doubt that Wuthering Heights was ahead of its time. There are elements of the supernatural and such shocking scenes of violence that it is fascinating to think how a parson’s daughter living in the remoteness of North Yorkshire could conjure up such things. Admittedly it does take a while to get used to Brontë‘s style and complex story telling but it is a rewarding novel with an optimistic conclusion and is a fitting ending to any best romance books list worth its salt.