Today is Christian Grey’s birthday. To celebrate, E. L. James has a new Fifty Shades book out: Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Christian. How excitement. Incidentally, it’s also grey and miserable here at Lectito HQ and we could use a little romance to brighten our day. Yeah, okay, we get that Fifty Shades is *technically* more erotica than romance, but whatever, all this grey business has got us in the mood for love. Here’s ten stories to set your heart aflutter.
Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier (1941)
Set in seventeenth century Cornwall, Frenchman’s Creek is the story of Lady St. Columb (Donna to her friends), and her affair with the French pirate, Jean-Benoit Aubéry, whom she meets after running away from court life to her husband’s country estate. Not content to merely meet her pirate for riverside trysts, Donna disguises herself and joins his swashbuckling crew in their midnight raids on the local nobility. A lady and mother by day and a free-spirited pirate by night, Donna finds the life she’s always wished for, until her husband arrives and she’s forced to make a choice.
Like all of du Maurier’s novels, there’s more at play in Frenchman’s Creek than just romance and adventure (although there’s certainly plenty of that to go around). It’s a story about female identity and competing desires, as relevant today as it was in du Maurier’s time and seventeenth century Cornwall.
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (2012)
It’s a big call, but this may just be the greatest story of first love ever. That’s right, Shakespeare, time to shuffle over. The story is shared between the two title characters, frizzy-haired, full-figured Eleanor who just wants to go unnoticed until she can escape her stepfather, and Irish-Korean Park, who is better off than most of his school friends and wants to help Eleanor in any way he can. They meet on the school bus, sharing a seat, then comic books and mix tapes. They explore their love slowly, stealing time together when they can. But Eleanor and Park are star crossed lovers from different worlds, and while Park offers Eleanor a refuge from an abusive home life, he can’t make her problems go away, and she can’t love him until she finds a way to save and love herself.
Eleanor and Park is a refreshingly ‘real’ story of teenage love, and, as well as being an excellent read, it’ll get you all goosebumpy remembering how it felt the first time you fell.
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (2003)
Henry DeTamble is a time traveler. He can’t control where or when or for how long his trips last. At twenty-eight he meets twenty-year-old artist Clare Abshire at the Newberry Library, and while she has known him since girlhood, he’s never seen her before. They fall in love and he begins to move back and forth along their timeline.
The Time Traveler’s Wife is a complex and moving story about fate, miscommunication and longing. Stock up on tissues before settling down with this one.
The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons (2000)
‘Switch off’ reading at its finest, The Bronze Horseman is a sweeping epic to get lost in on a cold winter’s night. Set in Russia during World War Two it tells the story of seventeen-year-old Tatiana Metanova and her soldier-lover, Alexander Belov, as they fight to stay together while their country is torn apart. It’s a big book, but a quick read and Simons followed it up with The Bridge to Holy Cross (2003) and The Summer Garden (2005).
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Fate is against Hazel Grace and Augustus Waters from the beginning. They both have cancer, and Hazel’s is the incurable kind. They struggle to come to terms with the hand they’ve been dealt and question what makes a life ‘well lived’. Then, in a giant ‘eff you’ to their stars, they do what they can to make the most of what little time they have. It’s a sob fest from the beginning, but well worth the tears.
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (2013)
A twist on the classic romcom plot and winner of the 2012 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript, The Rosie Project is the story of Don Tillman, a socially awkward genetics professor who believes he can find love in a spreadsheet. In want of a partner, Don begins The Wife Project, devising a set of criteria by which to find his ideal woman. Shockingly, the project is a spectacular failure, but then along comes Rosie. She doesn’t meet any of Don’s criteria, but teaches him that when it comes to love, you need to listen to your heart rather than your head. Fans will also enjoy the sequel, The Rosie Effect (2014).
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938)
Yes, du Maurier earns two mentions on this list, but she’s the queen of romance as far we’re concerned—one of those rare writers who can engage the heart and mind in equal measure.
On its surface Rebecca is a romantic thriller. The young, unnamed narrator catches the eye of widower Maxim de Winter, and after becoming his wife returns with him to Manderley, a country estate to rival Pemberley, where she finds herself haunted by reminders of Maxim’s first wife, Rebecca. As the story progresses it becomes increasingly clear that Max hasn’t been entirely forthcoming about the details of his first marriage and Rebecca wasn’t who she seems.
Rebecca is a clever reworking of Jane Eyre and the real relationship in focus is that between two feminine extremes: ‘the angel in the house’ and ‘the mad woman in the attic’.
Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson (1993)
Forget Fifty Shades, here’s something truly erotic. It’s a story of love and loss told, as the title suggests, through the language of the body. A woman leaves her husband for her lover, then leaves her lover when she learns she has cancer. Sensual, and intimate and real, it’s a story about the boundaries we set for ourselves and how we are broken down and reshaped by our relationships with others.
One Day by David Nicholls (2009)
Starting the day they graduate university, One Day checks in on Dexter and Emma on that same day each year as they fall apart and back together, charting the very different courses their lives take to the ones they imagined for themselves in their early twenties. By turns funny, sad and surprising, One Day isn’t your typical romance, but a bittersweet tale of lives intertwined.
Love Story by Erich Segal (1970)
It’s a pretty bold move to call your love story, Love Story. You want to be pretty darn certain that you can deliver the goods, and Segal certainly does. In fact, Love Story remained on the New York Times Best Seller List for an impressive forty-one weeks in the year of its release.
The story is classic romance. Jennifer and Oliver are from different worlds. She’s a musician and daughter of a Rhode Island baker, while he’s heir to a sizeable fortune and in line to take over his father’s business. While Oliver’s father disproves of their marriage and cuts them off, the couple seem destined for a humble happily ever after. But this is fiction and things are never so easy.
What, no Jane Austen, you say? We hear your befuddled cries, but she could really fill a whole list herself. And if you love love and haven’t read Austen, shame on you! Get thee to a library!
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