Hi everyone! Since today is Valentine’s Day I thought I would chat about some books featuring romance. To begin with though I have a small confession to make; I don’t read the romance genre. This is my own fault as I have these preconceived notions about romance; that it is corny and cliché, that it doesn’t have the emotional heft that, say, literary fiction has. I know my biases are wrong and unfounded yet whilst still being conscious of them, I am also still wary of picking up a novel categorised as romance. So perhaps I am not the best person to discuss this subject and I initially wasn’t going to. That is, until I realised that some of my favourite books have romance as a key element. It might not be the main focus of the narrative but it still has a large presence in the work. Most of these will already be familiar to you (especially the first two) and I have left a link to my review if there is one so you can hear more of my thoughts. Let me know who are your favourite literary couples, or if you have recommendations on romance novels that would be great. But enough rambling on, here are some of my favourite romances;
An oldie but a goodie, I think pretty much everyone knows the story of the eponymous orphan, who becomes a governess under the mysterious and charismatic Mr Rochester. Weirdly I was hesitant to include Jane Eyre in this list. Whilst some parts of it are unabashedly romantic, there is still a sinister element lurking throughout the work. The relationship between Jane and Rochester is a complex, intriguing one; there is a sense they are meant for each other yet Rochester’s actions and words can be abhorrent, violent, and shocking. Perhaps reading it through a modern-day perspective rather than placing the narrative within historical context affected my reading and my impressions of Rochester, but there are still moments where he is truly unlikable. The ending as well is ambiguous; it is hard to gauge whether Jane is happy or not. I adore the ending because of this as Bronte has essentially left the reader to decide Jane’s fate. So while in some ways Jane Eyre feels like a classic love story, the darker elements Bronte has added stops the plot from being saccharine sweet.
I promise this is the last time I will mention Anna Karenina on this blog. I’m sure everyone is already sick of me waxing lyrical about this novel, even including it in my Top Ten Books of 2018. Similarly to Jane Eyre, most people know the plot of Anna Karenina, who finds herself falling in love with the dashing Count Vronsky. A sub-plot also revolves around the relationship between young lovers Levin and Kitty. Tolstoy writes beautifully about falling in love (and lust); his imagery and word choice is exquisite and captures that first rush of feeling that everyone can relate to. He also explores relationships beyond that young love phrase and how feelings can change throughout the years. Anna Karenina is unashamedly a novel about love and relationships and I think Tolstoy nails those moments of joy and hurt that come with them.
A modern book which features romance, The Dark Circle centres around two Jewish siblings, Lenny and Miriam, who have contracted tuberculosis and are subsequently sent off to a new NHS-funded sanitorium. Whilst there is some romances between patients of this sanitorium, the main focus is on the relationship between the siblings. I found their relationship incredibly tender and Grant does an excellent job of weaving quite large themes into a quiet novel looking at British society. I must admit I am still not enamoured with the ending; it felt rushed, making it at odds with the slow pace of the novel. But there are still incredibly well-written, thoughtful passages throughout and some amazing character studies. This is not a fast-paced, action packed novel but if you like slow, beautifully written narratives focussing on relationships then The Dark Circle might be for you. Whilst romance might not be the main drive behind the narrative; it’s still really nicely woven into the plot and the platonic love the siblings share is beautiful.
The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan
I read this book about 5 (!?) years ago now and I still look back on it fondly. The debut novel of Logan, The Gracekeepers is set in a dystopian world where most of the Earth is flooded. The majority of people live in boats whilst only the privileged few remain on land. We follow North, a young girl who lives on a circus boat, giving performances to land-dwellers with her beloved bear and another girl named Callanish. Callanish is a ‘gracekeeper’ who essentially tends to the dead who have passed away at sea, and through a tragic incident the girls meet. I found this a very easy read; Logan has created this very imaginative world yet makes it really accessible and engaging. There isn’t a huge amount of world-building needed so the reader can just dive (no pun intended) into the plot. The characters are also well-drawn and likeable; it was very easy to just keep reading as I was so invested in them. The relationship between the girls is also incredibly lovely and tender, you really feel for them and want them to succeed. The Gracekeepers is a very impressive debut and a reminder I need to check out more of Logan’s work.
And those are my recommendations for ‘romance’ novels! I was initially going to call this post ‘Books to read on Valentine’s Day’ but I reckon Anna Karenina might be a wee bit too long for that (though if you can finish that book in one day well done! I am impressed). Like I said in my intro, let me know what some of your favourite romances are regardless of genre and I shall be back with another review on Monday. Until then, whether you celebrate Valentine’s or not, have a great weekend!