If someone were to look at my “Read” list on Goodreads or ask what some of my most beloved books are, they would probably label me a Romance reader, and I would probably baulk at the label. Don’t get me wrong-I love a good love story; in fact, I’d go as far as to say that almost all great literature includes romantic relationships in one way or another. But the label of Romance (especially as a genre) immediately calls to mind dimestore paperbacks with entangled watercolor lovers on the covers, all heaving bodices and chest measurements of epic proportions, and stories of little to no purpose other than to entertain.
Nothing wrong with that, if that’s your thing. But I’m drawn to good love stories which are also life stories: ones that consider (in context) the importance of romantic relationships in a person’s life and expose the complexities and universal struggles of humans, life, and this thing called love. Ones in which the quality of writing is as important as the entertainment value of the story. Ones that leaves you with an “ah-hah” moment, not just the “ah” moment.
That being said, here are my top five choices of “Romance” stories that will satisfy your craving for a great love story and also nourish you with lyrical writing and a deeper meaning.
#1 Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. No writer has put into words what it truly means to love someone as well as Bronte. I suppose I love this novel because it gives us the un-sugar coated definition of soul mates. Love if fickle. Love does not always make the right decision. Love doesn’t mean that I necessarily want you; it does, however, mean that I need you. Bronte also provides a brilliant contrast between three couples who do everything wrong and one couple that-however flawed-manages to get it right.
#2 The Lover by Marguerite Duras. What Nabokov dabbled with in Lolita, Duras gets right. This story (adapted from the author’s own experiences) tells of a young French girl who has a forbidden affair with an older Chinese man. Told with eloquent, fluid prose, Duras not only approaches the affair with transparency and non-bias, but also examines the destructive influences of dysfunctional families and the ways in which they influence an individual’s choices in life.
#3 The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter. All the princess fairy tales you know and love are given a fresh set of teeth. Known for her exquisite Gothic prose and her underlying feminist themes, Carter’s collection will make you see the Grimm tales in a new light, and while they may be unsettling at times or harsh in their dark beauty, they are nothing if not thought-provoking.
#4 The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee. I stumbled upon this book while doing one of my fruitless key-word searches, trying to overcome those genre stereotypes and find a good love/life story. Although labeled as science-fiction, The Silver Metal Lover isn’t all aliens, spaceships, or dystopia. Rather, it envisions a world in which artificial intelligence is crafted into the perfect lover and sold at a price. Jane, a 16 year-old girl, finds first love with one of these robotic men. What follows is a delicate, touching story that will make you question the nature of love and its boundaries.
#5 Wasteland by Francesca Lia Block. This novel is, by far, the quintessential atypical love story. In fact (get ready to cringe) it’s a story about a brother and sister; still a very controversial topic, even in the land where 50 Shades currently reigns supreme. However, I include the book on this list because it takes a moral issue which I have a very clear opinion of and it caused me to challenge that opinion; not necessarily to change my view, but to see the issue in a more compassionate light. Plus, Lia Block’s writing is pure poetry; it’s a Sundance film in prose form. I’d recommend all her novels, as they will surely tug at your heartstrings with their desperate searches for love in all its forms.