Saturday, February 24, 2024

Top 10 Romantic Books

Several generations of women (and secretly, men) grew up on candy-sweet Mills & Boon, Barbara Cartland, Georgette Heyer–mushy love stories, Regency romances, bodice-rippers and a whole lot of subgenres of the broad themes of love. With modern times and changing attitudes, the M&B’s become more risqué and then with the Fifty Shades trilogy, all bets were off.  Still, the classics endure for a reason.

A pick of 10 readable love stories, some old, some new:

Pride and Prejudice (1813):

This evergreen novel by Jane Austen has a zinger of an opening line: It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. Published in the 19th century, it is still remarkably modern—which is the mark of a classic—even though the terribly sexist primogeniture laws have changed. It is considered one of the greatest romantic novels of all time, and the outspoken heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, is a favourite.  Her on-off, love-hate relationship with the uptight Mr Darcy, is what gives the novel its edge. Even at a time when an unmarried woman had no future, for Elizabeth, her self-respect and love was  more important than a match of convenience. The appeal of the story is such that every few years, there’s a movie or series coming out, based on it. Her other books make the cut too, but this one is representative of her style.

Wuthering Heights (1847):

There are doomed romances and then there’s the doomed-est of them all, the only novel by Emily Brontë. It charts the tempestuous love story of Catherine and the brooding Heathcliff—the prototype of dark and vengeful fictional  heroes. Intense, passionate, bitter this gothic novel with its over dramatic structure, has been recast into poems, films, and modern-day recreations, since the mix of tragedy and revenge never fades.






Jane Eyre (1847):

This Charlotte Bronte novel often ties with Jane Austen’s books for the most famous romantic novels ever. The book follows the eponymous heroine from girlhood to adulthood, and her love for the aristocratic Mr Rochester, who could tie with Heathcliff in the brooding hero race. Jane is an orphan, who is treated very cruelly by her relatives; she falls in love with Rochester, but the path to that happy end (elusive in so many classic love stories) is studded with obstacles that she does manage to overcome with some help from luck.



Anna Karenina (1878):

Leo Tolstoy’s epic, a 800 plus page door-stopper of a novel, is considered one of the best books ever written.  Set at the time of Imperial Russia, it narrated the tragedy of the titular Anna, a married woman, who falls helplessly in love with the handsome Count Vronsky, and elopes with him. Looking forward to a life of love and excitement, she gets disappointment, social isolation and regret that ends with the unforgettable jumping-in-front-of-a-train suicide. Only an author as masterly as Tolstoy could have written about the agony of love with such lyricism.





Gone With the Wind (1936):

Margaret Mitchell wrote just one novel, set during and after the devastation of the Civil War in America, but the sprawling epic won several awards, become a bestseller, and according to the net, as of 2014, a poll found it to be the second favourite book of American readers, just behind the Bible;, more than 30 million copies have been printed worldwide. It depicts the struggles of Scarlett O’Hara, the daughter of a plantation owner, who has to work hard to keep poverty at bay, when her marriage ends in widowhood. The passion she and the rakish Rhett Butler share is scandalous, but also racing towards heartbreak. Rhett utters the memorable line, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn,” to a distraught Scarlett, but she is not broken by his indifference. The film based on the novel, starring Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable is an all -time masterpiece. 

Love Story (1970):

It would be considered cheesy by many readers, but when it came out, Erich Segal’s novel about the romance between rich guy Oliver and Jenny, daughter of a baker, was a craze. Opposites attracted!  Against the wishes of Oliver’s father, the two marry; he is cut off from the family fortune. The two struggle but make a happy life for themselves till it is discovered that Jenny has terminal leukaemia. The book that remained on the top selling charts for months and was turned into a hit movie, was what is called a four-hanky weepie, and has been copied ad nauseum by other writers, aiming for the market of soft-hearted readers.




Love In The Time Of Cholera (1985):

Gabrial Garcia Marquez’s richly-imagined novel is about Florentino Ariza, who has been waiting for 50 years for his true love to return. While waiting, he has several affairs, but remains devoted to his childhood sweetheart Fermina Daza. After half a century, the man who married Fermina dies. An elderly Florentino is free to declare his love, but does he deserve it? A sad, funny and very readable novel of impossible love by the Nobel Prize-winning Colombian writer.


The Notebook (1996):

Nicholas Sparks writes a lot of romantic fiction, this one tops his popular list. Noah and Allie are in love, but fate, families and World War conspire to keep them apart. The story is narrated by an old man, who is caring for a woman suffering from dementia and the layers of plot that have brought them to this point are uncovered gradually.  Readers who go for tear-jerkers, this simple plot of true love that overcomes every hurdle is the ideal read, with many twists and an overdose of emotions. Melancholy yet uplifting, it is easy to say why it is loved by so many readers, while an equal number gag on its manipulative narration.





The Fault In Our Stars (2012):

Jon Green’s novel, aiming at a young adult readership, is about two teenagers who suffer from terminal illness. Hazel and Augustus, both awkward because of their unusual circumstances, know they haven’t long to live, but want to enjoy the highs of love while they still can. Even though it is about impending tragedy, the book is lively, witty and full of tenderness as the two teenagers love like there is no tomorrow, because for them, there isn’t. The book became a best-seller, was made into a movie and is still popular with young readers, and maybe older ones too.




Normal People (2018):

Sally Rooney’s intricate and intimate love story is about a mismatched couple, Marianne and Connell, whose passion waxes and wanes, but they also share a closeness that is between love and friendship. The novel, acclaimed as one of the best love stories of the 21st century, it follows Marianne and Connell Waldron through secondary school and college. There are issues of class differences, family complications and the way two people who are obviously made for each other, are unable to truly understand their own feelings or simplify the complexity of their relationship.

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Deepa Gahlot
Deepa Gahlot is one of India’s seniormost and best-known entertainment journalists. A National Award-winning fim critic and author of several books on film and theatre. She tweets at @deepagahlot

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