I’m going to admit to you now that I hate love stories. Romance novels where the girl meets a handsome millionaire who’s just messed up enough for her to save. Or the strong-willed business woman from the city meets a wild country-man who teaches her about life. Soppy, emotional, sentimental crap, in my opinion, but maybe I’ve just been single for too long. So, romance novels have never made it onto my reading list.
But occasionally a story comes along that, despite its lovey-dovey themes, doesn’t make me want to vomit. Love stories that are a bit less cringe-worthy and a bit more rational.
So, with Valentine’s Day on everyone’s mind I thought I’d share some of these books for those of us that want to partake in the festivities, but not to the point of spewing.
‘Jane Eyre’, by Charlotte Bronte
Okay, I know what you’re thinking, this is as ‘soppy-romance-novel’ as they come. The plain heroine meets the darkly-handsome rich man and, against all the odds, they end up living happily ever after. That’s every love story ever told.
But it’s those odds that make this so good. First of all, we have the crazy wife in the attic. It’s obviously not a big surprise anymore since it’s so well known, but even knowing exactly what’s going to happen, it’s still full of suspense. You’re rooting for Jane and Rochester, but knowing something isn’t right about him makes it so tense. You’re willing Jane to just figure it out.
But the part of the story that I really love is when Jane does find out. She doesn’t faff around thinking ‘oh but I love him’ like a simpering idiot. She leaves. She walks away from him. He messed up, so she’s out. Like the fuckboy that he is, Rochester tries to convince her that she should stay with him anyway, but she’s having none of it. I love her for this.
And yes, I know, she does end up going back to him, but he has to go through a lot before they get there, namely, surviving a fire set by his wife and losing his sight. I feel like he’s been beaten down enough during the time she’s gone that I can sort of be okay with it. Jane wins at love, so it’s all good.
‘The Versions of Us’, by Laura Barnett
While this is definitely a love story, it manages to stay away from being overly sentimental and cheesy. It follows the lives of Eva Edelstein and Jim Taylor over three different scenarios, each one differing only because of some small decision made by one or both of them.
It’s an interesting way of writing a story. The versions intertwine and overlap with each other, but in each scenario, Jim and Eva are drawn to each other no matter what.
I think the thing that makes me not want to chunder while reading this book is the fact that the two characters come across as actual, real people. They make mistakes like real people, and they make real decisions that make sense in real life. There’s no soppy ‘I can’t do such-and-such because it means I’ll lose you’ kind of thinking that comes up in romance novels.
They do make sacrifices for each other, but nothing unbelievable. Everything they do makes sense for their relationships in each scenario. The reality of it makes it all so much less corny than a typical love story. Your heartstrings are tugged at a little, but they’re not pulled so much that they snap back and slap you in the face, serving only to piss you off (which is how romance novels most often make me feel.)
‘The Glorious Heresies’, by Lisa McInerney
This is by no means a romantic novel, but I do think there is a love story of sorts buried beneath all the drug dealing and murder. An overarching feeling that stayed with me after finishing this book was a longing for Ryan and Karine to make it work.
They’re just teenagers when the book starts, but they’re so enamoured with each other it’s difficult not to be pulled into their relationship. But it’s a terrible relationship. They’re toxic for each other and everything they do only serves to hurt the other.
But that doesn’t stop you rooting for them. Every time Ryan messes up (and to be fair, it’s normally Ryan) you’re shouting at the book willing him to stop because you know how much it’s going to hurt Karine. You end up feeling such a part of their lives that every time one of them gets hurt, you get hurt right along with them.
Like The Versions of Us, it’s the reality of this book that makes their relationship bearable to read about. This is not a soppy, simpering book. The characters are deeply flawed. When Ryan messes up, he knows exactly what he’s doing and what it will do to his relationship, but he can’t stop himself, and I think this is a quality that a lot of people can relate to. We’re all a bit messed up at times and we all do things we know we shouldn’t. Ryan and Karine’s relationship is too relatable to be annoying, which makes it so much more enjoyable to support than to roll your eyes at.
So with Valentine’s Day just around the corner, the unsentimental among us who may not have plans for the evening can still celebrate with a good love story that doesn’t make us want to cringe. Pizza and wine help as well, trust me.
Happy Valentine’s Day x