SINGAPORE (June 19): The stories of great romances have long titillated, teased and tantalised. From the beefcake-adorned covers of old Mills & Boon romances to the pink-lettered covers of chick-lit novels, this genre has gained notoriety as one filled with sparkling vampires and pearl-clutching bedroom escapades. Yet there are many stories which explore both the anguish and joy of love and contemplate our never-ending search for it with delicacy, nuance and tenderness. This week, we’ve picked some of our favourite romance novels for your reading pleasure. No glittery vampires here-- we promise.
The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Some may know American author Audrey Niffeenegger’s brilliant first novel from the film of the same title, starring Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana, but the book is a wonderfully-written exploration of love and life, not only the good bits, but all the unpredictable, frustrating and terrible bits as well.
The novel is the story of Henry DeTamble, a librarian who has a fictional genetic disorder that causes him to involuntarily travel through time, often landing him in dangerous and life-threatening situations. His wife, Clare, is an artist and has known him throughout her life, although in spurts and jumps due to his condition. The book chronicles their passionate and loving relationship that transcends time, but there is loss and agony also that comes from the unpredictability of Henry’s condition.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
English author Charlotte Brontë's most beloved, and indeed most popular novel tells of the love between the indomitable orphan, Jane Eyre and her employer, the mysterious and dashing Edward Fairfax Rochester. Even though she has had a lonely and cruel childhood, often abused by those whom she trusts, her heart and courage never failed, and when she falls in love with Rochester, his dark past comes back to haunt them both.
Published in 1847 under the pen name Currer Bell, the story of Jane has captivated its readers with its moving and unforgettable portrayal of a woman far ahead of her times; trapped by the constraints of her station in life yet never succumbing to those who would break her spirit. Its first-person narrative was a standout at the time it was published, and it has endured through the centuries as a truly outstanding tale of a woman’s quest for respect and empowerment.
The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks
Rachel McAdams makes yet another appearance in a film about love transcending time? Was she not also in ‘About Time’, a movie about a time-travelling man whom she falls in love with? All jokes about being typecast aside, most will know the 2004 film of the same name, which also starred Ryan Gosling and his magnificent entry in the wet T-shirt contest. However, the book upon which the film was based was nevertheless a best-seller by American writer Nicholas Sparks, who has a string of books about heartbreaking romances against all odds under his belt.
A love story set in post-World War II North Carolina, The Notebook is about a young socialite, Allie Nelson, who fell in love with Noah Calhoun, whom her wealthy family disdains as far beneath them. The rejection from her family and unfortunate circumstances force them apart after a whirlwind romance, and years later, Allie is about to marry a very wealthy lawyer.
One day, Noah, now back in North Carolina after the war, bumps into her and sends her into a tailspin. She cannot stop thinking about him, her first love, but is torn between her upcoming marriage and the boy who stole her heart so many decades ago.
Sparks is certainly no stranger to this genre, so no list of romance novels would be complete without his books-- or even several of his books. He also wrote ‘A Walk to Remember’, about a high-school nerd and clergyman’s daughter who tutors the delinquent jock, and falls in love with each other only to be tragically parted when it is revealed she is dying of leukemia.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
As with Nicholas Sparks, how can a list of romance novels also forget about John Green? This American YouTube creator and author can boast of several best-selling books about tragic love and the film adaptations of these books, to boot. His debut novel, ‘Looking for Alaska’, was award winning and also controversial for its story of Miles Halter, in a coming-of-age tale about the death of his friend Alaska, with whom he had a blossoming relationship.
But it was perhaps Green’s fourth novel, ‘The Fault in Our Stars’, that made him a popular household name. The 2014 film, on which the book was based, had set an entire generation of teen girls aflood with tears and was a commercial success. It tells of Hazel Grace Lancaster, a 16-year-old girl with thyroid cancer that has spread aggressively to her lungs, and who fell in love with another cancer victim and amputee, Augustus Walters, in a support group for cancer patients.
Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding
Part fictional diary, part self-reflection, this humorous, wonderfully dry and witty book by English author Helen Fielding is a hilarious look at the vagaries of dating when you’re over 30 and still single. The 1996 book’s eponymous heroine, Bridget, is a hard-drinking, chain-smoking, slightly chubby 30-something living and working in London, and her struggles in finding love. It also sparked a successful movie starring Renee Zellweger, as well as two sequels ‘Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason’ and ‘Bridget Jones’ Baby’.
Atonement by Ian McEwan
Truly a masterpiece of writing, Ian McEwan’s delicate yet brutal novel of how one single lie can change the entire fate of two people is a masterclass in prose, exploring matters of love and war, childhood and class, guilt and reconciliation.
The story begins in the summer of 1935, where 13-year-old Briony Tallis witnesses an innocent flirtation between her older sister Cecilia and Robbie, the son of a servant. Her misunderstanding of the situation eventually leads to a crime that will change their whole lives, with repercussions that will follow them all for the decades to come.