Books make wonderful Valentine’s gifts. Here are our tops romantic reads.

If you’d like to give something more original than chocolates and flowers this Valentine’s Day (though do note, they will never go amiss), why not treat your beloved to a book that you love? The beauty is, they will last forever, inspire your paramour’s imagination and you will always be indelibly associated with that particular writer in their minds. If, however, a story personal to you doesn’t spring to mind, there are so many books about love to choose from. These are the ones that make our list – what are you favourite love stories?

Pride & Prejudice


Jane Austen


Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice is a book so beloved that it has spawned a million adaptations and spin-offs, including both Bridget Jones’ Diary and, bizarrely, Pride And Prejudice And Zombies. It is, simply, a classic, telling the story of Lizzie Bennet (aka pride) and Mr Darcy (prejudice; though it works equally well the other way round) and the love that can emerge from mutual disdain (as well as attesting to the pulling power of a truly beautiful house).

Jane Eyre


Charlotte Bronte


Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights is often considered to be the great romantic tome that emerged from the parsonage in Haworth in which the extraordinary Bronte sisters lived. For our money, however, it is Charlotte’s seminal Gothic work, Jane Eyre, that has stayed with us since we first read it many moons ago. The book’s ideas of emancipation and independence are long before their time, as the titular Jane, an orphan, forges her own path with no worldly goods to her name. When she lands a job as a governess at a grand mansion with a dark secret, it is her mind, not her status nor her beauty, that inspires a great if tempestuous love in the troubled master of the house. This Thomas Nelson edition (£14.99) is lovely.

The Odyssey


Homer


Ok, this one is left-field, we grant you, but it is nonetheless an enduring love story. Along with its companion, The Iliad, it is the original epic, and follows the story of Odysseus’ much thwarted attempts to get home after spending ten years fighting the Trojan War. The attempt takes him another decade despite the relatively short distance between Troy and his home of Ithaca, beset as he is by a mutinous crew, siren calls, temptresses in the form of demi-goddesses, a cyclops and one vengeful god in the form of Poseidon. And yet persevere he does, as he longs to get home to his wife Penelope and son, Telemachus. Their eventual mutually mistrustful reunion scene – after twenty long years – is fascinatingly nuanced and exceptionally satisfying. We love this Folio Society edition (£49.95) .

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin


Louis De Bernieres


This stunning story, laced with comedy and tragedy, is set in Greece in the early days of Mussolini’s invasion. Pelagia, the beautiful daughter of a wise doctor, falls for the dashing Captain Corelli, whose most beloved possession is his mandolin and who answers ‘Heil Hitlers’ with his own ‘Heil Puccinis’. He, for his part, loses his heart hopelessly to her too. But war – and her engagement to a local man – spell trouble for their passionate affair. Breathtaking.

Norwegian Wood


Haruki Murakami


Capturing the headiness of earliest love, Murakami’s beautiful tale follows Toru Watanabe as he begins life as a college student in Tokyo in the 1960s and forms relationships with two women – until the death of a friend turns all of their worlds upside down. Told through the reflective eyes of the now 37-year-old Watanabe, it is a tale of nostalgia, soulmates and loss that cannot help inspire and move, as much as The Beatles song from which the novel takes its title.

Le Grand Meulnes


Henri Alain-Fournier


This story of lost love is captivating from start to finish, evoking both a golden time and place. The titular Meaulnes causes a stir at his new school thanks to his good looks and great charisma. And yet everything changes after he disappears for a spell and re-emerges having been to a mysterious house party where he purports to have fallen in love with a girl he met there; after this, his life becomes dominated by a restless obsession with finding the house and the girl again. Exceptionally poignant, it is made all the more so by the fact that its author was killed in the First World War after publishing this, his only novel.


One Day


David Nicholls


If you like tales of star-crossed lovers set in contemporary times, then One Day is an essential read. David Nicholls’ seemingly effortless and witty prose means this is this a book you’ll tear through at lightning pace; and the central conceit, as we revisit Dexter and Emma every year on St Swithin’s Day from their first meeting at Edinburgh University and through the ensuing years as they draw closer and pull apart like a pair of magnets, is genius. Be warned: it is a proper tear-jerker by the end.


Shakespeare’s Sonnets


William Shakespeare


Want to feel like Marianne and the rascally Willoughby (before he turns bad) in Sense and Sensibility? Then buy your beloved this beautiful edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets and choose your favourites together. Next, find a suitable meadow and recite away. Altogether now: ‘Love is not love which alters it when alteration finds, or bends with the remover to remove.’



The Song of Achilles


Madeline Miller


We cannot overstate the sheer beauty of this book. Madeline Miller’s prose is poetic and profound as she delves into the well-worn story of Achilles. Anyone familiar with Homer’s Iliad will know it as a tale predicated on the wrath of Achilles – the most feared warrior among the Greek – who abstains from battle after his pride is wounded by Agamemnon, the boorish and foolish chief of the Greek army. This story, on the other hand, tells instead of his deep and moving love for Patroclus, a fellow prince. It won the Orange Prize in 2012, and with good reason: this is one of our favourite books of the last decade.


Letters of Note: Love


Compiled by Shaun Usher


Anyone who has read any of Shaun Usher’s brilliant compilations of some of the greatest letters ever written will know what to expect from this collection of love epistles. From writers as varied as Evelyn Waugh and Vita Sackville-West to Frida Kahlo and Nelson Mandela, they manage to tell the stories of countless passionate, desperate and sometimes even happy affairs. If the words of Vita to Virginia Woolf – ‘I am reduced to a thing that wants Virginia. I composed a beautiful letter to you in the sleepless nightmare hours of the night, and it has all gone: I just miss you, in a quite simple desperate human way’ – inspire and stir you, then this is the perfect gift for Valentine’s Day.


By Nancy Alsop
February 2021

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