8 Contemporary Romantic Novels
Owen Nicholls, author of "Love, Unscripted," recommends books that will make you believe love is possible
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Early on in the sequel to Ghostbusters, imaginatively titled Ghostbusters 2, Peter Venkman interviews a guest on his TV show who professes to know the exact date of the apocalypse. According to her source, the end of the world will be February 14, 2016. Bill Murray’s character succinctly replies, “Valentine’s Day. Bummer.”
Armageddon notwithstanding, Valentine’s Day can be a grim prospect. For those that aren’t in a loving relationship, the day can be a constant reminder of loneliness and rejection. Which is where, in my new novel Love, Unscripted, we first meet Nick, our film projectionist protagonist. He’s feeling rejected and alone, and reeling from being left by Ellie, his partner of four years. But this is only Nick’s side of the story—and as we quickly learn, he’s more than capable of telling himself the tale he wants to hear.
We all know a Nick. Someone whose obsession with all things cinematic creeps into their language, their thought process and even the way they want the world to be. (He’s the sort of guy who, if asked to write a list of romantic novels, would open with a quote from an ’80s movie.) And when it comes to relationships, Nick longs for the resolutions and perfect endings usually reserved for the end of the third act.
But as centuries of storytelling can attest, it’s not only movies that make us feel like love really ought to be a many splendored, all around sort of thing. Here are eight books that might help Nick understand what love really is.
The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver
After her mega-hit One Day In December, Josie Silver strikes gold for a second time with this tale of love, loss and addiction. The story of someone losing the love of their life doesn’t sound like the most uplifting book, but Silver manages to find a new perspective on grief, and delivers an ending that’s as rewarding as it is revelatory.
In At The Deep End by Kate Davies
Discovering Julia and her sexual awakening in London was as eye-opening to me as it was to her. And while the main relationship in Davies’s debut deals with a controlling partner, the romance comes in Julia’s discovery of what—and who—she’s looking for when it comes to love. It’s funny and filthy and features some graphic descriptions of other f-words too.
How Not To Die Alone by Richard Roper
If you want the fist-pump moment of two people coming together in the final reel, start with one of them being the loneliest person in the world. Andrew, Roper’s companionless protagonist, tells a white lie in a job interview. He says he has a wife and two kids when in fact he’s single and childless. Afraid to reveal the truth, he uses the lie as another reason to push people away—that is, until Peggy enters his life.
The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory
Released in the same year as The Wedding Date, this book proves Guillory’s strike rate is second to none—unlike the swing and miss of her jerk of an antagonist, Fisher, who thinks a Jumbotron proposal is the way to control a woman’s response. Thankfully, this leads our hero Nikole to find Carlos, someone who understands that relationships need dialogue and consent.
Normal People by Sally Rooney
Plenty of literary snobs will reject the notion that last year’s phenomenon belongs in the Romance category. But then, plenty of literary snobs can climb into the nearest bin. Recently adapted for the screen by directors Hattie MacDonald and Lenny Abrahamson, along with writer, Alice Birch, and Rooney herself, Normal People is a will-they-won’t-they in the truest sense. Fans of the novel should feel in safe hands for what will hopefully be an honorable adaptation of a complex, often painful tale of young love in the 21st century.
Pure by Rose Bretécher
The old adage that “you have to love yourself first” runs through pretty much every book on this list. But in Pure, Bretécher’s memoir of her struggles with obsessive intrusive sexual thoughts, that journey seems insurmountable. When Rose finds both an answer to her issue and someone strong enough to help her, the result is as romantic as waking up to see someone has silently brought you a cup of coffee and a couple of aspirin after a night out.
The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary
Tiffy and Leon share an apartment and even a bed, yet Tiffy and Leon have never met. It’s the sort of premise that no doubt inspires people to mindlessly intone “that concept writes itself!” But, of course, no book writes itself, and O’Leary does a tremendous job of keeping our definitely-going-to-get-together pair apart until the reader can’t take it anymore.
The First Time I Saw You by Emma Cooper
Cooper’s second novel also keeps her leads Sophie and Samuel apart for much of the novel’s running time, putting the reader though the ringer as much as the characters. Right up to the epilogue you’ll be questioning when (and if) a happy ending is ever going to happen. Luckily, there’s a supporting cast worthy of a Richard Curtis movie to keep you company until then.