Happy Valentine’s Day! Or if you’re not interested in that, Happy Sunday!
It’s not a day I’m particularly into, but I’ll mark it here anyway. I do love love, in all its complexities, in all its forms. I remember when I was in year 7 and my RS teacher taught us four Greek words for love: eros (romantic love), phileo (the love within friendships), storge (love and loyalty in a family) and agape (unconditional love). Age 11, I had never thought about love in these different ways before, though of course I recognised them once I’d learnt it. And so, in this blog post, don’t expect a list of romance novels. Sure, there are some, but these are books about love that I love. Some kind of love. For a person, a place, a thing. The best books are filled with someone’s passion, I think.
The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary
Okay, this one is about romantic love. When Tiffy leaves her manipulative boyfriend, she needs somewhere cheap to live. Leon, who works night shifts, needs some extra cash. And so this strange but workable arrangement begins: the two share a bed and a flat, but haven’t met.
It’s a predictable read, to be honest, but a lovely one too. The Flatshare is a fun, light-hearted and easy to read novel. While the premise may be hard to believe, if you can get over that, you’re bound to enjoy it!
The Versions of Us by Laura Bennett
This is a clever book made up of three similar but different stories – or versions – of two people’s lives. It begins as Eva – a university student – swerves on her bike to avoid a dog, right by Jim. What follows is three different versions of their lives, all hinting at what happens at that one moment. Of course, it’s full of love – between these two, and others, but it’s full of other aspects of life too. Personal and professional lives are impacted with decisions, as well as the romance factor, making the three stories believable. The versions are intertwined, so look out for small plot points or characters that feature across Eva and Jim’s different stories.
PSA: If you read this, you’re going to need a notebook or phone to track what’s going on in the different ‘versions’. Once I did, it was easy to follow, and I still loved the story.
Exciting Times by Naiorse Dolan
This had been on my radar for months, but it wasn’t until it was chosen for my book club that I got round to reading Dolan’s breakout novel.
It sees Ava, an overthinking, young, Irish millennial, move to Hong Kong. Ava’s intimacy issues and anxieties are the main focus of the novel, but Dolan intertwines themes of politics, class and gender into her pages. I particularly enjoyed the references to a westerners life in East Asia, many of which I could laugh along with, or at least recognise from my visit to Hong Kong. With razor sharp lines, sarcasm, subtle humour, social commentary and a dash of relatable neuroticism, this was everything I look for in a read.
Ava’s experience of love is one fraught with her own complex needs and wants. It’s certainly not a romantic book, but Exciting Times effectively raises questions of what love can be and should be like.
Olive by Emma Gannon
I recently read Olive after having it on my Kindle for several months and putting it off for no real reason. I loved it! Olive focuses around a group of four women who have grown up together, doing the same things at the same time for 20+ years. Yet, in their twenties and thirties, the topic of babies is coming up more and more, and the friends now seem to be going their separate ways as their lives are pulled in different directions. Directions that not all of these women understand.
As a woman in my late twenties, I found this a really interesting read, which brought up thoughts and conversations about my own life and what might start changing in the next few years. It’s a book about love – there’s some romance in there, but long-standing friendships and fallouts is the focus.
Olive is a book that grapples with these close knit friendships and how we can deal with the complexities of them. When everything (school, uni, first alcohol, first boyfriends, first jobs etc.) has been so in sync, what happens when suddenly, life’s not?
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Roy and Celestial are your normal married couple in the States. Except one day, Roy is accused of rape, and is sentenced to several years in jail. What follows is a tragic tale. It’s a particularly pertinent read as the Black Lives Matter movement continues fighting against racial injustice, which is so effectively written in this book. It’s hopeful, bleak, moving. Definitely worth a read.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
I just finished this book and loved it! Where the Crawdads Sing is Kya’s story of survival, but also of love. It follows Kya, a young girl abandoned by her family at a young age, ignored and outcast by the town. Most of the town, anyway. A loyal friendship with a black man and his wife from ‘coloured town’ lasts several years. And then there are the boys – Tait and Chase – and Kya’s need to find love and connection somewhere, which at times is misled.
Entangled within the branches of this story is Kya’s love and passion for the marsh, which is stronger and more loyal than almost any other love we read about.
Normal People by Sally Rooney
I adore this book. I know it’s not for everyone, but it’s one of my favourites. I polished this off over two years ago, then re-read it around the time the (excellent) TV drama came out.
If you’ve never heard of Normal People, I’d be surprised. It tells the coming of age story of Marianne and Connell, two teens grappling with mental health issues, growing up and life at university. As their relationship, and friendship, rollercoasters through highs and lows, there’s a lot to be dealt with. It’s an honest yet fraught love story. It’s sad, but it’s beautiful too.
The Hearts Invisible Furies by John Boyne
This is an excellent book that raises so many important issues. Born in 1940s Ireland to a teenage mother, out of wedlock, we meet Cyril Avery, and follow his life to the (almost) current day. As years pass, we follow Cyril’s life as he struggles in his childhood home, realises that he has no interest in girls, obsesses over his best friend and ultimately has to leave the country he calls home in order to be himself.
It features romance and friendships, as well as dealing with the love and loyalty of family (or lack thereof), alongside multiple other themes and key issues from the last century that are worth knowing and reading about, such as religion, homosexuality and AIDS (fyi, if you haven’t watched It’s A Sin yet, do it).
Adult life brings its highs and lows for Cyril, and John Boyne seamlessly ties in some key sagas and developments of the 20th century, in Ireland and afar. This book is emotional, amusing, interesting and heartbreaking. It’s around 600 pages, so won’t be a quick read, but it’s a powerful and important one. Grab yourself some tissues.
I’m always keen for more book recommendations. Let me know about any books you’ve loved lately in the comments!