‘All stories are about love,’ the bestselling author Isabel Wolff mused when I asked her why she wrote romance novels. ‘Are all books really love stories?’ I’ve reflected on this and I think Isabel Wolff was right. Almost all novels are stories about love, or the failure of it, in some way; whether it’s romantic love or the love within families and among friends, or for power or material possessions of some kind. Love’s immense supremacy, as well as its infinite complexities and mysteries, is central to so many stories and is explored so well in Raymond Carver’s haunting classic about love and relationships, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. In any case, the novels I’ve been particularly drawn to throughout my life have always had love at their heart.
My passion for books began with Roald Dahl’s Danny the Champion of the World. I remember being transported from my suburban childhood bedroom into the magical world Dahl had created in his novel about a father and son and their adventures in the woods of rural England. Looking back, it was a love story. Roald Dahl himself described the book as a ‘story about a father and his son, and the love they have for each other’. The following quotation from the book sums up the father-son bond beautifully:
I was glad my father was an eye-smiler. It meant he never gave me a fake smile because it’s impossible to make your eyes twinkle if you aren’t feeling twinkly yourself.
At school, I devoured the novels we studied – brilliant classics such as 1984 by George Orwell, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Lord of the Flies by William Golding and Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Among them, though, the books that became particular favourites were: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte and Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. These were the books that moved me the most and I re-read and re-read them endlessly. The intensity of the feelings expressed in those works, particularly the romantic kind, captivated me; I fell in love with Jane, Cathy, and Tess before I’d fallen in love romantically with any living person. Although, for me, the writers had created living people and not merely characters in books, as the best writers can, and as Ernest Hemingway wrote that they should: ‘When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.’
As an adult, I read broadly – literary fiction, science fiction and fantasy, romance and commercial fiction. I think great books transcend genre anyway. However, if I had to name my top ten books, off the top of my head, do they have love stories at their core? I’ll let the list speak for itself. In no particular order: The History of Love by Nicole Krauss; What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt; The End of the Affair by Graham Greene; A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway; Atonement by Ian McEwan; The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro; Any Human Heart by William Boyd; Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres; Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh; The Magus by John Fowles.
Books and reading are such an essential part of my life; why? Because they have been my enduring love story.
[This guest post has been written by Charles Maclean. A resident of Brighton, UK, Charlie is a bookstagrammer and the debut novelist of Unforgettable. Know more about him at charliemaclean.co.uk. ]