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The Best Love Stories In Literature, Just In Time For Valentine's Day

For some people, the best love stories are those in which the passion is fast and furious.

Two people’s eyes meet across a crowded room, and the rest is history.

But I prefer a more complex love story, for isn’t real life love a complicated beast? While a pretty face and nice smile can be alluring, true and long-lasting love isn’t quite as obvious on first glance.

The best loves stories are messy and maddening, strewn with misunderstandings and missteps. They might start off as awkward friendship or an impossible crush. There might be age, cultural or social barriers, but in my favourite love stories, obstacles are not enough to dampen the love at the centre of the story.

To mark Valentine’s Day, here are some books with love stories in which the path to love is a little rockier, but the result is truly heart-warming.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

The story of The Rosie Project starts with autistic geneticist Don trying to find a wife. He rejects traditional dating in favour of a questionnaire he has designed to filter out unsuitable candidates. Just after embarking on The Wife Project, Don meets Rosie, who fails on almost every score.

Rosie is pursuing her own project to find her father and ultimately, the two realise they are not as ill-suited as they thought. Interestingly, the first incarnation of the story as a screenplay did not include a Rosie at all.

The love story between autistic geneticist Don and Rosie is as awkward as it is heartwarming, and it is hard not to wish for the best for this odd couple.

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Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

Far from a passionate story of love at first sight, Our Souls at Night offers a glimpse of the measured, cautious seeds of love between two elderly neighbours.

Initially, Addie and Louis offer each other companionship during lonely nights, which becomes more as the two recognise how lonely they had been. It is a beautifully written reflection on love, loneliness and the redemptive power of kindness.

Less by Sean Greer

In Less, a writer travels the world in order to avoid his ex’s wedding and his own 50th birthday. Along with its humorous take on a writer’s life, it is also a love story as Arthur Less reflects on his life and loves.

First there is the poet, who leaves his wife for Less. One of my favourite, and one of the most poignant, parts of the book was when Less remembered describing Freddy as someone who didn’t need to be told to fasten his own oxygen mask before assisting others when taking a flight. In return, Freddy told Less he was going to describe him as the bravest person he knew. Every time Less remembered the exchange, “it ruined everything.”

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Normal People by Sally Rooney

It is the honesty of the relationship between Marianne and Connell that makes Sally Rooney’s award-winning novel affect so many readers. The two meet at high school, when the popular Connell starts a relationship with the socially outcast Marianne. However, a heart-wrenching betrayal pushes the two apart.

The rest of the book follows their relationships, which is fraught with misunderstanding and insecurity as the two navigate their lives through the beginning of university and their new freedom from their small hometown.

Rooney’s book reflects all of the complexity and fragility of young love.

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

It is an unlikely love story that is at the centre of Home Fire, between the son of the Home Minister, who has built his career on his tough stance on terrorism in the UK, and a girl whose own family has terrorist ties.

Despite the hopelessness of the situation, when Eamonn and Aneeka are together, the pairing makes complete sense. The ending for Aneeka and Eamonn will take your breath away.

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

The title character of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine initially seems hard to like. Socially awkward and cynical, she has no patience for the social niceties of the workplace and is alarmingly (and hilariously) blunt in her criticism of her colleagues. However, Eleanor’s workmate Raymond sees that there is more underneath Eleanor’s tough exterior.

In many ways, the unprepossessing Raymond becomes Eleanor’s saviour, introducing her to the joys of friendship and the wider world that she has been rejecting for so long. While the book is primarily about friendship rather than romance, I don’t think it’s possible to read it without hoping for love between Eleanor and Raymond.

Gigi by Colette

Nothing is quite as it seems in this short story by Colette, who is the subject of a new film. In Gigi, a Parisian girl is being groomed to become a courtesan. However, after many visits to play cards with Gigi, a wealthy visitor vows his love, only to be rejected by the apparent ingénue.

The ending is surprising and satisfying as the youth reveals she is far shrewder than her teacher.

Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

It is an unlikely relationship that emerges from Trent Dalton’s debut novel. A young Eli Bell is first attracted to the bi-line of Caitlyn Spies, who is 10 years his senior.

When he has the chance to work alongside Spies, all of Eli’s dreams seem to have come true. Through the mess of drugs, violence and crime, Spies remains a beacon for Eli, helping him fight for justice for his family.

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Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

The epitome of complex relationships, it would be difficult to write about complicated love stories without mentioning Jane Eyre. (First comes love, then comes … a mentally ill wife locked in the attic).

It is an admirable feat that Charlotte Bronte manages to turn this plot into a convincing love story that continues to resonate more than 150 years after it was written.

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

At the beginning of The Little Paris Bookshop, the readers is introduced to Monsieur Perdu, who can recommend the perfect book to mend a broken heart but is struggling to heal his own.  Eventually, he finds a woman to help him recover from his heartbreak.

However, The Little Paris Bookshop is as much a love story between Perdu and Catherine, as it is a love letter to books and their power to help readers confront, endure and recover from their hardships.