This is hard! So many wonderful romances to choose from. But here are my favourites in no particular order…
This stunning book by Charlotte Bronte seems to crop up in every list of favourites I ever make. And there’s no denying that the love story between Jane and Rochester is one of its key marvels - haunting, passionate, apparently doomed and desperately touching. When she hears his voice calling her name across the moors from hundreds of miles away… oh God! Somebody please pass the tissues!
North and South
Another period classic, by Elizabeth Gaskell. But this is a romance that would ring true in today’s world too, the psychology of two people coming together is so brilliant. Misunderstandings abound and at first it seems these two prickly, proud characters could never be happy together, so quick are Margaret and John to judge each other and to disagree about almost everything. But the tenderness that exists despite their differences is so beautiful that this is one of my favourite romances EVER! And check out Richard Armitage’s brooding scowl and piercing eyes in the TV adaptation!!!
I would never have even read Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga if not for my friend Lucy basically forcing me. And aren’t I glad she did. The love story between Bella and Edward is so poignant and somehow very relatable, even though I’ve never actually dated a vampire (that I know of). I love the symbolism: love makes Bella long to be more, greater than she is, and makes Edward determined to overcome his own baser nature in order to be with the woman he loves. It reminds me of Beauty and the Beast, my favourite ever fairytale.
Gone with the Wind
There’s a reason that the names of Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler are legendary almost a hundred years after Margaret Mitchell wrote this incredible book. In fact, lots of reasons! The fiery heroine, the super-suave hero, the sweeping backdrop, the fierce emotional complications, the drama, both personal and political, the dresses… I could go on…
The Lucky One
So a list like this has to have at least one Nicholas Sparks novel, right? I don’t quite know why this is my favourite of his. Something about the sense of a higher power guiding Beth and Logan to be together, maybe. And the peace that they find together when they’ve both known so much violence, Logan at war and Beth within her marriage. I find it very beautiful and hopeful.
I still remember the feeling of reading Charles Frazier’s first novel when it came out twenty years ago now. (Twenty! How is it twenty years since I did anything?) Beautifully characterised and brilliantly described I could picture every scene in vivid detail and my longing for Inman to get back to Ada hauled me through every trial and tribulation that they both suffered.
The Pull of the Moon
A beautiful, touching modern story. I think there are basically two romances in this novel: Nan’s with her husband and Nan’s with herself as she sets of on a journey of self-rediscovery in middle age. I think it’s so important for novels not only to deliver a romantic formula but to show that people’s first relationship is with themselves. Elizabeth Berg does this with poetry and humour and a ton of gorgeous everyday details in this book.
Everybody knows this story now, since the stunning new TV adaptation. But I grew up watching the also-wonderful 1970s version and I read the book by Winston Graham too, some years ago. It’s brilliantly written. Ross has to be one of the most admirable yet flawed and frustrating heroes I can think of and his relationship with Demelza, complicated as it is by his feelings for his old flame Elizabeth, is so compelling it makes you shout at loud at the page, or TV screen.
Not really a romance if we’re splitting genres, but this “fairytale for adults” by Neil Gaiman has a love story at its very heart. I love how Tristan is the most everyday of fellows, transported into a grand adventure, yet wins the heart of Yvaine, who is actually not a woman at all but a star fallen to earth. What a gorgeous idea. And of course, he’s besotted with someone else, someone shallow and superficial, so for a long time he’s blinded to the love that’s right in front of him… Men!!
Beneath a Burning Sky
I was lucky enough to receive an advance proof of this fab book by Jenny Ashcroft, coming out later this year. As with most of my other picks, there’s a lot more than just the love story going on in this exciting, complex tale set in 1890s Alexandria. But the relationship between Edward and Olivia, the many and terrible reasons why they have to love from afar, and how on earth it could ever resolve itself, was one of the most touching relationships I’ve read in a long time.
Tracy’s new novel The Hourglass (Quercus) is out now.