Romance is all around us this month - especially today! - with shops everywhere filling up
with Valentine's Day treats to make the loved-up spend lots of cash pampering
their partners and the single feel a little bit sick of the sight of chocolate
No matter what the time of year, though, there is a romantic novel out there for all us book-lovers to enjoy - and as society has changed, so have the books and the romances within them. It's just a question of finding the one that speaks to you...
The classy, old-school romantic
"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." - Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
Has a greater romance novel ever been written than Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice? It has it all - five sisters, each with a suitably different personality, plenty of eligible men (some more 'likeable' than others), drama, laughs and of course... a happy ending.
Austen's astute observational skills provided readers with such a beautifully interwoven romance that, 200 years on, people still enjoy reading about Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy. Of course, there's also the quietly adorable relationship between eldest daughter Jane and Mr Bingley or the more dramatic - and altogether shocking for its day - younger sister Lydia's quests to find a man if that's more to your liking... If Austen isn't your thing (why on earth not?), there's also Little Women by Louisa May Alcott or Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. If, though, you fancy something a little darker you can always try Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë or Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.
The modern-day screw-up, just trying to get through the day
“I will not fall for any of the following: alcoholics, workaholics, commitment phobics, people with girlfriends or wives, misogynists, megalomaniacs, chauvinists, emotional fuckwits or freeloaders, perverts.” - Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones's Diary
Modern romance novels are full of ball-juggling modern women, trying to survive the everyday pressures of life, do well at work, find a man, be a good friend, mother, sister. The list is seemingly endless. The Bridget Jones phenomenon began a sub-genre of books where it was not only OK to not be perfect but applauded. In fact, audiences positively adored the opportunity to read about a heroine who was struggling to keep it together. The modern romantic heroine was flawed, not rake-thin, swore, drank, made an idiot of herself on a daily basis - and, miraculously, still managed to find love "just as she is". In many cases, love was not even the end goal - it was merely one part of a whole plethora of desires and needs.
Sophie Kinsella's Becky Bloomwood, Jane Green's Jemima J. and Marian Keyes' Rachel Walsh have become the modern day romantic heroines. Only last year, Green had a leading lady who marries a divorced man and becomes stepmother to an angry teen and Dorothy Koomson created a character who needed to do the 'brave' thing no matter how scary and leave her husband. These are modern heroines for modern times – where the end goal may not be to find the perfect man... but we all kind of hope he makes an appearance anyway.
The outside-the-box thinker
“We are where we are, however we got here. What matters is where we go next.” Isaac Marion, Warm Bodies
If what you prefer is the far less conventional romance, then zombie romance Warm Bodies might be more your cup of brains. The romance between human Julie and zombie 'R' is stripped back to its essentials - what happens to each of them simply by spending time with the other. There is very little actual passion or heated debate but there certainly is a lot of action! As the pair struggle to find a way to move forward in a bleak world, they look for hope in each other. R wants simply to protect Julie and keep her safe, while Julie finds herself drawn to R and wanting to help him become a better 'person'. It is a gorgeous, albeit dark, romance that looks at what happens when all the trivialities of life are taken away and all that is left is who we spend our time with.
If zombies aren't your thing, Between the Lines, written by Jodi Picoult and her daughter Samantha Van Leer, is an absolutely gorgeous romance about a teenage girl who falls in love with the fictional hero of a book for young children she finds in the school library. It's fantastical but a magical delight, regardless of your age. There's also The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald which follows a romance in two opposite directions as the woman ages normally but the man gets younger by the day.
Romance novels have had to change along with society and no doubt the change in women's roles have played a massive part in this. For one, the idea of a 'happy ending' being finding the perfect man is no longer the only viable option for us ladies. Romances nowadays are messy, complicated and full of ups and downs. We revel in the drama and the knowledge that - with any luck - it will all work out in the end.
So whether you are single, dating, married or 'other' this month, there is sure to be a romance out there for you to enjoy all year round.
What are your favourite romance novels? Which couple could you read about over and over and never tire of their story? As ever, let us know in the comments...