Love is a many splendoured thing. All you need is love. Love to love you baby. All the great lyricists know that there’s no more abused word in the entire lexicon than ‘love’. Not only can it heal wounds, but it can also perpetuate them, “But I love him/her, even though he treats me badly, kicked my dog, ran off with my best friend/mother/extraterrestrial neighbour.” Love bites. Why don’t you love me. Love me, love me, say that you love me. See, any good writer knows that the fortunes of love can run from overflowing to in the red within moments. And any great writer knows that ‘love’ can and does happen to everyone, at any time - it’s our universal glue.
I know what you’re thinking though…you’re thinking boy/girl, girl/girl, boy/boy lurve. Heart and flowers lurve. Wrong, wrong, absolutely wrong.
All protagonists have some sort of love affair that moves them to do the things they do. To go on an adventure across a shire, to solve a crime that seems impossible, to protect their family, to get that date with the hot chick, to make the soccer team, whatever. Are you going to tell me that your hero/heroine is kinda lukewarm about their romance? Nu-uh. They’re usually fiercely passionate about it, even if they seem reluctant to move at first. Of course, they’re reluctant, who wouldn't be reluctant? Embarking on any kind of romance runs the risk of having your precious heart absolutely shattered against the rocks of fate, fortune and chance. Hands up to the writer who has not experienced this kind of romance, the kind that has you slaving away, year after year, rejection after rejection, as you refine your craft? Is it love? Abso-frigging-lutely. Do you need to believe in it? Hell, no. It just is.
And we haven't even got on to the topic of the ‘love interest’. What do they do? Provide complications? Naturally. The course of true love…, and so on and so forth.
All novels are romance novels at their heart (oyvey, bad pun). They’re a romance between writer and novel, reader and novel, reader and writer, protagonist and goal, protagonist and love interest. You don't need to believe in love to write it, you just have to need to know how to keep someone hooked. Isn't that what romance is all about?
I once called upon the services of a “fourth generation intuitive.” How did she start her intuiting? By explaining that some people can see shadows - that dark side that most people hide, that’s what they see first. And because they were able to hold that space, those with darker pasts tended to gravitate, to confess, to confide with said people, leading to a tendency towards delving deep into human psyches rather than skittering across the surface. Did this sound familiar to me? Did it indeed.
Which I’m sure has you wondering - what has that got to do with love? Everything. Love that embraces the darker, murkier elements of being human, is just as much love as the lighter, fuzzier side. Sometimes even more so. Not that I don't appreciate the HEA’s, I do. But what about the rest of us? In all our flawed, effed-up humanity?
Are these choices what you’d find in most top-5 lists? Probably not. But each one has a special place in my pantheon of learning about that ultimate of four-letter words - LOVE.
In no particular order:
Carter, Angela. (1979). The Bloody Chamber. Vintage. London. pp.138-139
Forster, E.M. (1908). A Room with a View. Penguin. London. p.66, p.223, p.225
Robbins, Tom. (1980). Still Life with Woodpecker. Corgi Books. London. p.60, pp.262-264
Hoffman, Alice. (1995). Practical Magic. Macmillan. London. p. 246
Davidson, Andrew. (2008). The Gargoyle. Canongate. New York. p.1, p.465