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Love and where to find it

You might never have read a single book in that hugely popular genre called ‘Romance’ but I’m sure you’ve read hundreds of love stories. Classic literature, for example, is full of them: Anna Karenina’s love for Vronsky (this one ends badly); every Shakespeare comedy – and of course Othello; all Jane Austen novels are social comedies that rely on love and romance to drive the plot; Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester; A Farewell to Arms; Jay Gatsby’s hopeless (and misplaced) love for Daisy Buchanan. Wonderful love stories are woven into literature that’s also about many other things – war, comedy, money, death and tragedy.

Crime novels are full of thwarted or doomed love affairs. Hercules Poirot and Miss Marple never met but they agree that the motives for murder definitely include love. Crimes of passion provide fertile ground for thrillers. What, after all, is Gone Girl about if it’s not love gone wrong?

So what’s the difference between love in romantic fiction, and love in other kinds of books? In Romance, we expect love to triumph and the story to end happily with the lovers if not in each other’s arms, then certainly on the verge of coming together for a happy future. This is far less likely to happen both in real life and in literary or crime fiction. In literary fiction, it often takes different forms or goes beyond the bounds of convention. I’ve written in my own novel, The Treacle Well The Treacle Well, about the love between brother and sister which, though never physical, goes beyond the usual sibling affection into something more powerful and all consuming.

Love stories can drive a novel which is also concerned with other major themes. The Marrying of Chani Kaufman by Eve Harris begins with a wedding, then moves back in time to let us see two young people tentatively falling in love while in parallel, the novel portrays the disintegrating marriage of the rabbi’s wife. Both are encompassed with the novel’s examination of how a closed, ultra-orthodox community can allow for love, but also stifle it.

Love stories develop and change with the times. Modern novelists can write openly about gay love, as Alan Hollinghurst does so vividly in Line of Beauty, for example, or Bryan Washington in Memorial. It’s always been there – in EM Forster’s Maurice, and indeed even in Agatha Christie: when in A Murder is Announced, Miss Murgatroyd is murdered, Miss Hinchcliffe, who lives with her, is distraught. Clearly they were lovers, but that’s not the focus of the story, and it’s never explicit or acknowledged. No mistaking it though – there’s a love story buried within that crime novel.

Speculative fiction can explore love for a non-human, as in Paul Braddon’s The Actuality, where Evie is the bioengineered wife created to replace a dead wife with someone who looked exactly like her, but would never age.

Love takes many forms and because it’s something we all know at least a little about, whoever we are and whatever our lives are like, it remains absorbing and fascinating to read about in fiction.

Moira Forsyth

Moira Forsyth