1000 novels everyone must read: Love (part three)

Cees Nooteboom: All Souls Day (1999)

Arhur Daane, a Dutch documentary film-maker, has lost his wife and child in a plane crash. He wanders round Berlin as he plans his next project, a film showing the world through his eyes. He meets a philosopher, sculptor and physicist. It is when he meets the young student, Elik Orange, that he finds himself on an unexpected journey. Nooteboom has been described by AS Byatt as “one of the great modern novelists”, and often been suggested as a candidate for the Nobel prize. Kohinoor Sahota

Michael Ondaatje: The English Patient (1992)

This is another novel where the multi-award winning film threatens to eclipse the Booker-winning original — and who could forget a luminous Juliette Binoche discovering frescoes by candlelight, an elegant Kristin Scott Thomas reading Herodotus by a campfire in the desert, or Ralph Fiennes staggering through the sand dunes with his dead lover shrouded in billowing white? Still, the novel — Ondaatje’s best — is well worth reading for the lyricism of the prose and the clever storytelling: even if the adulterous lovers aren’t quite such an intense focus as in the film. Lisa Allardice

Boris Pasternak: Doctor Zhivago (1957)

Although completed in 1956, Doctor Zhivago wasn’t published in Pasternak’s native Russia until 1988; and the Kremlin compelled him to decline the Nobel prize which he was awarded in 1958 after the novel’s success abroad. It is set against the backdrop of the Russian revolution, but it is the story of Yuri’s grand passion for Lara that has kept its place in readers’ hearts. Has anyone ever made doing the ironing look so alluring as Julie Christie in David Lean’s 1965 epic starring the smouldering Omar Sharif? LA

Abbé Prévost: Manon Lescaut (1731)

A callow young toff falls for a beauty of shaky morals and follows her to the end of the world, shedding fortune, scruples and self-respect along the way. Sounds familiar? That’s not surprising, as Prévost’s novel — initially banned in France — inspired many less accomplished tales, as well as operas by Massenet and Puccini. Des Grieux, the narrator, gives a fascinatingly unreliable account of his years with a woman for whom luxury will always count for more than love. Phil Daoust

Jean Rhys: Wide Sargasso Sea (1966)

This brief, exotic novel tells the story of Antoinette, a Creole heiress who is married off to an unnamed Englishman, falls in love with him but is gradually driven mad. By the end, she is incarcerated in an attic room, in a cold foreign country, but still dreaming of “the smell of vetivet and frangipani, of cinnamon and dust and lime trees”. Told in turn by Antoinette and her husband, the Mr Rochester of Jane Eyre, it is, as Francis Wyndham commented in his introduction, “an imaginative feat almost uncanny in its vivid intensity”. Prudence Hone

Henry Handel Richardson: Maurice Guest (1908)

In the 1890s, Maurice Guest, a poor English provincial teacher, goes to Leipzig to study music. He meets Louise Dufrayer, languid, exotic, a siren. The love Maurice comes to feel for Louise is as resounding and consuming as the music which rises and falls on every page. This is a novel in the great European tradition. Maurice Guest joins Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina, as the lyrical sweep of Richardson’s prose reveals every intimate tremor felt by a human heart obsessed with the love of another. Carmen Callil

Samuel Richardson: Pamela (1740)

This story of a maidservant struggling to resist the advances of her sexually predatory master was the first complex novel of love in English fiction. Told in the heroine’s own self-questioning, agitated letters, it traces her feelings moment by moment. She is fi ghting to save her soul as well as her body. Mr B, the would-be rake, intercepts and reads those letters, and as a result falls in love with her. His intended victim conquers him with her writing. John Mullan

Samuel Richardson: Clarissa (1748)

In the longest novel in English literature, the passions of a brilliant libertine, Lovelace, and Clarissa, the intelligent, virtuous young woman whom he desires (“my frost-piece!”), are played out in exquisite slow motion. We have the correspondence of the heroine with her friend, and of the villain with a fellow rake, so we can see how these combatants are deceived by each other. Clarissa half-falls for the satanic but seductive Lovelace, and to Richardson’s horror many of the novel’s female readers fell for him completely. JM

Marilynne Robinson: Gilead (2004)

Few contemporary writers are as critically acclaimed as Marilynne Robinson. The Pulitzer prizewinning Gilead, rapturously received more than 20 years after Robinson’s first novel Housekeeping, could equally belong in a different category, as it is a novel-long letter from an adoring 72-year-old father, Reverend John Ames, who believes he is terminally ill, to his seven-year-old son. But as well as being a powerfully lucid expression of filial love and faith, it is the story of how two men achieve grace through marriage — one unexpectedly late in life, the other through an illegal union with a black woman from Tennessee. Set in small-town Iowa in 1956, Gilead is a quiet, slow-moving but ultimately majestic avowal of the redemptive power of love. LA

Françoise Sagan: Bonjour Tristesse (1954)

“A strange and melancholy feeling pervades me”, says Cécile , remembering being 17 and on holiday in the south of France, where she was seduced by sun, sea and her first lover. But her hedonistic lifestyle is transformed when her father decides to remarry. Written when Sagan was 18, the novel’s depiction of teenage sexuality caused a scandal, but went on to sell 850,000 copies in France. François Mauriac described Sagan as a “charming little monster”. KS

Kurban Said: Ali and Nino (1928)

Ali and Nino is the great romance — the Romeo and Juliet — of the Caucasus. Sparsely and movingly told by Said (whose own life was as quite as extraordinary as his book), it is written, engagingly, in the first person: Ali, a handsome young Azeri aristocrat and a Muslim, tells us the story of his courtship of and marriage to beautiful Nino, a Georgian princess and a Christian. The setting is Baku in 1920, in the last tortured months of a brief utopian period in that city when people of all nationalities and religions lived in harmony. What makes this story of doomed love different to many others is that it is not bigoted society nor their families who destroy Ali and Nino, but the brutal invasion of Azerbaijan by the Red Army. Soviet rule, it is easy to forget, only came to an end 16 years ago, but the Baku of Ali and Nino is still, just, recognisable. Bridget Keenan

James Salter: Light Years (1975)

Viri and Nedra Berland live with their two daughters in the Hudson valley. Viri is an architect, Nedra a witty, beautiful almost-artist; their gilded days are garnished with the names of painters, ballets, authors and wines. But time, unforgivingly, moves on. The idyll shows faultlines: infidelity, disease, age, loss, divorce. The daughters leave the shelter of childhood for the sexual fray. You feel a tension between the radiance of moments — a breakfast of chocolate and oranges, sunlit picnics on beaches and lawns, “the endless hours of consort” between man and wife — and their inevitable rush into the past. “Where does it go,” Nedra wonders. “Where has it gone?” William Fiennes

James Salter: A Sport and a Pastime (1967)

An American photographer borrows a house near Dijon. A younger man, Philip Dean, comes to stay with him and begins an affair with a local girl called Anne-Marie. The photographer describes their encounters with dreamy intensity and detail. We’re not sure if these are his own experiences, or his fantasies, or if he’s dissolved into a third-person narrator who knows everything. Salter has said that his ambition was to write something “licentious yet pure, an immaculate book filled with images of an unchaste world more desirable than our own.” Reading it, you feel that you too, like the photographer, are eavesdropping on the conduct of a love aff air: between the writer and his language, or between language and the world it describes. WF

Bernhard Schlink: The Reader (1995)

Fifteen-year-old Michael has a secret relationship with a woman more than twice his age: after school he reads her stories and they make love, until one day she vanishes. Years later, the boy — now a law student — discovers that his former lover used to be a guard in a concentration camp. When she is imprisoned for life, they resume a relationship of sorts: he records himself reading stories and posts the tapes to her. Schlink, who is also a lecturer in law, writes with an alert sense for moral ambiguities, yet he also makes an impassioned stand in defence of the redemptive power of love. Philip Oltermann

Erich Segal: Love Story (1970)

The novel originated as a screenplay for Paramount written by a young classics professor. Every age has its Romeo and Juliet. This was the one for the 1970s. It opens: “What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died?” The girl, Jennifer Cavilleri, is a Radcliffe music student. The narrator, Oliver Barrett IV, is a Harvard student. A tiff in the library leads to the ice-cream parlour and, inevitably, love over the scoops. His background is old money. She is Italian, the daughter of a baker. Oliver defies his family, she sacrifi ces her dream of studying in Paris. They marry but Jennifer is diagnosed with a fatal illness. The story is told by Oliver, after her death, with the novel’s famous motto: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” A generation of teenage boys fell for a freshfaced Ali MacGraw in the 1970s’ weepy with Ryan O’Neal as the preppy Oliver. John Sutherland

Isaac Bashevis Singer: Enemies, a Love Story (1972)

It’s 1949, New York. Herman Broder, who has escaped the concentration camps, is having an affair with three women: Yadwiga who hid him from Nazis; Masha his mistress; and Tamara, the wife he thought was shot dead. Herman is adrift in a world where “children could be dragged away from their mother and shot”. The novel was first serialised in the Jewish Daily Forward in 1966. Paul Mazursky’s film adaptation in 1989, starring Ron Silver and Anjelica Huston, was nominated for two Oscars. KS

Elizabeth Smart: At Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept (1945)

The world might have been at war, but no less cataclysmic is the individual anguish of the broken-hearted, so claims Elizabeth Smart’s prose poem. The barest traces of a story of everyday adultery swells to heroic grandeur with lashings of biblical and literary allusions. While the unnamed lovers’ romance is painfully brief, the book was based on Canadian writer Smart’s affair with the English poet George Barker, which lasted 18 years and produced four children. A howl of tortured love and the agony of betrayal, it should be avoided by emotional cynics and literary ascetics at all costs. A favourite inspiration for Morrissey, apparently. LA

Dodie Smith: I Capture the Castle (1948)

“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink,” so we are introduced to the eccentric, impoverished Mortmain family — 17-year-old Cassandra, our narrator and would-be novelist; Rose, her beautiful, bored elder sister; Thomas, the little brother; bohemian Topaz, their young stepmother and sometime artist’s model; and their father, an author suffering from writer’s block — all holed up in the crumbling Suffolk pile. Hope comes with the arrival of the wealthy American Cotton family and their two eligible sons as neighbours. Written while Smith was in Hollywood, but homesick for England, and set in the innocent prewar period, this utterly enchanting coming of age story should be given to every 14-year-old girl and revisited thereafter in times of flu and emotional frailty. LA

Ahdaf Soueif: The Map of Love (1999)

In 13 years of reading fiction by women since founding the Orange prize, Kate Mosse cites The Map of Love as her favourite. Soueif’s sweeping family saga describes two cross-cultural romances separated by nearly a century. Epic in its historical and geographical range yet rich in detail, the novel is also a love letter to Soueif’s native Egypt. Shortlisted for the Booker prize in 1999, it combines romance and politics with a rare passion. LA

Jacqueline Susann: Valley of the Dolls (1966)

The novel which, raunchily, redrew the map of women’s romance. For many years it was listed by Guinness as the bestselling work of fiction ever. Three young women come to postwar New York to make their fortune. The “dolls” of the title are prescription pills. The trio are brought together by a Broadway musical, in which they are each differently involved. Anne Welles is level headed, and eventually makes it in modelling. Neely O’Hara is lower class. She becomes an Oscar-winning film actress, and self-destructive addict. Jennifer North is blond, beautiful and doomed. Susann’s novel engages frankly (for the time) with sex, abortion, breast cancer and drugs. It’s manifestly a roman à clef — one of the pleasures in reading it is spotting Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland under thin disguise. JS

Graham Swift: Waterland (1983)

In this, Graham Swift’s breakthrough novel of 1983, the flat, liquid landscape of the Fens holds the teenage protagonists in a vice-like grip. The narrator Tom Crick is a middle-aged schoolmaster looking back on his war-time schoolboy romance with Mary, a sexually adventurous convent schoolgirl. Their eventual marriage will be childless, a lack which precipitates Tom into recklessly sharing his family history with his pupils. Shortlisted for the Booker, Waterland employed the techniques of fashionable magic realism in the service of the provincial realist novel. Kathryn Hughes

Junichiro Tanizaki: Diary of a Mad Old Man (1961)

“How could anyone with a face like this ever hope to appeal to a woman?” writes Utsugi, a dying old man, in his diaries. He desires his beautiful, westernised daughter-in-law, Satsuko: there is an age-gap, incest, and a bizarre foot fetish. This is funny, intelligent and passionate, and also semi-autobiographical as it was Tanizaki’s final work, written during his own illness. He is regarded as one of the greatest Japanese writers, and his work explores the destructive power of erotic obsessions. KS

Leo Tolstoy: Anna Karenina (1877)

From the famous first line — “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” — we know there is only one place this story is heading and it isn’t to a happy ending. This is the ultimate adultery novel — with Madame Bovary in close second. Tolstoy does give us the pious Levin and Kitty to prove that love isn’t necessarily tragic, but no one really gives a damn about them. There’s a lot of stuff about the reform of the Russian peasantry too. But all we are really interested in is the fatal passion of poor Anna and her dashing Vronsky. Oprah Winfrey was recently responsible for making Tolstoy’s classic a bestseller again when she chose it for her bookclub. LA

Rose Tremain: Music and Silence (1999)

The winner of the 2008 Orange prize created a crystalline vision of early 17th-century Denmark in this vivid panorama of life at the court of King Christian IV. The young English lute player Peter Claire arrives during the dying days of the king’s marriage to his second wife and falls in love with one of the queen’s women. The glittering descriptions and use of the present continuous tense add to the immediacy. The review in this paper sums it up: “The crowning virtue of this novel is Tremain’s restlessly probing sympathy, so that if no character is of totally unblemished virtue, neither is anyone thoroughly bad.” PH

Ivan Turgenev: First Love (1860)

Sixteen-year-old Vladimir leaves Moscow with his parents to spend the summer at a house in the country. Out shooting crows, he sees a beautiful girl in the neighbouring garden. Zinaida, daughter of a down-at-heel princess, is 21 and a virtuoso flirt, and Vladimir falls for her, big time: “I had ceased to be simply a young boy; I was someone in love.” But Zinaida has a raft of grown-up suitors — including Doctor Looshin, Count Malevsky and a really annoying poet called Maidanov — and Vladimir is convinced she’s in love with one of them. When he discovers the identity of Zinaida’s lover, Turgenev’s wonderful novella enters a new and complicated dimension. WF

Anne Tyler: Breathing Lessons (1988)

Winner of the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, Breathing Lessons’s structure is simple — a middle-aged couple, Ira and Maggie, spend a day driving to and from a funeral — but it is stuffed with more insight into human relations than many other novels. The couple have typical marital spats while quietly reflecting on their individual dreams and disappointments, particularly their son Jesse, a wannabe rock star, who has been a lifelong bafflement to his conventional father. With a deceptively light touch, Tyler creates a stunningly realistic, and ultimately optimistic, portrait of marriage. Hadley Freeman

Anne Tyler: The Accidental Tourist (1985)

Macon Leary is a reluctant travel writer, whose usual emotional frigidity degenerates to near-paralysis after his son is murdered and his wife leaves him. He takes refuge behind his similarly odd siblings and only re-emerges after meeting Muriel, whose chaotic ways shatter his neurotic rigidity. Despite the breathtakingly sad opening chapters, Tyler’s delicate perceptiveness gives the novel an understated warmth. William Hurt was so good in the 1989 film adaptation as Macon that he almost made up for Geena Davis, who bafflingly won an Oscar for her performance as Muriel. HF

Sarah Waters: The Night Watch (2006)

In a bold leap from the Victorian lesbiana of Waters’s previous hit novels, The Night Watch, told backwards from 1947 to 1941, traces the lives of its four lost characters as they pick their way back through the rubble and ruined lives of austerity Britain to the danger of the Blitz. With Pinter’s Betrayal as a template, The Night Watch records four love stories from sorry endings to romantic beginnings. And while war-ravaged London — immaculately rendered in both atmosphere 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read | 21 and detail — provides a dramatic backcloth, Waters’ is most interested in the inner conflict of her characters’ hearts. LA

Charles Webb: The Graduate (1963)

Dustin Hoff man in full diving suit in his parent’s swimming pool, a sultry Anne Bancroft as the seductive Mrs Robinson and one of the most atmospheric soundtracks of all time, mean there’s no getting away from the gargantuan movie with this one. A satire on 1960s upper-class suburban America, The Graduate is the story of an alienated college graduate having the mother of all identity crises. Benjamin Braddock is perhaps even more dissociated in the original, but otherwise the novel is written pretty much as a screenplay. LA

Edith Wharton: The Age of Innocence (1920)

This look back at the rigid conventions of New York society in the 1870s, where “they all lived in a kind of hieroglyphic world, where the real thing was never said or done or even thought”, is also an examination of duty and sacrifice. Newland Archer, engaged to the perfect but conventional May, falls in love with May’s exotic cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska, but marriage and May’s pregnancy come between them. Poignant, measured and wistful, it was a bestseller and won the Pulitzer prize — the first to be awarded to a woman. PH

Jeanette Winterson: The Passion (1987)

A French farmboy idolises Napoleon Bonaparte and becomes his personal cooker of chickens; a girl is born who can walk on water: realism and characterisation are not the point of this sinuous, casually brutal, often gorgeous novel, but Winterson’s readers would not really expect that. Rather, it is a meditation on the human waste of war, on necessary risk, and, above all, on passion, which brooks no dissent, clothes the world in colour, and clarifies everything — except when it doesn’t. Aida Edemariam

Mrs Henry Wood: East Lynne (1861)

Full-blooded Victorian melodrama that was extremely popular as a novel and even more so as a play (where the famous “Dead, dead and never called me mother!” originated). Lady Isabel Vane (vain by nature) is left bankrupt when her father, Lord Mount Severn, dies. She marries a high-minded lawyer, Mr Archibald Carlyle, who buys her former home, East Lynne, for her. Disastrously, Isabel is tempted to elope with the caddish Frank Levison. Carlyle divorces her (a legal option since 1857) and remarries. Thought killed, though only disfigured in a train accident, Isabel, disguised by green spectacles, returns as Madame Vine to East Lynne, where she serves, unrecognised, as governess to her own children. Melodrama ensues. The novel embodies Wood’s conviction that for a married woman, adultery is “far worse than death”. JS

Richard Yates: Revolutionary Road (1961)

Outwardly successful young suburbanites Frank and April Wheeler go from mutual tolerance and boredom to violent loathing as their lives of unquiet desperation begin to unravel. It is hard to think of a more unlikeable couple, or a more depressing novel, but this corrosive portrait of 1950s American suburbia and the death of the American dream is brutal and beautiful in its appalling honesty. Hailed as a masterpiece on publication in 1961, and rediscovered by a new generation of critics and writers, Revolutionary Road has achieved a hallowed status (Tennessee Williams, Richard Ford, Kurt Vonnegut and Nick Hornby are just some of its devotees) in modern fiction. LA


Full article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/jan/17/1000-novels-love-part-three