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:
- In the Company of Wolves, Angela Carter. Okay, so strictly speaking this isn't a novel, it’s a short story. In this version of Little Red Riding Hood, Red “knew she was nobody’s meat”, and “lay his [the wolf’s] fearful head on her lap and she will pick out the lice from his pelt and perhaps she will put the lice into her mouth and eat them, as he will bid her, as she would do in a savage mating ceremony”. Instead of waiting for some huntsman to rescue her from the clutches of the wolf, she embraces her own feral nature and chooses to lie with the wolf, in all his wild, masculine, hairy-beast tenderness. Primal.
- A Room with a View, EM Forster. My Matric setwork. “It isn't possible to love and to part. You will wish that it was. You can transmute love, ignore it, muddle it, but you can never pull it out of you.” Yes, this novel had male skinny dippers, but its heroine’s glorious battle of head versus heart captured my teenage soul, and I don't think I’d ever even try to rescue it back. I loved it then, and I love it now. When the gentle hero George Emerson almost whispers, “I shall probably want to live,” I could well understand how Lucy feels that in “gaining the man she loved, she would gain something for the whole world.” What use is doing what society expects, if it perpetuates the same, miserable results? Ah, but to follow that heart, and see the permission it gives others to follow, now that’s worth way more than any ‘suitable’ partnership with an ‘eligible’ suitor.
- Still Life with Woodpecker, Tom Robbins. Heck, this is the book that says that redheads are made from “sugar and lust,” and “it’s never to late to have a happy childhood.” For someone whose childhood was a million miles from ‘happy’ (not even in the general direction thereof), this book felt like hope. Hope that if and when I found it, I could perhaps make love stay, like the bomber and the princess. Yum. That Camel cigarettes were involved was a bonus (my former brand of choice). “When the mystery of the connection goes, love goes. It’s that simple.” Sounds right, yeah? Thinking about my love affairs with the Argentinian tango, archery, ice skating, Mr F, all gone, all drifted away. Love didn't stay. But for other things, other people, it did…for now. Maybe for ever. Maybe not.
- Practical Magic, Alice Hoffman. My word but do I want to fall in love like a character in an Alice Hoffman novel. Correction - I want to fall in love like a character from this Alice Hoffman novel. They burn, they ache with desire, they set pans of water boiling, and cause thermostats to break down. For the Owens sisters, is there a chance at happiness when “love really don't love you”? When Sally, good, proper, logical Sally, finally finds herself unable to resist love’s call, she’s resolute, “she can make herself go cold, from the inside out.” But she can’t. She’s too in love with the long-legged lawman from Tucson. Swoon, swoon, swoon. And what about hope for the battered, wrecked, bruised and worn out Gillian, who at thirty six wears the battle scars of the lovesick? My copy is so dog-eared it deserves its own kennel.
- The Gargoyle, Andrew Davidson. I cried a river and then an entire ocean after my first reading of this novel. A pornstar, our nameless narrator, survives a horrific car accident, mostly intact (not where it matters), and encounters Marianne Engel, a sculptress of gargoyles. “Accidents ambush the unsuspecting, often violently, just like love.” One by one, he recounts the stories of their love over continents, over centuries, two soulmates discovering, and loving one another, perfectly and imperfectly, in various incarnations. The line “I love you. Aishiteru. Ego amo te. Ti amo. Eg elska pig. Ich liebe dich,” never fails to move me. Is death merely the path to the next encounter with love? Who knows?
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