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Seven Unusual Stories about the Power of Love

Love stories are often dismissed as fluff by readers who consider their tastes to be literary. Mills & Boon or Harlequin aside, many excellent novels with romance at their core, suffer from a certain predictability: throughout all the misunderstandings, hurdles and estrangement, the reader knows that a happy ending awaits. For those looking for something a bit more meaty and imaginative than the standard fare, these seven unusual stories explore the power of love in many different forms, from the fated, to the thwarted, to the slow blooming, to the transformative. They may not be romantic in the traditional sense, but each book approaches love in a new and inventive way, reminding readers that love stories don’t have to end happily ever after to transform lives and linger in the mind.

I Capture The Castle

Set in the 1930s, this novel is narrated through the diaries of 17-year-old Cassandra Mortmain, a precocious girl who lives in a draughty old castle in the English countryside with her beautiful sister Rose, her brilliant but eccentric father and her stepmother Topaz, an artist’s model, lute player and nature lover. Cassandra’s father is suffering from writer’s block and the family has fallen on hard times. When wealthy brothers from America move into the neighborhood, Rose sees a way out of her provincial country life. The novel’s protagonist Cassandra has become one of literature’s most iconic heroines, not only for her lively storytelling but for the way falling in love alters her outlook. She begins the novel as a child and ends it as a woman, thanks not to a relationship but the power of love to transform the individual who feels it.

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Norwegian Wood

It’s not as surreal or as quietly humorous as many of his later works, but this novel is responsible for bringing Haruki Murakami to national and international attention. Toru, a quiet, thoughtful man in his 30s, has just arrived in Germany when he hears a song that reminds him of his student years in 1960s Japan, and the two young women who shaped his formative years. Naoko, the girlfriend of Toru’s best friend Kizuki, who committed suicide at age 17, is beautiful and enchanting, but struggles to adapt to the pressures of adult life, leaving university to live in a sanatorium. Lonely and lost, Toru meets a fellow student named Midori, who is Naoko’s opposite – bubbly, quirky and independent. This novel belies the idea of the soul mate, encapsulating the way in which a single person can experience love in many different shapes and forms.

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After You'd Gone

Irish writer Maggie O’Farrell’s first novel is a bold, heart-breaking and inventive love story about finding true love only to lose it. In its opening scene, 20-year-old Alice Raikes takes a spontaneous trip to Edinburgh, where her parents and sisters live. There she sees something that shocks her so much that she goes straight back to London, where she steps in front of a car and is taken to hospital in a coma. The story that follows skilfully spans three generations, revealing secrets, resolving mysteries and delving into a love story so believable and human, with all its joys and small annoyances, that it rings truer than most of the famed romances. Ultimately this is a story about how to live on after love, the ties that bind people across generations and the perceptions that unite and divide.

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Bel Canto

Magical and surreal, a shimmering soap bubble of a story, this novel is set in an unnamed country in South America. A famous American opera singer is performing at the home of the vice president, in honor of a visiting Japanese businessman, when 18 young terrorists storm the building and take the entire party hostage. When it transpires that their target, the president, has stayed at home to watch his favorite soap opera, they are unsure how to proceed and a prolonged standoff begins, stretching from hours into days, days into weeks, and weeks into months. Gradually, the idealistic young rebels and their 58 international hostages begin to form unexpected bonds of friendship and even love, adapting to a situation that is unexpectedly idyllic – but ultimately unsustainable. Powerful, moving and beautifully written, this timeless novel is a unique and ambitious exploration of love in many forms.

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The Time Traveler's Wife

A sci-fi love story centered on time travel, this novel is in essence a simple love story, but its ambitious structure makes it unique. Told from the perspectives of its two protagonists, the novel moves backwards and forwards across decades as it explores the complex, seemingly fated relationship between Clare, a passionate red-haired artist from a wealthy background, and Henry, a long-haired, punk music-loving librarian who involuntarily travels through time. The two meet when Clare is six and Henry 36, and marry when she is 23 and he is 31. While their love for each other is never in question, Henry’s time travel means that there is always a distance between them, as he is torn often away from her unexpectedly and she is left waiting and wondering, her whole life shaped by his presence or absence. Buffeted by forces beyond their control, their struggle to live a normal life is moving and memorable.

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Never Let Me Go

Kathy, Ruth and Tommy are students at Hailsham, an exclusive British boarding school where the teachers constantly remind students how special they are, emphasizing the importance of staying healthy and encourage them to produce works of art. Kathy has a special place in her heart for Tommy, but he begins a romantic relationship with Ruth. Years later, after a prolonged period of estrangement, Kathy is reunited with Ruth and Tommy and begins to reflect on their school years, the reasons for their teachers’ emphasis on creativity, and the terrible secret that unites them and makes them all so special. Classified as a dystopian work of sci-fi, this novel is ultimately about what it means to be human – and the power of love, the defining human emotion. Disturbing, intriguing and unforgettable, it is a powerful work that defies genre.

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One Day

Dexter and Emma are celebrating their graduation from Edinburgh University when they meet for the first time, on July 15th, 1988. After a fleeting night of fun, they go their separate ways – but they can’t stop thinking about each other. Set over 20 years, this inventive novel is divided into chapters set on the same day every year. Over two decades, it charts the evolution of its protagonists’ complex relationship, through friendship and fighting, misunderstandings and missed opportunities, achievements, hopes and disappointments. Flawed and often selfish, Dexter and Emma struggle to maintain an honest, equal relationship as their lives change, diverge and come back together. A story about love that eschews the romance of fairy tales, this unconventional novel explores human fallibility, forgiveness and redemption.

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India Stoughton is a British journalist who has been writing on books, art and culture since 2011. She is currently based in Beirut and writes for publications including The Economist, 1843 ... Show More