Columns > Published on February 13th, 2020

Five Literary Love Affairs To Get Lost in This Valentine's Day

So many classic couplings spring to mind when we think of the greatest literary love affairs: Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy (or Bridget Jones and Mark Darcy?), Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, Cathy and Heathcliff, Romeo and Juliet. And not to mention the more torrid romances novels have gifted us, such as Lady Chatterley and Oliver Mellors from Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Emma Bovary and Rodolphe Boulanger from Madame Bovary, and Atonement’s Cecilia Tallis and Robbie Turner.

To celebrate this Valentine’s Day, we’re revisiting some of our other favorite literary love affairs. They’re equally sweeping and romantic, but aren’t brought up as often as the classics listed above.

To start, let’s travel back to 1960s England, as detailed in the epistolary novel…

1) "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

What happens when a woman who’s worked as a writer, editor, librarian, and bookshop attendant joins forces with an English Lit turned Medieval History grad — who also happens to be her niece? They write a New York Times bestseller, that’s what.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was written by aunt-and-niece duo Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. The story is set in 1946, post-war England, where writer Juliet Ashton is trying to figure out what her next book should be about. One day, the answer arrives in her mailbox when she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams, a man she’s never met before.

Dawsey lives on the English Channel island of Guernsey, where he’s found a book by Charles Lamb called Essays of Elia — a book with Juliet’s name written on the inside.

This initial letter to Juliet about the Lamb book turns into an ongoing correspondence through which she and Charles learn more about one another. Of particular interest to Juliet is Charles’ membership in a group called The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, hastily born as an improvised alibi when its members were caught breaking curfew by the Germans occupants.

Determined to learn more, and to meet her pen pal, Juliet sets sail for Guernsey and ends up falling deeply in love — both with Charles and the island itself.

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2) "The Kiss Quotient" by Helen Hoang

Here’s a math problem for you: if Helen Hoang published one book in 2018, and a sequel in 2019, how many books by Hoang will have won critical acclaim and the hearts of readers by 2020?

That’s right: two! Hoang is two for two with this bestselling series that follows Stella Lane, who believes that all of life’s problems can be solved with math. The Kiss Quotient and its sequel, The Bride Test, have combined to make Hoang a dynamite debut author.

In the first installment, we get to know Stella: a thirty-year-old woman who has Asperger’s and hates French kissing. She creates algorithms to predict customer purchases for a living — and she uses them for just about everything else in her life too.

Now, the perpetually-single Stella has decided she wants to focus on relationships. She’s determined to get used to the idea of intimacy with a practical approach: hiring escort Michael Phan to teach her in the ways of romance — from kissing, to, well, more than kissing.

While many love stories might show lovers behaving uncharacteristically when struck by Cupid’s arrow, this isn’t how things happen for Helen and Michael. Instead, Helen begins to discover that her feelings for her instructor make more sense than anything, and that perhaps the only logical thing is for them to be together...

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3) "When Katie Met Cassidy" by Camille Perri

Camille Perri is a contemporary female writer to keep your eye on. Her novel might be a romantic comedy, but if you’re expecting a literary remake of When Harry Met Sally, look elsewhere.

Our protagonists are, unsurprisingly, Katie and Cassidy. Katie is a perfectionist NYC lawyer in her late twenties. She’s pretty much got this life thing figured out: a dream job in her dream city with the dream man — her fiancé, Paul Michael. But the best-laid plans of mice and (wo)men often go awry, and Katie’s are no exception. Seemingly out of nowhere, Paul dumps her, and she’s left devastated and totally confused.

In the midst of her heartbreak, she ends up having a drink with her undeniably self-confident coworker, Cassidy. What starts as a friendship quickly blossoms into more, prompting Katie to rethink all those things she thought she’d figured out — including love and sex. The two women end up going hand-in-hand on a lighthearted but poignant journey about what it means to be female and romantically — and sexually — fulfilled.

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4) "The Night Circus" by Erin Morgenstern

Who was it that said romance and fantasy go together like PB and J? John Keats? Nevermind, the point stands: there’s nothing quite like watching a love story unfold in a magically imaginative world. And to that end, this list includes one of the past decade’s most popular fantasy novels, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus.

One day in an ahistorical version of Victorian London, the black-and-white striped tent of Le Cirque des Rêves (or “Circus of Dreams”) appears without warning. Only open at night, this circus offers breathtaking spectacles unlike any other.

But behind all its magic and whimsy seethes a lifelong feud between Celia and Marco, two young magicians who have been trained since childhood in the magical arts — and to compete in them against one another. However, despite the old “hate breeds hate” adage, Celia and Marco have started falling for one another, and their feelings are impossible to conceal: whenever their hands so much as brush, lights flicker.

The stakes are high in this phantasmagorical fairy tale: the fate of the entire circus and its performers hang from a tightrope thread that depends entirely on one of the young witches defeating the other.

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5) "Call Me By Your Name" by André Aciman

Yes, Armie Hammer and Hollywood darling Timothée Chalamet brought Call Me By Your Name to life on the silver screen in 2017. But it’s still absolutely worth reading the novel, even if you’ve already watched the coming-of-age tale. Especially if you like literary love affairs that can only be described as “intense.”

At the center of this intensity are 17-year-old Elio and 24-year-old Oliver, who meet one summer when Oliver comes to stay at the Italian cliffside mansion belonging to Elio’s parents. An immediate attraction sparks between the two, but they both pretend to ignore it. For a little while, anyway.

Eventually, neither can help but test the clearly charged waters that lie between them and dip a toe into their newfound passion. But they eventually submerge themselves entirely as they find a shared intimacy they’ve never experienced before — and aren’t sure they’ll ever be able to find again once the summer ends.

If you’re looking for a romance that feels like its crackling on the page, this love story woven by André Aciman is for you. Combining psychological tension with lushly romantic Italian vistas, it’s a work you’re sure not to forget anytime soon.

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Happy Valentine's Day, everyone! What are some of your favorite literary love affairs?

About the author

Emmanuel Nataf is a Founder at Reedsy, a marketplace and set of tools that allows authors and publishers to find top editorial, design and marketing talent. Over 3,000 books have been published using Reedsy's services.

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