In a month when bad news came in threes (and I’m not talking about presidential debates), I realised three things.

  • The support of female friends is invaluable. I love the guys too but the girls rock. Especially after losing a loved one, each in their own way reminds me they care.
  • No relationship is without conflict. All my closest friends and I have had occasional disagreements: politics, ethics, behaviour, or which dishcloth to use for wiping up red wine. Just like any couple, it’s how you deal with these flash points that defines your respect for one another.
  • Friendships can survive long periods of neglect, much like my garden, and burst into bloom once more.  Memories, photos and Facebook act as great fertiliser.
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Colours for Cooty – The celebration of my Mum and her exceptional life

A fellow writer recently discussed the awkwardness of ‘unfriending’ a person. Not on social media, but in person. I get that. On three occasions, I have ‘consciously uncoupled’ from people whose influence became more negative than positive. On each occasion, I felt lighter, happier and couldn’t understand why it had taken so long. But true friends I will treasure forever.

Seeking comfort in books, as is my wont in times of trouble, I went back to female friendships. I re-read many and sought out certain passages which touched me the first time. Here’s a brief list of my favourites for you to curl up with. Ideally with a comfy blanket and a bowl of tomato soup.

The Pursuit of Love, by Nancy Mitford

A fictionalised account of the Mitford sisters, this insight into upper-class British family life in Downton Abbey through a child’s eyes. Fanny’s love and friendship with Linda and her sisters is a joy.

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Temples of Delight, By Barbara Trapido

Everyone should have a Jem. A bright, lively rulebreaker who enters Alice’s life like a firework. For an all-too-brief but thrilling period in her young life, Jem opens all kinds of doors, then disappears through one.

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Accabadora, by Michela Murgia

An ageing seamstress who operates as the opposite of a midwife (she helps souls leave rather than arrive) has no children. She adopts Maria, whose family can no longer afford to feed her. The two women learn much from each other, and learn how to manage life as a single woman in rural Sicily.

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The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery

Two women of different generations and even class, Renée is the concierge of a Paris apartment block, who outwardly conforms to what her residents expect. On the 5th floor, Paloma is planning her own suicide before her thirteenth birthday. Two women with a shared curiosity for the meaning of life.

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My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante

Also set in Sicily, this book offers an exceptional insight into the world of blood feuds and family roles but the theme is closer to The Pursuit of Love. An apparently unequal friendship turns out to be more balanced than it seems. A painfully accurate rendition of what a good friendship really is.

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Only Ever Yours, by Louise O’Neill

Both bleak and comforting, this vision of the future where women compete on every level is uncomfortably close to reality. The warmth of female friendship, the love and loss of a true friend is resonant throughout. It’s pitched as YA, which is a good thing. All young women, and men, should read this. It has a message for us all.

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Fourteen years ago, I walked into a room and looked into a pair of eyes.

Something peculiar happened. An invisible tendril snaked over the grey carpet, wound its way up my leg and started all sorts of shenanigans in my stomach. A consummate professional, I shook it off and began the lesson on phrasal verbs.

Fourteen years later, we’ve been married for six, weathered various storms, celebrated glorious highs and look forward to more adventures and experiments.

That four-letter word, so often over-used, the subject of so many songs, books, films, artworks and clichés. That emotion so elusive which can poleaxe the mighty and ennoble the tiny.

Love is a perennial literary theme, especially on an epic Wuthering Heights scale. Yet the books that have affected me most don’t always fit the epic traditional mould. To celebrate my anniversary of meeting the right person, here are fourteen of my favourite novels on the subject of love.

Le Grand Meaulnes, by Alain Fournier: love never recaptured14 grand meaulnes

My Ántonia, by Willa Cather: love for place and person entwined14 Love Cholera

Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez: lasting love

Tristan and Iseult, by JD Smith: tragic legend retold

Maurice, by EM Forster: love is not a phase

Betty Blue, by Philippe Dijan: love in extremis

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The French Lieutenant’s Woman, by John Fowles: did love win?

The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera: the agony of love

14 PossessionPossession, by AS Byatt: echoes of love and shared passions14 Brilliant Friend

Cyrano de Bergerac, by Edmond Rostand (Anthony Burgess translation): eloquence, wit, disguise and honour

The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro: love reduced to its essence

My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante: the powerful bonds of friendship

Ghost Town, by Catriona Troth: nothing is ever black or white

The Gargoyle, by Andrew Davidson: Love is strong as Death, as hard as Hell

 

What love stories have I missed? What are your favourites and why?