I’m a sucker for romantic love. Nearly everything I write has a love story brewing in the background, often in the foreground too. In my reading, I also gravitate to love stories— not always with happy endings though. I like love in all of its messy forms. Love is problematic and soul-damagingly painful sometimes, but only when you truly take the leap with a wide open and vulnerable heart is there the option of that incredible joy and connection that only a handful ever find. That hope lives in all of us I think. I thought to celebrate Valentine’s Day this year I’d give you some books about love I’ve been reading lately.
1. The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
Charmaine loves Stan and Stan is pretty sure he loves her back. They have been through a lot together. Even when they were living in their car, Charmaine knew for certain her love for her husband was strong and, with that love, they could survive anything. But then they are offered a place in a social experiment called Consilience where they are given a lovely new suburban home and a shiny new suburban life, but every other month they must spend in a prison as prisoners. The love Charmaine and Stan were so certain of is strained to horrible ends. The title of the book has multiple meanings, but I think it also speaks of the resilience of love, even after all that poor Stan and Charmaine go through- and they go through a lot.
2. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
This book is a long roaming letter from a father to a son. The father is elderly and dying and the son is only a child. It speaks of many things, the things the father had hoped to tell his son as he grew up but won’t have the chance to do now, especially about their family history and how they got from there to here. In the back is the thankfulness of this old man for the love of the boy’s mother; a quiet, gentle love coming into his life when he least expected it, healing his wounded heart. A touching story.
3. Arctic Summer by Damon Galgut
Arctic Summer is Galgut’s fictionalised biography of the writer EM Forster, author of Howard’s End and A Passage to India. For Forster, romantic love is a tortured affair. Throughout the parts of his life covered with this novel, it appears that Forster struggled to find a way to live that made him happy, but sadly he seems to have failed. Born in 1879 and growing up in conservative England, his homosexuality was something that could not be accepted. Forster’s great love was Masood, a young man from India who Forster met at university. After school, Forster follows Masood to India hoping, finally, that his love can be revealed but he is shown that it will remain unrequited, for Masood there is nothing more than a deep friendship between them. During the war, Forster is posted in Alexandria and starts an affair there with an Egyptian tram driver, El Adl. Though he loves him, the differences in their social status make for a troubled relationship that can never bring complete fulfilment to Forster. A gorgeously written book.
4. The Keeper by Marguerite Poland
Marguerite Poland is well known in South Africa because many of her books have been set work for years. Sadly, this talented writer seems to find a wider audience and many readers are lesser for it. Her prose is breath-taking. I first met her in her novel Recessional for Grace, another tortured love story I’d recommend highly.
The Keeper is a layered story, going forward and backward in history and covering the life of Hannes Harker, one of the last lighthouse keepers posted on a very remote island in the Atlantic. He comes from a family of lighthouse keepers and knows no other life. He has fallen and broken his leg and has been taken from his isolated post to a hospital in Cape Town. There he tells his story to a kind nurse, Sister Rika. The story of his marriage to his young wife Aletta, and the mysterious life and death of his mother. A book about isolation and love, beautifully written and told.
And a HUGE shout-out!!-At the recent Bessie Head Short Story Award’s ceremony Diamond Educational Publishers announced that they are upping their sponsorship of the awards from P2500.00 to P20,000.00! What a fantastic way to really support literature and writers in the country.
(This first appeared in my column It's All Write in Mmegi 12 Feb, 2016)