If, during this month of romance, you would rather read about platonic love that crops up between an old Swedish man and his noisy neighbours, or how love can push a young businesswoman to pursue time-travel in a Japanese café, then have a look at these four unconventional stories about love, from writers across the globe…
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1. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
Penned by Scottish born writer Gail Honeyman, Eleanor Oliphant is an old-fashioned oddball who loves routine, has a complicated past, and spits complex language and judge-y thoughts at the beginning of this beautiful story about isolation and the power of platonic love. I know a few people who couldn’t get past the first few chapters of this book because Eleanor, as the narrator of the novel, initially seems difficult to understand, and appears like an outsider to conventional thought processes. For example, Eleanor’s blunt, literal and humorous internal monologue often ponders weird things like, “There was a hand-gel dispenser outside the ward, and a big yellow sign above it read Do Not Drink. Did people actually drink sanitizing hand gel? I supposed they must–hence the sign. Part of me, a very small sliver, briefly considered dipping my head to taste a drop, purely because I’d been ordered not to. No, Eleanor, I told myself. Curb your rebellious tendencies. Stick to tea, coffee, and vodka.”.
But this story, although being terribly sad, deftly explores an often left behind idea in books; how young people can also experience deep loneliness. And how we all need the stability of non-romantic friendly love, even if it is the love of a pet cat; “But it’s still love: animals, people. It’s unconditional, and it’s both the easiest and the hardest thing in the world.”
Friends come along for Eleanor in the form of Raymond, a jolly, messy and unhygienic IT guy from the office, his gentle family, and an old man Sammy who they save from falling, together.
Being really beautifully written, this is one of my favourite books about realising it is ok to need each other, and how there is always more to someone’s story than meets the eye. It is funny, sad, and will definitely make you cry!
2. All The Light We Cannot See
Anthony Doerr was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, USA and wrote this amazing book over the course of 10 years. All The Light We Cannot See opens in Paris in the years before WWII, where a little girl Marie-Laure lives with her wonderful father near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as a locksmith.
The love between Marie-Laure and her father is written through how they navigate life together when Marie-Laure turns blind soon after her 6th birthday. Her father hand-builds a miniature city of Paris for Marie-Laure to learn the streets using her fingers and is determined that she should be as independent as possible. This is one of the main reasons this family relationship makes this war-time story unconventionally about love because it is full of so much wreckage but also so many depictions of love such as, “He sweeps her hair back from her ears; he swings her above his head. He says she is his émerveillement. He says he will never leave her, not in a million years.”, that captures how much families can love each other no matter how difficult things can be.
Marie-Laure and her dad’s relationship is that of care and attention, and, just as the nun from Saoirse Ronan’s film Lady Bird points out, “maybe they are the same thing? Love and attention?”, I tend to agree. And Marie-Laure also pays much attention to her father; when blinded she describes smells, sounds and people usually as one colour or two, but her father is the most important person to her, and he “radiates a thousand colours….opal, strawberry red, deep russet… glows sapphire when he sits over his workbench in the evenings, humming almost inaudibly as he works, the tip of his cigarette gleaming a prismatic blue.”
As the novel progresses the life of a little boy from Germany, who dreams of being an engineer and writes questions about the world down in a little diary, is followed in parallel to Marie-Laure’s. I don’t want to spoil anything, but this novel is brilliant and surprising in interweaving plot-lines and presenting love in the most unconventional circumstances, as the war unfolds from both sides.
3. A Man Called Ove
A Man Called Ove is a story full of wit and love and was originally written in Swedish by Fredrik Backman. This book is great if you want to read about how funny little kids can charm people back to being happy again – especially when they move in next door and knock over a grumpy, short-fused old man’s post-box.
Ove has a sad heart and is a kind character despite the hard exterior he puts up, and this story is unconventionally about love because it explores the past love between Ove and his late wife Sonja, who died 6 months before the beginning of the novel, and who he finds it difficult to live without; “Ove had never been asked how he lived before he met her. But if anyone had asked him, he would have answered that he didn’t.” This story also shows how his new boisterous neighbours break into his closed up heart to form a friendship, where the kids dote on Ove forming a kind of grandparent-like love and attachment to him.
This timeless story is now a movie too, and here is my favourite line from the book about falling in love;
“Loving someone is like moving into a house,” Sonja used to say. “At first you fall in love with all the new things, amazed every morning that all this belongs to you, ….Then over the years the walls become weathered,….. you start to love that house not so much because of all its perfection, but rather for its imperfections. You get to know all the nooks and crannies. How to avoid getting the key caught in the lock when it’s cold outside. Which of the floorboards flex slightly ….These are the little secrets that make it your home.”
4. Before The Coffee Gets Cold
My friends in my final year of University bought me this refreshingly bizarre book for my birthday, a story about cafe time-travel and definitely unconventionally love-themed. As a Japanese tale, Before The Coffee Gets Cold, was written initially for the stage by Toshikazu Kawaguchi before being adapted into a novel, which is great for me because otherwise, I would never have seen it!
Set in a dingy alleyway in Tokyo is the ancient Funiculi Funicula café. Seeped in stories and the smell of coffee beans, this mysterious café offers something special to the people it draws in from all walks of life: time travel. But there’s a catch; you can’t change the present, and you have to come back before your specially brewed, time-travel enabling coffee gets cold.
This book entertains using characters propelled by love, including a woman who dreams of talking to her husband before Alzheimer’s wiped his memories, and a young successful lady called Fumiko Kiyokawa, who wants to confront her lover who left for America. If you don’t like very overly descriptive or lengthy books, the complex plot but simple moving language of this story might be for you, which introduces people of all different ages to, time-travel, love, ghosts, wonderful characters and a difficult family relationship in only 224 pages!
Definitely worth it for an unconventional Valentine’s day read!