Ask the book buyer about the different kinds of love story


Valentine’s is not just about boy-meets-girl, but should be a celebration of love in a myriad of forms, says Jarrold book buyer Holly Ainley.

Dear Reader,

With Christmas done and dusted, many of you will be looking ahead to forthcoming anniversaries and celebrations: Chinese New Year, Burns night (you’ll find Burns’ work in our poetry section) and of course, Valentine’s day. First recorded in 496 it was originally a Christian feast day, in honour of saints including the martyred Valentine of Rome, who was supposedly imprisoned for performing forbidden marriage ceremonies for soldiers. We have Chaucer to thank for February 14th becoming so firmly linked to romantic love, as he popularised the idea of courtly love and giving love tokens, in the 14th century.

These days, happily, it’s a day we can recognise in our own way (which for some may mean not at all), as all sorts of unique and special traditions have helped diversify the more traditional idea of ‘love’. In Norfolk, folklore even has it that ‘Jack’ Valentine leaves sweets and presents out for children on the 14th.

All this got me thinking about different kinds of love stories – not just boy-meets-girl, happy-ever-after romances, but stories that recognise love in myriad forms; forbidden love like Saint Valentine fought for, love in times of adversity, love for friends, for our children and parents, for our wider communities, our pets and even love for ourselves. In the book department we’re sharing the love this fortnight with some wide-ranging recommendations that show love in all shapes and sizes. Here are just a handful of them...



Unrequited love

Heartburn by Nora Ephron

‘If I throw this pie at him, he will never love me. But he doesn’t love me anyway. So I can throw the pie if I want to.’

In many ways a love-letter to food, this is the hilarious, life-affirming story of Rachel Samstat, Jewish, New Yorker, TV chef and food writer, who discovers her husband is having an affair when she is two months pregnant with their second child. Sounds like a recipe for a doleful tale but Ephron’s (screenwriter for classic rom-coms When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle) sharp, idiosyncratic wit means we are rooting for Rachel and cheering for her like mad by the end. Plus, the novel comes punctuated with actual recipes. Yum!

Available from the book department, lower ground

Tragic love

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

Devastating? Yes. Heart-breaking? Yes. Not a classic Valentines choice, granted. But like Romeo and Juliet, the tragedy here sharpens the depth and significance of the love story. It is an intense, gloriously technicolour day in the life of George, an English professor in California, who wakes bereft from a dream of his dead lover, Jim, and decides to commit suicide that night. But throughout the day, not only does he relive his 16-year relationship with Jim but is reinvigorated be an encounter with one of his students, unexpectedly turning his grief around. We holding our breaths as night draws closer and it’s not clear if George will go through with his decision. 

Available from the book department, lower ground 

Caring love

The Language of Kindness: A Nurse’s Story by Chrissie Watson

A love-song to nursing and to the poignant, reassuring kind of love that can be delivered through care and compassion for the sick and the dying. Watson was a nurse for 20 years and her stories range from birth to death, each episode tinged with an appreciation for humankind. For fans of This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay, it is ultimately an uplifting story about the power of showing kindness and respect to everyone, especially in times of need.

Available from the book department, lower ground

Mother-daughter love

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Just this week at London’s Bridge Theatre, American actress Laura Linney stars in the stage adaptation of this wonderful, illuminating portrayal of a mother-daughter relationship. Lucy is recovering from an operation in a New York hospital when her estranged mother arrives and keeps vigil by her bedside; they haven’t communicated in decades and now Lucy has daughters of her own. As their conversations range between past and present, Strout offers us a tender, addictive portrayal of the deep, maternal instinct. (And if you love it, there’s a sequel, focussed on the characters Lucy and her mother reminisce about).

Available from the book department, lower ground

Back to top