Everywhere I go this week people are talking about those 3 books that have something to do with the colour grey – and a lot to do with sex. I haven’t read them but I am going to be judgemental about them because I have read the all important first page and that was enough for me.
The first page of the first book was badly written and it bothers me that so many people have bought these books and now consider them to be an example of the kind of writing that gets published. As a writer, I feel the need to lift the bar higher – to tell you about other books that may be far less graphic but which contain more erotic pleasure in one paragraph than could ever be achieved in this trilogy. Books which are written in such a way that the readers learns more about what it means to be human than that some women (EL James, I’m looking at you) still use the awful euphemism ‘down there’.
So here is my list of books that are passionate, beautifully written and will certainly keep you warm on these cold winter nights. They’re also the kind of books you might read again, rather than throw away.
1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: The art of this book is that even though the characters are socially unequal – Jane is a governess, Rochester is a wealthy landowner – the book in no way perpetuates the stereotype of weak woman dominated by powerful man. Rochester and Jane are intellectual and emotional equals. Their love story is told with such restraint and every exchange of dialogue builds the tension around whether and how two such seemingly at-odds characters can ever be together.
2. Atonement by Ian McEwan: This book is all about the fine details. There is one page where Robbie describes Cecilia as she climbs, dripping wet, out of the fountain. He notices things like the soles of her feet and as each sentence lingers over a different and usually non-sexual part of her body, you see how there is more to the joy of looking upon another than just boobs and bums.
3. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Florentino and Fermina spend more time apart than together in this book but it’s the absences – what the imagination must create – that makes for the passion in this book.
4. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy: This book broke my heart. Doomed love, adultery, fatal passion – it could all go so horribly wrong and be so terribly cliched but it is not. You read this book knowing that this love will never work but that makes it all the more compelling.
5. Emily Dickinson’s poetry: According to all the newspaper reports – and who wouldn’t believe those? – Fifty Shades of Grey is responsible for rekindling romance (or maybe just sex) in many relationships. Try reading one of Emily Dickinson’s poems to someone you love and I guarantee the effects will be more long lasting.
I realise that none of the books on my list is very contemporary – does this mean that contemporary writers don’t write about sex and passion and love in a way that’s memorable? Have we fallen out of love with books about love? Surely we haven’t – I must have overlooked something. Let me know what you would add to my list.