‘It destroyed me, in a good way’: the best books about modern romance | Books

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The first time I read Carol Ann Duffy’s collection Rapture, I finished it, took a breath, and read it again. I had rarely encountered anything so raw and it contains some of my favourite poetry. It tells the story of an affair – a modern one, for the digitised masses. “I tend to the mobile now like an injured bird / We text text text our significant words.” But something remains of old romance in here, too. These poems are defiantly and gleefully lyrical.

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata is a nimble, satirical delight – skewering the idea of the tragic woman “on the shelf”. Translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori, it centres on Keiko, a woman who works in a convenience store and finds fulfilment there, much to the disquiet of the people around her who think her life cannot possibly be complete without traditional romance. Questions of what constitutes happiness don’t find easy answers in this novel – especially when love presents itself in man-form and Keiko reacts unexpectedly.

Important as it is to be creating romantic (and unromantic) choices for women, it is also edifying to be reminded of many other forms of love – familial, sexual, platonic, self-love – and the way these are evolving. Conversations on Love is a beautifully written online newsletter, composed by Natasha Lunn, sent out every few weeks. Lunn transcribes her talks with a range of writers and thinkers – from psychologists to novelists to philosophers. It’s a real education and teaches me something new about my feelings and relationships every time.

I avoided Normal People by Sally Rooney for a long time, mainly because I was sick of people telling me to read it, but then I finally succumbed, and yes – holy wow. It’s a funny, tragic tale, a sequence of heart‑filleting miscommunications. I can’t wait to see where Rooney goes next.

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