4x4th Estate: Hopeless Romantics

Coming to the end of February, with Valentine’s Day long passed, we also come to the end of our monthly theme on love. You’ll either be basking still in the warm glow of affection, or feeling as wilted as the bouquets now look in their vases. Hopelessly in love or hopeless at love, here are a few characters who are a bit of both.


Brief Wondrous LifeOscar (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz)

“She was the kind of girlfriend God gives you young, so you’ll know loss the rest of your life.” 

Poor Oscar. He falls in to the ‘let’s be friends’ vortex all too easily. And being a self-described ‘nerdboy,’ fond of science fiction, cartoons and role-playing games probably doesn’t help with that. Recurring throughout Brief Wondrous Life is Oscar’s belief that his family is followed by ‘fukú’ – a Dominican concept that is “generally a curse or a doom of some kind.” So, perhaps this is why we see Oscar fall in to a one-sided love life so easily and deeply.

Written in a unique voice infused with street slang and Spanish, we learn of setbacks and grief as well as the plight of the Dominican people told by Oscar through shifting perspectives – his sister, his mother, his grandmother and his roommate. Misery and heartache guaranteed.

Norwegian WoodToru (Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami)

“I was always hungry for love. Just once, I wanted to know what it was like to get my fill of it – to be fed so much love I couldn’t take any more. Just once.” 

The opening line to the Beatles song that shares its name with this title tells us what we can expect: “I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me.” A young man troubled by the throes of longing.

The story starts with a man waiting for an aeroplane to take off. On the runway, our protagonist Toru Watanabe sits back in his seat, reflecting, letting his thoughts wander back to his student life and former loves. First he falls for Naoko, a beautiful and sensitive girl, who is the girlfriend of his best friend. After his best friend takes his own life, Naoko becomes more emotionally fragile and Toru’s love for her becomes more and more complicated. A breath of fresh air is Midori, Toru’s sprightly classmate that develops feelings for him. Toru wrestles with the impossibility and divinity of love as we trace him back to his aeroplane seat wondering where all the time went.

Madeleine (The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides)

The Marriage Plot“The more she thought about it, the more Madeleine understood that extreme solitude didn’t just describe the way she was feeling about Leonard. It explained how she’d always felt when she was in love. It explained what love was like and, just maybe, what was wrong with it.” 

Madeleine is a diligent student of literature working hard on her thesis about Jane Austen and George Eliot, looking at plots of marriage in the 19th century novel compared to the modern age. Much like the books that she studies and loves, she finds herself caught in a Victorian-esque love triangle. Her heart says Leonard, the charming scientist and recluse, but her head (and her parents) say Mitchell, an old friend and theology student who believes their love is fated.

Along the way, exploring themes of science and spirituality, religion and philosophy, our trio fumble their way through love and lust and come of age, unsure of a life beyond the four walls of lecture halls and libraries.

Jay Gatsby (The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald)

“Gatsby looked at Daisy in a way that every young girl wanted to be looked at.”

The Great GatsbyI mean, come on! Surely there can’t be a more ‘hopeless romantic’ than Jay Gatsby? Set in the twenties, Gatsby throws wild gin-soaked parties at his luxury Long Island mansion, weekend after weekend, all to attract the attention of the debutante, a one Daisy Buchanon. At his own parties Gatsby remains elusive, hoping the buzz of gaiety from his parties will attract the attention of Daisy, whom he had a one-time romantic encounter with years earlier – and where he developed his head-in-the-clouds obsession for her.

We see it all through the eyes of Nick Carraway, the promising Yale graduate and neighbour to Gatsby who is, by sheer chance, the second-cousin of Daisy. After Nick invites Daisy for tea, she meets Gatsby again and we become entwined in a torrid and convoluted string of affairs and misdemeanours. A tale of yearning and woe under the shade of jazz age chic.

Words by Laurence Berridge.

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