4x4th Estate: The very best love stories

We may well be celebrating all types of love here at 4th Estate, but here, just now, in this 4×4, we’re going to be looking at the very best love stories. Though; they may not be the classic love stories you’re expecting…

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

‘There is, after all, a kind of happiness in unhappiness, if it’s the right unhappiness.’


Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom provides a contemporary outlook on the portrayals of love and marriage in postmillennial society. It centres on the Berglund family: Walter, Patty, and their children Joey and Jessica. Joey is fawned over excessively by his mother until he moves in with the staunchly Republican family next door. We witness love as portrayed through a mother and her child, as Patty’s relationship with Joey borders on overwhelming and excessive. Love between parents and their children is examined once more when Franzen depicts Patty’s unstable family history. This retrospective illustrates the cyclical nature of familial love through multiple generations. Patty’s deeply moving account of a tumultuous period in her upbringing demonstrates how love and loyalty can directly oppose one another. The novel is an exploration in time and perspective, providing an unrivalled glimpse into the human mind in times of marital uncertainty and infidelity. In this, Franzen excels. Walter and Patty are not simply examined within the confines of husband and wife; but as individuals with their own conflicting wants and desires. Freedom has been selected for Best Love Stories as it remains an excellent commentary on modern love, as arduous as it is liberating.


Enduring Love by Ian McEwan

‘When it’s gone, you’ll know what a gift love was. You’ll suffer like this. So go back and fight to keep it.’


In one of the most masterfully realised opening chapters, the once structured and comfortable life of Joe Rose is devastated by a ballooning accident. In its aftermath, a brief exchange passes between Joe and a stranger named Jed Parry. Unbeknownst to Joe, something powerful passes between the two men, and Jed develops obsessive feelings towards him. McEwan’s 1997 novel Enduring Love explores the raw and unrelenting power of love as delusion. Jed suffers from de Clerambault’s syndrome (erotomania); a form of delusion in which the affected individual believes that another is in love with them. This novel has been selected for Best Love Stories because of McEwan’s treatment of the subject. This novel portrays a character wholly gripped by what he believes to be love, relentless in his attempts to win over the subject of his affections. His novel holds up a mirror towards preconceptions of normative love, providing readers with the argument that Parry’s love is no less real than any other.


Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

‘It was love at first sight, at last sight, at ever and ever sight.’


Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 novel Lolita is many things: a complex game of language; a satirical outlook on the sexualisation of youth; a post-war road novel; a disturbed and wonderful love story. As one of the most famously unreliable narrators in history, Humbert Humbert seduces the reader into his tale spun from perversion and manipulation. Readers become complicit in Humbert’s obsessive love and are swept away by the ‘fancy prose style’ for which such figures are notorious, as the conflict between aesthetics and morality continually offset one another throughout the novel. While Humbert’s love is both transgressive and forbidden, one cannot help falling prey to his mask of sincerity. Yes, Humbert is evil. Yes, this story is beyond devastating. Yes. But isn’t it kind of amazing too? Nabokov’s novel has made it onto this list because, despite these qualities, it succeeds in eliciting empathy. Perhaps the most shocking element in the novel is the manner in which we identify with Humbert; the various ways we recognise him as the embodiment of love in all its forms. Lolita stands as one of the most artfully crafted novels of the twentieth century and it remains one of the most beautiful love stories you’ll ever read, pushing the boundaries of morality in ways that both frighten and fascinate.


Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez

‘The only regret I will have in dying is if it is not for love.’

love cholera

Love in the Time of Cholera is by no means a simple love story. Márquez flouts typical conventions and delves into the minutiae, providing a compelling portrait of lives in love. Occurring predominantly in an unnamed port city, we meet Florentino and Fermina who fall madly in love with another during their youth. However, Fermina eventually decides to marry a wealthy doctor, leaving Florentino devastated. He is a hopeless romantic, and vows that he will not stop loving her. As the novel progresses, it becomes a story not just about Florentino and Fermina, but an exploration into love and all its variations. We witness the trials of marital love; the good years and bad. Obsessive, jealous love; dangerous love, and lasting love from afar. Love in the Time of Cholera is populated with a number of interconnected characters, each with individual desires and conceptions of love.These characters become the vehicle through which Márquez examines the most powerful human emotion, making this a perfect end to our list of Best Love Stories.


Words by Laura Knowles

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