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Modern Love: Great Contemporary Love Stories for Valentine's Day

Posted on 19th January 2021 by Mark Skinner

We are all familiar with literature's totemic love stories, from Romeo and Juliet and Pride and Prejudice to Gone With the Wind and Doctor Zhivago. But there are plenty of modern novels that deal in affairs of the heart, be it forbidden desire or the complexities of married love. Ahead of Valentine's Day, these twenty books culled from the past twenty (-ish) years prove that when it comes to love and relationships contemporary authors remain head over heels about a spot of romance.       

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A decade after his phenomenal bestseller One Day, David Nicholls returns with a bittersweet and brilliantly funny coming-of-age tale, that explores - over one life-changing summer - the transformative impact of first love in an ordinary life.
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Heart-breaking and evocative, Call Me By Your Name chronicles the sexual awakening of seventeen-year-old Elio at the hands of the experienced Oliver in the warmth of the Italian Riviera.
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A pensioner and her granddaughter swap places for eight weeks in O’Leary’s enchanting and hilarious follow-up to the bestselling The Flatshare.
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Addressing issues of race and dislocation, Adichie’s bold and expansive novel functions perfectly as both a love story and a powerful political statement about the human cost of military conflict.
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A sensuous and rip-roaring tale of an oyster girl turned music-hall star and the famous vaudeville performer for whom she falls, Tipping the Velvet stages a twisty lesbian love story in the freewheeling circles of Victorian London.
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Through a sparkling coming-of-age of jazz bar habitué Katey Kontent in the glamour of interwar Manhattan, Rules of Civility paints a bewitching portrait of the complexities and contradictions of an extraordinary age.
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Centred on the growing bond between an elderly couple, the great Kent Haruf’s final novel is a tender, beautifully judged tale of human connections made in the twilight of life.
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Deploying science fiction tropes in service of an exquisite love story, Niffenegger chronicles a heart-breaking, unique tale of a man who periodically changes age, and the enduring passion between him and his beloved.
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Utilising a hostage siege in a Latin American embassy to interrogate ideas of loyalty, belonging and love, Patchett’s Orange Prize-winning masterpiece is a triumph of nuanced characterisation and storytelling craft.
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Returning to the country that has inspired some of her best-loved fiction, Hislop’s enthralling new novel explores love across battle lines and the lasting repercussions of splintered loyalty.
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A beautifully crafted love story filled with repressed passion and festering jealousy, McEwan’s rich, character-driven narrative examines the nature of guilt and the onerous quest for redemption.
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Capturing the zeitgeist with all the skill and subtlety of her debut, Conversations with Friends, Sally Rooney’s Normal People is both a study of how one person can irrevocably shape another, and a profound examination of love, power and influence.
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Through a narrative that alternates hysterical humour with profoundly touching drama, The Rosie Project introduces Don Tillman, obsessively organized yet perennially unlucky in love.
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A profound panorama of British politics, sex and society in the Thatcherite 1980s, Hollinghurst’s Booker Prize-winning novel sees naïve Nick Guest enter the orbit of a Tory MP and his glamorous family.
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Suffused with the exotic passion of Sufi mysticism and couched in lyrical prose, Shafak’s paean to rediscovering love and identity is an exquisitely judged testament to faith and belief.
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Employing the sublime beauty of music as a metaphor for all-consuming passion, Seth’s incandescent masterpiece details the forbidden love between a violinist and a married pianist who is slowly going deaf.
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A beloved debut that has become something of a cult classic, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an acute and affecting take on American high school life with all its attendant insecurities, hormonal dramas and romantic awkwardness.
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An intimate, immersive study of identity and parenthood, Ordinary People tackles themes of sex and grief, friendship and aging, and the fragile architecture of love in twenty-first century South London.
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Set amidst the rarefied residences and shady hang-outs of the London art world, Rothschild’s sparklingly witty romantic crime caper crackles with energy and delirious escapism.
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An elegant, nuanced novel about the burden of creativity and the sexual passion that fuels the artistic process, Burton’s follow-up to the former Waterstones Book of the Year The Miniaturist, is an electrifying dual narrative blessed with epic sweep and evocative prose.
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