The path to love rarely follows a straight line, and no one knows that better than the authors that appear on our list of seven unconventional love stories. The first title on the list comes from award-winning author Julian Barnes. The Only Story is a stunning novel about a man on the cusp of adulthood and a woman who has long been there. It’s a love story you don’t see every day, with a wealth of profound sadness, sheer beauty, and deep truth.
Check out the rest of the list for more unusual love stories to warm your heart on these cold winter nights.
The Only Story by Julian Barnes
“Beautifully done. . . . Heartrending.” —NPR
One summer in the sixties, in a staid suburb south of London, nineteen-year-old Paul comes home from university and is urged by his mother to join the tennis club. There he’s partnered with Susan Macleod, a fine player who’s forty-eight, confident, witty, and married, with two nearly adult daughters. She is a warm companion, her bond with Paul immediate. And soon, inevitably, they are lovers.
Decades later, Paul looks back at how they fell in love and how—gradually, relentlessly—everything fell apart. Poignant, vivid and profound, The Only Story is a searing novel of memory, devotion, and how first love fixes a life forever.
“This shining and heartbreaking novel may be one of the greatest love stories ever told.” —The New York Times Book Review
In their youth, Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza fall passionately in love. When Fermina eventually chooses to marry a wealthy, well-born doctor, Florentino is devastated, but he is a romantic. As he rises in his business career he whiles away the years in 622 affairs–yet he reserves his heart for Fermina. Her husband dies at last, and Florentino purposefully attends the funeral. Fifty years, nine months, and four days after he first declared his love for Fermina, he will do so again.
“Norwegian Wood not only points to but manifests the author’s genius.” —Chicago Tribune
Toru, a serious young college student in Tokyo, is devoted to Naoko, a beautiful and introspective young woman, but their mutual passion is marked by the tragic death of their best friend years before. As Naoko retreats further into her own world, Toru finds himself drawn to a fiercely independent and sexually liberated young woman.
A magnificent coming-of-age story steeped in nostalgia, Norwegian Wood blends the music, the mood, and the ethos that were the sixties with a young man’s hopeless and heroic first love.
“Part love story, part fable, and a knockout debut. . . . The Night Circus defies both genres and expectations.” —The Boston Globe
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.
But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences.
“A delicate, sneakily devastating evocation of place and character. . . . The novel is quiet but never complacent.” —The New Yorker
In the familiar setting of Holt, Colorado, home to all of Kent Haruf’s inimitable fiction, Addie Moore pays an unexpected visit to a neighbor, Louis Waters. Her husband died years ago, as did his wife, and in such a small town they naturally have known of each other for decades. Addie and Louis have long been living alone in empty houses, the nights so terribly lonely, especially with no one to talk with. But maybe that could change? As Addie and Louis come to know each other better—their pleasures and their difficulties—a beautiful story of second chances unfolds.
“Intensely absorbing. . . . O’Farrell writes novels in which you can happily lose yourself.” —NPR
Daniel Sullivan leads a complicated life. A New Yorker living in the wilds of Ireland, he has children he never sees in California, a father he loathes in Brooklyn, and his wife, Claudette, is a reclusive ex–film star given to pulling a gun on anyone who ventures up their driveway. Together, they have made an idyllic life in the country, but a secret from Daniel’s past threatens to destroy their meticulously constructed and fiercely protected home.
“Spellbinding. . . . A page-turning adventure that will keep you reading well past bedtime.” —The Boston Globe
On a dark road in the middle of the night, a car plunges into a ravine. The driver survives the crash, but his injuries confine him to a hospital burn unit. There the mysterious Marianne Engel, a sculptress of grotesques, enters his life. She insists they were lovers in medieval Germany, when he was a mercenary and she was a scribe in the monastery of Engelthal. As she spins the story of their past lives together, the man’s disbelief falters; soon, even the impossible can no longer be dismissed.