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.
Equal parts academic and personal, The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson is a study of gender, motherhood, queer theory, and the vessels we all become through love and damage. The descriptions of falling in love in this book destroyed me, in a good way.
For a similarly brutal and perspicacious take on bodies and love, seek out novelist Jenn Ashworth’s first non-fiction book, Notes Made While Falling, published by Goldsmiths Press this October. Both of these works experiment with linear narratives, revealing – on a small scale in their sentences and in the bigger form of their arcs – their authors’ desire to take the female/queer love story away from patriarchal structures.
I just finished Jade Sharma’s novel Problems, and I can’t believe more people aren’t raving about it. Maya has a husband, a lover and a raging heroin addiction. Just your classic love triangle. It’s not the kind of redemption story you might expect and really cracks open the daily inner monologue of a smart woman doing dumb things. Stretching and pinning a marriage wide open, Sharma writes with a fearless rigour. Shades of Jennifer Egan and Katherine Heiny abound in this dark and raucous debut – but the style is so fresh it makes even the word modern seem old.