Unless a miracle happens in the next few days I’m going to be single on Valentine’s Day. Which means 24 hours of avoiding the smug Facebook posts and nauseating couples selfies on Instagram and wallowing in chocolate truffles, raspberry gin and a resolutely unromantic novel. So if like me you’re dreading the big day, or if you simply aren’t a fan of hearts and flowers, here’s my Valentine’s gift to you: my top five anti-valentine reads.
- “Madame Bovary” by Gustav Flaubert – frustration, fantasy, passion, disappointment and finally despair; the miserable cycle of unrealistic romantic ideals is played out with grim clarity in this tragic tale. Emma Bovary’s painful and protracted suicide is one of the most hideous chapters in fiction, dispelling once and for all the Romeo and Juliet-style trope of the swift and somehow romantic lover’s death.
- 2. “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy – from one tragic heroine to another, only this time it’s a well-timed jump in front of a train that brings the suffering to an end. The stigma and social isolation that follow Anna’s separation from her husband are a telling illustration of how men and women are judged so differently when it comes to infidelity – and you have to ask yourself, in all matters relating to love, sex and sensuality, how much has really changed since Tolstoy’s time?
- “Thérèse Desqueyroux” by François Mauriac – if your life hasn’t turned out quite according to plan then why not set about murdering the person getting in your way? Like our first two heroines, Thérèse knows all too well the misery of a loveless marriage, but rather than turning the emotional screws on herself she decides instead to poison her husband. I’m pretty sure you’re not meant to wholeheartedly support her in her crusade, but if there’s a novel that will make you relieved to be single, it’s this one.
- “The Birth of Venus” by Sarah Dunant – let’s up the positivity quotient with a female character who, despite being no stranger to heartbreak and the romantic restrictions imposed by a patriarchal society, manages to maintain a dogged resolve to turn every situation to her advantage if she possibly can. In spite of the tragedy and violent death, this novel of love and passion in Renaissance Italy is strangely uplifting. I didn’t agree with the ending that the author chose to give her heroine, but up until that point this is the perfect novel for any girl trying to make her way in the world.
- “The Final Confession of Mabel Stark” by Robert Hough – if you’re sick of smiling benevolently through gritted teeth as yet another friend parades down the aisle or produces a perfect baby, then seek sanctuary in this wonderful novel about the ultimate defier of social convention, circus performer Mabel Stark. Hers was an eccentric and colourful life, featuring a succession of slightly bizarre relationships with men (and one very bizarre one with a tiger), during which she remained absolutely true to herself and her passions, unorthodox though many of them were. If I raise my Valentine’s glass of gin to anyone this year, it will be Mabel.
See you back on the blog when all the horror of February 14th is over!