A great love story evokes big emotions, capturing the highs and lows of a romantic partnership while drawing on deeper issues of hope, devotion, and betrayal. From cherished classics to swoon-worthy new novels, here are a selection of literary love stories that we absolutely adore.
14 Sweeping Literary Love Stories
Beyond That, the Sea
By Laura Spence-Ash
Laura Spence-Ash’s gorgeous coming-of-age debut is more than a typical literary love story; it’s a moving meditation on loss, forgiveness, intimacy, and the very idea of home. At the heart of the narrative, which begins during WWII, is Beatrix Thompson, an 11-year-old from England whose working-class parents send her to America to escape the Blitz. At first Bea is hurt by the separation, yet she soon grows to treasure her new life in the States and develops deepening connections with her host family, the Gregorys. But when the war in Europe ends, Bea is summoned back to England, where she finds her loyalties tested in her quest for love and belonging. Beautifully told as it moves across the years, Beyond That, the Sea is a “marvel” (bestselling author Ann Packer).
The Four Winds
By Kristin Hannah
Kristin Hannah's tour de force The Four Winds is a love story, but not in the way you think. As we follow protagonist Elsa Martinelli through the trials and tribulations of the Dust Bowl era, her story of struggle is one also marked by the strong bonds of love that keep her family going as outside forces seek to fracture them. After all, love is what remains when everything else is gone.
Like Water for Chocolate
By Laura Esquivel
Laura Esquivel’s acclaimed Like Water for Chocolate is a delectable literary treat that every book lover deserves. The magical realism novel is set in Mexico, on the De la Garza ranch, where domineering matriarch Mama Elena runs a tight ship as she awaits the birth of her baby. But Elena’s daughter, Tita, is born early, just as Elana is chopping up onions for soup. The unexpected birth creates an enchanting connection between Tita and food; she grows into a master chef who expresses her heart’s desires through the meals she cooks. Such a culinary gift comes in handy when Tita falls in love with a man named Pedro — but Mama Elena demands that Pedro marry Tita’s sister instead.
Love in the Time of Cholera
By Gabriel García Márquez
While the title may not scream romance, we promise that Love in the Time of Cholera is an exquisite literary love story. Written by Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Márquez, the novel centers on three individuals bound together by passion: the enchanting Fermina Daza, the lovesick Florentino Ariza, and Dr. Juvenal Urbino. Florentino yearns to be with Fermina; Dr. Urbino is the suitor who won Fermina’s hand in marriage many years ago. Spanning over 50 years, Love in the Time of Cholera reminds us of the sacrifices we make in matters of the heart and the undying power of true love.
The Time Traveler's Wife
By Audrey Niffenegger
Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife has been made into both a movie and a television show, but the novel is definitely worth a read even if you’ve seen both book-to-screen adaptations. The bestselling narrative centers on Henry DeTamble, a librarian in Chicago who can travel through time but has no control over when or where it happens. Henry falls for a woman named Clare Abshire, and, as you can imagine, their relationship is complicated by Henry’s tendency to jump through time to different points of their affair. A dizzying literary love story with a dash of speculative fiction magic thrown in for good measure, The Time Traveler’s Wife is sure to please.
The Other Boleyn Girl
By Philippa Gregory
We conclude our list with Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl, a sumptuous historical fiction novel about love, ambition, power, betrayal, jealousy, and so much more. The narrative centers on Mary Boleyn, who falls hard for King Henry VIII after meeting him at court. Soon, however, Mary finds herself at the center of a high-stakes power play when her family demands that she step aside so that her sister, Anne, can take her place in Henry’s bed. This bestselling novel is a love story, of course, but it’s also a twisted royal family drama, a commentary on power and status, and a deeply engaging reimagining of history.
By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
In this national bestseller, award-winning author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie delivers an “epic love story” that “pulls no punches with regard to race, class, and the high-risk, heart-tearing struggle for belonging in a fractured world” (O, The Oprah Magazine). Americanah follows Ifemelu and Obinze, two lovers in Nigeria who escape the military rule of their home country and head for the West. It’s here, however, that their paths diverge: Ifemelu settles in America, where she reckons with new racial realities and the false promises of the American dream, while Obinze ends up in England, striving to stay afloat as an undocumented immigrant. Many years later, the pair reunite in Nigeria. They’re now two very different people — but do they still yearn to be as one?
The Light Over London
By Julia Kelly
Julia Kelly’s The Light Over London is an entrancing tale of heartbreak and triumph that stretches across the decades. The book begins with Cara Hargraves, a young woman in the present who finds an old tin in the antique shop where she works. Inside the tin are a diary and a photograph, which lead Car (and us) back to wartime London, 1941. As German bombs rain down on the city, 19-year-old Louise Keene enlists in the British Army’s “Gunner Girl” anti-aircraft unit after her lover, a flight lieutenant, is deployed into battle. Will Louise reunite with her love? Our lips are sealed. But half the fun is experiencing it all through Cara’s eyes.
Tipping the Velvet
By Sarah Waters
In her acclaimed debut, Sarah Waters delivers an “erotic and absorbing” (New York Times Book Review) queer romance set in the raucous music halls of Victorian England. Tipping the Velvet centers on Nan King, an oyster girl who becomes enamored with Kitty Butler, a male impersonator. Nan attends all of Kitty’s shows, arranges a meeting, and eventually joins her as a double act. As the story progresses, Nan and Kitty’s friendship blossoms into love, but they must keep their passion hidden in an era when same-sex attraction is forbidden.
By Colm Tóibín
Colm Tóibín created “one of the most unforgettable characters in contemporary literature” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) in this beloved work of literary fiction. Set in the early 1950s, Brooklyn follows Eilis Lacey, a young woman from Ireland who leaves her homeland for New York City thanks to the sponsorship of a priest. Eilis hopes to find good work in the States, though it means leaving behind her mother and sister. Upon her arrival, Eilis falls for Tony, an Italian American with a big family that’s very different from her own. But when Eilis gets devastating news from back home, she must return to Ireland, threatening the future she has begun to build in America.
The English Patient
By Michael Ondaatje
The English Patient, written by Michael Ondaatje, is another sweeping love story that we come back to time and time again. The Booker Prize–winning novel follows four people brought together in a battered Italian villa at the end of World War II. There’s Hana, a Canadian Army nurse, Caravaggio, a thief with a distressing past, Kip, a Sikh British Army soldier, and a mysterious patient who has been burned beyond recognition. Over the course of the epic novel, we hear their stories, including the English patient’s passionate adventures in the North African desert, and discover how they intersect.
If Beale Street Could Talk
By James Baldwin
From the incomparable James Baldwin, If Beale Street Could Talk is a powerful story of love and injustice in contemporary America. Set in Harlem in the 1970s, the novel follows Tish and Fonny, two young lovers who grew up together and are now set to be married. The couple are expecting their first child, but their dreams are dashed when Fonny is charged with a crime he didn’t commit. As both families strive to clear Fonny’s name, Fonny and Tish fight to keep their love alive in the face of an uncertain future.
North and South
By Elizabeth Gaskell
Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South is a timeless literary romance that also tackles issues of class, poverty, and workplace inequality. The historical love story is set around the time of the Industrial Revolution and is influenced by the author’s own experiences during that period. When Margaret Hope moves from bucolic southern England to an industrial center in the north, she quickly regrets it. The air is filthy and the din of the factories unbearable. She also dislikes John Thornton, the charismatic owner of the local cotton mill. Yet as simmering tensions within the town threaten to boil over, Margaret and John find themselves drawn together by matters of conscience as well as of the heart.
By A.S. Byatt
Calling all historical fiction fans: In Possession, A.S. Byatt’s Booker Prize–winning novel, a pair of young academics discover a steamy affair between two poets from the Victorian era. Together the scholars trace the hidden romance from London to Yorkshire through unearthed letters and clues hidden within poems. As details about the liaison come to light, both scholars also discover fiery truths within their own hearts that draw them closer together.