The best historical novels to make you believe in love again

The Books I Picked & Why

The Leopard

By Giuseppe Di Lampedusa

Book cover of The Leopard

Why this book?

I love this book because for me it’s the ultimate historical novel; a great epic set in a tumultuous landscape beautifully crafted and utterly engaging. The perfect blend of the personal and the political woven into gloriously intricate emotions. It taught me the importance of character and how the psychology of ambition can shape a whole life as well as destroy a family. The ultimate artistry I inspire towards as a writer, that creates the visceral, vivid landscape I like to get lost in as a reader. 

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The End of the Affair

By Graham Greene

Book cover of The End of the Affair

Why this book?

For anyone who’s had their lives rocked by a clandestine affair or has profoundly fallen in love knowing it will be fatal, this book will hit your heart. A narrative set against the bleakness of post-war bombed-out London, I love the way Greene blends the physical metaphor of this world with his own internal struggles around faith, infidelity, and obsessive love for a self-destructive woman. It showed me that it was okay to love and lose and how one can craft great literature from pain. But more than that, I think it taught me that the passing of time is not just a way of encapsulating memory, it is also a poignant reminder to live in the moment. 

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Love in the Time of Cholera

By Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Book cover of Love in the Time of Cholera

Why this book?

 This book has dipped in and out of my life at different ages, and each time it has a different resonance for me. I guess it taught me at an early age that love is not confined to lust or youth or even impassioned gestures but in the minutia of marriage and also – as the main plot is about an unrequited love of fifty years finally being consummated – as a tenacious ideal kept alive through hope. As an author, it’s a great illustration of visual and emotional complexity made simple through vivid description.

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Orlando: A Biography

By Virginia Woolf

Book cover of Orlando: A Biography

Why this book?

I have included this book for all readers who love a huge narrative arc, in this case, a life that stretches over centuries and changes gender. It was an early influence on me and taught me that fantasy can be powerfully embedded in a plausible historical reality and can be just as powerful and emotionally transforming as a factual biography. Woolf was also a hundred years ahead in terms of nuanced gender and throws out all societal restraints of conventional femineity in her depiction of Orlando, the original his/her hero/ine. 

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Anna Karenina

By Leo Tolstoy

Book cover of Anna Karenina

Why this book?

You don’t have to just have had your heart broken, or be in the grip of an obsessive love to recognize the pain, love, trauma, and joy Tolstoy depicts in this classic. Personally, this tragedy has always resonated for me throughout my life, I guess it’s because of the range and age of the characters, as well as the varied depictions of human entanglement that are both so ordinary and extraordinary. I think also this was a novel that showed me I could set a big personal story against a tumultuous political landscape and still move people. 

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