Amid the cold, dark mists of an Edinburgh winter filled with the gloomy prospects of a hatred-fuelled General Election and the ever-dreaded exams, students would be forgiven for failing to see light among the grey monotony of these pre-Christmas weeks. Yet, away from the Brexit-obsessed politicians who clog up your television screen, the endless past papers that litter your desk and the flustered friends panicking about presents for partners they will have left by February, you can take solace in the bookcase gems of romance to add shine to the December doldrums and bring hope to the heart.
Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
If you’d like to feel cosy, content, and like you’re being given a big old hug this festive season, look no further than Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue. A queer romance set in a utopian society where the First Son of the United States and the Prince of England embark on a forbidden love affair, this book is a sap and it knows it. Alex Clairmont-Diaz is the charming, all-American aspiring politician and Prince Henry is the well-spoken, dashing rights activist, but they are both so much more than caricatures. McQuiston’s characters are three-dimensional, complicated, real humans who sometimes stress out too much, all of which makes watching them fall in love all the more endearing.
While the book is let down by clunky writing in places, it more than makes up for it in wit, sass, and heart. So go on, grab a woolly blanket, find an appropriately quaint armchair, and settle in for a crash course in international relations.
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières
None can help escape from chill, lonely nights in a heating-less flat more than the gloriously toldo Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, which holds a golden Mediterranean scene of the dazzling Cephalonia that would bring a glow to the reader’s face on its own. When cast as a backdrop to the rich tapestry of Louis de Bernières’ wonderfully eccentric characters, the island becomes enchanted with a community that bursts vibrantly from the page.
At the centre of the novel’s many narratives is the heart-warming dynamic between the wry cynic, Dr Iannis, and his defiant, beautiful daughter, Pelagia, as she makes her first forays into love. First, in her whirlwind infatuation for the local fisherman, Mandras, fuelled by physical desire and laughs, then in her gradual falling for Corelli, Pelagia travels through love’s joys and struggles with an emotive intensity that carries readers along with her.
Against the struggles of wartime occupation, the novel shows love’s survival, revels in its ability to unite and its power to destroy, and mixes heart-wrenching agony with side-splitting humour. On the icy evenings ahead, dive into de Bernieres’ masterful story-telling for a warming of the heart as he explores the strength of human love, in all its many forms.
One Day by David Nicholls
Every chapter in One Day describes a day in the life on our protagonists, Emma and Dexter, over the course of their complicated 20-year friendship and romance. The first chapter describes the day they graduate from our very own University of Edinburgh and flirt their way up Arthur’s Seat together; from there the novel takes us through their struggles and successes in their fluctuating careers, and how they grow apart as Emma takes a job as a waiter-slash-author and Dexter becomes an insufferable, pretentious, coked-up TV presenter. Outgrowing and regrowing their friendship over the years, the pair never seem to be happy with their direction in life until their paths begin to intermingle for the better.
Inspired by Kundera’s Unberable Lightness of Being, Nicholl’s novel is not just chick lit – it’s conceptually beautiful, its unusual day-in-the-life format taking it beyond ‘just a love story’ to an exploration of the way time passes us by, how friendships grow and wither, how life sneaks up on you and how tables turn. There is something fundamentally humbling in watching these two characters, so very human and fallible, navigate their imperfect relationship.
If, like me, you have a soft spot for any novel set in beloved Edinburgh, One Day is the kind of romance you can revisit again and again when the days start to draw short in this romantic city.
Illustration: Hazel Laing