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Kerre Woodham’s Favourite Love Stories

Media Release 11 February 2008

Find your Inner Saint Valentine with Kerre Woodham’s Favourite Love Stories

Ah, February! It’s the month of romance, and what better way to get yourself in the mood for love than by reading a classic love story. I’ve selected my five favourites, in no particular order – although to be fair, I cheated a bit by lumping Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre in the same category. If you’re going to make me stick with five, I’ll go with Jane Eyre. But I’d love to know what you consider to be the greatest love story ever written. Nominate your favourite by visiting and registering your choice and you’re in with the chance to win a Paper Plus Gift Card valued at $200 or one of ten book packs containing Kerre’s top picks. Happy Valentine’s Day, and happy reading.

A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena de Blasi
If one of my girlfriends came to me and said she was leaving her job, selling her house and moving countries to be with a man she’d known for just a couple of months, I’d have said she was absolutely mad. And yet that is precisely what happened to Marlena. While she’s sitting in a bar in Venice on a working holiday with friends, the phone rings, and it’s for her. No one could know she is in the bar, but the waiter insists that the phone is for Marlena. And thus begins a train of events that leads her to falling in love when she thought she was too old for such nonsense. Fernando had spotted her a year ago, on her last visit to Venice, and had decided that this vision – this half-glimpse – of a woman in a white coat was the woman he would spend the rest of his life with. It’s an unlikely combination – he’s an ascetic who’s worked in a bank all his life and exists in a Spartan apartment; she is a voluptuary, a chef who adores food and wine and comfort and pleasure. And yet it works. Both of them are old enough to understand the importance of compromise in any relationship and they are blessed with being so head over heels in love that nothing fazes them – although I have to say I think Marlena is a saint. Fernando sounds . . . complicated. But as she says, ‘Fernando is a first choice. I never had to talk myself into loving him, to balance out his defects and merits on a yellow pad.’ Marlena’s style of writing might be a bit florid for some tastes but that’s just her. And the best thing of all about her love story is that it’s true – and therefore the possibility exists that the same thing could happen to any one of us. Gorgeous.

Edwin and Matilda by Laurence Fearnley
Oh this is beautiful. It’s described as an unlikely love story, and by crikey, it is, but I thought it was one of the most splendid books I’ve read for a long time. Sixty-two-year-old Edwin has recently handed over his photography business to his neighbour’s son and retired. Most people go on trips when they give up work and Edwin is no exception – except he’s on a mission. He’s going to try to track down the mother who abandoned both himself and his father when Edwin was just a boy. All he has to go on is a picture in a magazine, but before he gets too old, and more to the point, his mother gets too old, Edwin wants to track her down and ask why she left. The only clue he has is that his mother once worked as a mountain guide at Mount Cook so he points the car in that direction. Along the way, he stops to give portrait photographs that were never picked up to a young couple – they were the last two he photographed. And he finds Matilda on her own, the marriage having been called off at the last moment. Matilda is young – early twenties – but her upbringing and a dreadful attack a few years ago have left her scarred. What follows is a beautiful love story of two lost souls finding one another against all the odds. I loved it. When Edwin – a man who’s lived alone all his life – finally opens up to Matilda, he writes, ‘I thought my heart would break. Not from joy or sorrow but simply from use.’ How’s that for beautiful writing. It’s unorthodox. Shocking. And not everybody’s idea of a love story. But it’s one of my favourites of all time.

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Florentino Ariza has been in love with Fermina Daza ever since he first saw her as a young girl. He courted her through the written word, through telegraphs and letters, for two years, but when he proposes marriage and she accepts via a letter on the condition that he does not make her eat eggplant, her furious father takes her away on a voyage to forget this unsuitable man. Ariza vows to wait for her, but on her return, Fermina realises she has made a mistake. She is not in love with Florentino and in a two-line letter, she rejects him out of hand. Florentino vows he will never, ever love another and he will wait for as long as it takes for Fermina to love him back. And he does. Although Fermina goes on to marry a powerfully connected and respected doctor, although they grow old and infirm, Florentino waits – well, his heart does. His body is busy bonking all and sundry and he never, ever allows himself to fall in love with any of his numerous conquests. Finally, fifty-one years, nine months and four days after Fermina rejected him, he gets his chance to woo her again. Her husband dies and so Florentino begins his courtship of Fermina. Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a truly great writer and this is his most beautiful work. Love in the Time of Cholera is the story of love in all its guises – marital love, carnal love, spiritual love and enduring love, and for me, it’s the most beautiful love story ever written.

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
More than 28 million copies of this classic love story have been sold since it was published in 1936 and that’s hardly surprising. This is one of the greats. Even if you’ve seen the film, you’ve got to read the book, although set yourself plenty of time to do so. It’s a blockbuster – more than a thousand pages. I first read GWTW when I was laid up in bed with the Russian flu at the age of 14. The combination of high fever, teenage hormones and Margaret Mitchell’s fabulous writing combined to make this one hell of a reading experience. I didn’t just relate to Scarlett and Rhett and Ashley – I WAS Scarlett, tossing and stamping and playing her men like violins. The Civil War raged and Atlanta burned and Rhett that fabulous cad was undone by Scarlett’s capricious cruelty. Scarlett is a wicked, selfish, fickle, brave and utterly believable heroine and George Clooney is probably the 21st century reincarnation of Rhett. And the conversations between the two are fabulous – Rhett tells Scarlett, ‘No, I don’t think I will kiss you, although you need kissing, badly. That’s what’s wrong with you. You should be kissed and often, and by someone who knows how.’ Delicious!

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte / Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte / Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Take your pick really from any of these classic love stories, so long as you have at least one of them on your shelves. Personally, I always found Emily Bronte’s gothic tale of love and obsession just a wee bit spooky. Love stories for me have to have some happiness, and Heathcliff and Catherine’s torture of one another is too cruel to truly be considered love. If Heathcliff had been roaming the moors bellowing for Cathy in this day and age, he’d have had a restraining order slapped on him before his gruel had cooled on the kitchen table. Still, there are many academics who consider this one of the greatest love stories ever told, and who am I to argue? I preferred Jane Eyre because in this romantic novel, Jane is able to rise above her station of orphan and governess and marry the lord of the manor, and poor unhappy Mr Rochester is saved through her love. And Pride and Prejudice has enjoyed a renaissance of popularity thanks to the television and film adaptation of Austen’s 1813 classic. Henceforth, whenever I’m reading this story, Darcy will have the face of Colin Firth. It’s certainly a love story, but it’s much more than that – Austen’s witty observations of middle-class morals and manners, as well as her caustic commentary on human nature, has ensured that Pride and Prejudice is as valid today as when it was first published.


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