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I often struggle to pin down what exactly my favourite types of book are (so don't ask!), but one theme I'll often come back to in my reading is that of relationships. Whether it be between couples or workmates or children, I love books that focus on relationships and character interactions. Bonus points for realism! Here are five books that do that excellently.
1. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
This is easily one of my favourite novels, and one of the novels that I'll buy for people so that they can read it, too! The relationship in question is between married couple Frank and April Wheeler. They have kids. They have a nice house on Revolutionary Road. It all seems peachy. But it's not, as April strives for newness and change while Frank remains chained to his conventional views of married life. It's a heartbreaking portrayal of a couple removed from each other that does not have a happy ending. One of my favourite lines in the novel is when a mentally impaired friend visits and cracks a joke, calling Frank and April, "the nice young revolutionaries on Wheeler Road." I love it because it's so tragic. Despite their dreams and plans, the Wheelers can't and won't be revolutionaries. It's also got a fantastic film adaptation that doesn't compromise on the pain and misery. Which is probably why I haven't sat down with my lovely husband to watch it yet!
2. The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles
This is another novel with a cracking film adaptation starring John Malkovich and Debra Winger that is definitely worth checking out. It deals with another marriage, but this time the relationship between Port and Kit is tested by an alien landscape rather than society's conventions. Port and Kit Moresby travel to the North African desert in order to save their floundering marriage, taking their friend Tunner with them. Bowles follows the trio through the desert where the heat, people, and unfamiliar culture take their toll. It's beautifully written, enthralling stuff that—much like Port and Kit's travels—does not take you quite where you expect.
3. We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
This is an intimidating novel for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it deals with a contentious subject as the plot spirals around the horrific school shooting committed by Kevin in his teens. It is also a pretty chunky read at 416 pages, charting the relationship between Kevin and his mother Eva from his birth to the aftermath of the shooting. But if you decide to give this one a go, stick with it because it is worth every minute you put into it. Knowing about what Kevin will go on to do makes every little detail of his childhood potentially significant as Shriver walks the fine line between the nature/nurture question. Is Kevin born evil, or has Eva made him that way? It's a stunning character study as Eva struggles to come to terms with her son's actions, combing through his childhood for impossible answers to difficult questions raised by his crimes.
4. LA Confidential by James Ellroy
If you read my last article on my best reads of 2018, you'll be aware of the fact that I'm an almost aggressively passionate fan of this novel! And the relationships between the key characters are the big reason why. The plot revolves around three cops: Ed Exley, Bud White, and Jack Vincennes. Each cop has their own way of doing things—Exley dots every "i" and crosses every "t," White shoots most of his problems in the face, and Vincennes does drugs! In Ellroy's hands, these characters grow and change while becoming entangled in one another's work through a complex web of crime centered around a mass shooting at the Nite Owl. We see Vincennes fall from abstinence while Exley and White butt heads, despite the things they have in common. Their relationships are never straightforward and are often unpredictable, making for a gripping read. For my money, the most fascinating relationship is that between Exley and White, as they begin to mirror each other's behaviour; White's brand of thuggery is at its most disturbing and surprising when it is in the hands of Exley.
5. Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy
Now, before you grit your teeth, this is a genuinely happy and sunshiney novel! Yes, I know it's Thomas Hardy. Yes, I know everything else on this list has been a varying shade of grim. But this is a lovely novel that describes all the joyful agony of a new relationship in the English countryside. Dick Dewy and Fancy Day are in love. It's as simple as that, and there's the brilliance as the simplicity of the relationship makes this a wonderfully comforting read. There are trials and tribulations, but only of the most trivial sort and these are easily brushed aside for the big country wedding at the end. You can enjoy it as a gentle love story, or as a wonderful slice of life novel. Hardy never did pastoral bliss better than here. Honest!