top 5 wednesday: Favorite Angsty Romances

Top Five Wednesday was created by Lainey from gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Check out the goodreads group to learn more.

March 22nd- Favorite Angsty Romances

This is a great topic, but it’s a bit tricky since I don’t read the romance genre. I don’t think I ever have. Actually, that’s a lie. When I was younger, my family used to rent a cabin by a lake in upstate New York for a week every summer, and the only book in that entire cabin was some tawdry 80’s historical romance novel, which my best friend and I found absolutely hilarious for some reason, so every time we saw it we’d read random passages out loud to each other. This was the beginning and end of my career as a romance reader.

But I still wanted to see if I could come up with 5 within the genres that I do read, which it turns out I can! Because let’s be real, while I may not be much of a romantic, I love angst.  So here we go…

41cigepew5l-_sy344_bo1204203200_The Secret History by Donna Tartt (Francis Abernathy & Charles Macaulay): Though far from perfect, this is probably one of my top 5 all-time favorite books. I was fascinated by the dynamics between this group of characters, but there’s one relationship in particular that stands out to me, that I couldn’t get out of my head for weeks after reading.  Francis/Charles is a miserable, unrequited pairing – Francis is in love with Charles, who’s in love with someone else (spoilers!), who won’t even fully acknowledge his bisexuality, who only agrees to have sex with Francis when he’s had too much to drink.  Francis is my favorite character in TSH, and I have to admit, in fiction I’m really drawn to this particular self-destructive dynamic where a character knowingly embarks on a relationship that isn’t going to end well.  I feel like this relationship isn’t even examined in the novel to its full potential, and I can’t help but to try to fill in the gaps in my mind, about how they were first drawn to each other, about what they might be able to become under different circumstances.  Because in so many ways, they’re what the other character needs to be – Francis with his false bravado admiring Charles for his natural charisma, and Charles admiring Francis’ openness about his sexuality.  I find their dynamic far more interesting than any of the endgame pairings in this book.


A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara: I feel sort of weird putting A Little Life on a romance list, because this book is decidedly not a romance. However, there is a relationship in this book – one that I found profoundly, devastatingly, horribly sad and beautiful, and thinking about these two haunts me still. I actually consider the relationship in question a bit of a spoiler since it doesn’t begin until half-way through the book, and until that point it’s a major uncertainty as to whether this relationship will ever happen, so, A Little Life fans, highlight the rest of the sentence to read on (I apologize if you’re viewing this in reader, where the white text doesn’t work)! Also major SPOILERS for the ending, so if you haven’t read this book yet, beware. (Jude St. Francis & Willem Ragnarsson.) The pure depth of the love between these two characters is beautiful and devastating. Their relationship – in all its manifestations, from friendship to romance and everything in between – is horribly, aggravatingly imperfect. And yet. That’s exactly what’s so resonant about this book, and this couple in particular – their love is no less important and no less strong for how difficult it is. MAJOR SPOILER: a particular kryptonite of mine is when two characters are in a relationship and one dies, and the one who’s left behind is the ‘wrong’ one, because they’re the one who’ll have the harder time living without the other. That’s exactly what Hanya did to us here, and I cried my eyes out when Willem died (me!!! I never cry!), not only because I loved him as a character, but because I felt Jude’s loss so acutely. This book destroyed me in every way possible, and the love between Willem and Jude was hugely at the center of the reason why.

11250317The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (Achilles & Patroclus): I mean, I loved Achilles/Patroclus long before The Song of Achilles came along, but there’s definitely a distinction between their characterization in Homer, and the characters that Miller creates. Some Iliad purists detest The Song of Achilles for exactly this reason – Miller renders Achilles far, FAR more likable than he was ever meant to be, and Patroclus far more helpless. However, if you can look past the liberties Miller takes and enjoy this book as its own separate entity, The Song of Achilles is a beautiful story, and I found myself drawn into her version of Achilles’ and Patroclus’ relationship so fully that I was truly devastated by the ending, even though I knew exactly what was coming.  The Song of Achilles aims to fill in gaps, chronicling Achilles and Patroclus’ relationship from friends to lovers, from a childhood raised in the palace of Achilles’ father to the battlegrounds of the Trojan War.  It’s an epic, timeless romance, and a tragic story of two soulmates who love each other completely.  I mean, even in Homer, their ashes are mixed together so they won’t be apart even in death.  How can you beat that?!

pillars-of-the-earthThe Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett (Jack Jackson & Aliena of Shiring): The Pillars of the Earth is such an sweepingly epic story and I can’t help but get caught up in the lives of these characters. And it’s always so devastating when you have two characters who are meant to be together, but it takes them impossibly long to get there. That’s Jack and Aliena in a nutshell, and I adore them. Early on in the book Aliena is sexually assaulted, and so much of her narrative and her relationship with Jack is about recovery, which isn’t by any means fast or simple.  There’s a particular trope I hate where a woman is raped and her true love helps her heal, which is bullshit (in that it often minimizes her trauma and makes it about the male character), but that’s not the way this relationship is written at all.  Aliena’s narrative is largely about personal recovery, and Jack eventually factors into her story; not the other way around.  It’s extremely well written and convincing and at times horribly sad.  I’m really not much of a romantic, but I’ll admit, this line really got me: “She wanted to say, I love you like a thunderstorm, like a lion, like a helpless rage; but instead she said: “I think I’m going to marry Alfred.””  Also highly recommended is the BBC miniseries, with Eddie Redmayne and Hayley Atwell in these roles.

1371The Iliad by Homer (Hector & Andromache): It is a truth universally acknowledged that the single most devastating scene in the Iliad is the one where Hector is saying goodbye to his wife Andromache and infant son before returning to battle.  The tragedy of Hector is that his fate was entirely unavoidable, not because he was fighting for personal glory like Achilles on the other side, but because he was fighting to protect his family.  Also tragic is the fact that one of the last things he says to Andromache is that he’d sooner die than see her become a war prize, which of course is eventually what happens to her (as well as the murder of their son) after his death.  Things were never going to end happily for these two, so it’s that horribly sad inevitability that always gets to me when I’m reading this famous domestic scene between them.  You can’t help but to get caught up in the ‘what if’s, and think about the life they might have had together.

What are some of your favorite angsty romances?  Comment and let me know!

17 thoughts on “top 5 wednesday: Favorite Angsty Romances

  1. Oh my god I was going to add Jack and Aliena as well! But in the end, I chose another book because its romance had a much stronger impact on me. I absolutely love ‘The Pillars of The Earth’ but their romance wasn’t the main reason why I loved it. I remember finishing the book and feeling utterly emotionally exhausted but at the same time so sad that it was over. No doubt one of my favourite books. Have you read the sequel, World Without End (lol guess what inspired my url), yet? x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agreed completely, the romance was so secondary to the amazing story for me, but I was so pleased with how well it was written and how much I ended up rooting for them! I felt the same way after I finished, so drained and exhilarated at the same time. They’re some of the most vivid characters I’ve spent any time with, I loved all of the protagonists and even enjoyed the antagonists as some incredibly well written villains.

      No, I haven’t read World Without End yet (but guessed that’s where your url was from)! It’s on my list but I don’t think I own a copy, so I need to track it down. How did it compare to Pillars for you?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes omg I was rooting for the characters so much, and the ending, god I swear there has never been any more satisfying ending to a book that just ties in everything so masterfully and beautiful.
        It took me some time to start reading the second book because I was (am) still not over the first, but I loved it! The characters are just as amazing as the first, me favourite being Caris who is just so… amazing. And we don’t have to wait 400 pages into the book to get her perspective. I don’t think the book was better than the first, but it was almost as great! The reason is that no sequel could ever beat it when it comes to experiencing the first book. But I really think you should give it a shot!

        Liked by 1 person

      • YES the ending was so great. Have you watched the miniseries? I actually thought it was mostly a great adaptation, but I didn’t like the ending at all, especially what they did with Waleran. The ~symbolism~ was way too on the nose.

        That’s great that it was almost as good as Pillars (I know what you mean, it would be really hard to beat). I’ll definitely give it a shot! And I love well developed female protagonists, so I look forward to Caris! It may not be for a while, but I’ll tag you in my review whenever I get to it. I also want to reread Pillars, but I’ve got so many other books to read!! That struggle.

        Liked by 1 person

      • No I haven’t seen the mini-series, have to do that sometime! Yes you must tag me in the review once you’ve read it 😀 Oh I totally feel you, there are so many books I want to re-read but then there are so many books I want to start! It’s so frustrating D:

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’d definitely recommend checking out the miniseries! It’s really well done and has some great performances. David Oakes as William in particular is exceptional. The fact that he actually managed to add depth and nuance to William haunted me!!

        Liked by 1 person

      • William?? Seriously?? Holy shit how can ome do that?? Yeah I definitely have to watch it now. Though about ‘world without end’ who also has a mini-series (haven’t watched it though) I warn you that the book is NOTHING like the trailer. I remember watching it when I started reading and was like “oh no spoilers!” but no like no scenes or what it gives out itself to be is like the actual book.


      • YES. WILLIAM! He’s still decidedly a villain and a horrible person in the show, but there’s also a glimmer of humanity to him that makes the whole thing rather unsettling (though incredibly well done). They also do a weird incestuous thing with William and Regan, which is… odd, though it does add another dimension to why William turned out the way he did.

        Interesting! Well I’ll definitely read the book first at any rate! The Pillars miniseries follows the book pretty closely, though it does invent and omit a few things.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Holy shit :O yeah I totally agree with you, giving depth to a villain and showing a bit of humanity in them is so unsettling but that makes them even greater villains. Oh yes I’ll definitely watch it!! And good haha I really don’t understand why they changed so much for the World Witout End series :O x

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This is such a great list! I remember being really annoyed with Eddie Redmayne’s character in the Pillars of the Earth adaptation, even though I liked Hayley Atwell and several of the other characters, at the time but I haven’t seen it in ages. A friend put me off the book saying she found the language used too modern and it shocked her out of the setting, but your post is seriously making me reconsider that…

    Liked by 1 person

    • YES I would highly recommend it! I mean, don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of Criticisms and it’s far from a perfect book, but the characters (especially Aliena who is THE BEST) and story are so compelling. Hmm I’m not sure that I’d describe the prose as too modern, it’s definitely not at Renault (and it sounds like Dunnett) levels of denseness, which does make for a pretty quick read, but I still felt completely immersed in the story the entire time. I do know what your friend means about modern prose (I felt that so strongly with that book The Strays that I was telling you about recently) but I didn’t really find that was the case here. iirc there are some anachronisms which is bound to happen with a 1000+ page historical novel, but as far as anachronisms go (characters eating sugar when there wouldn’t have been sugar available etc) I found them pretty inoffensive. All in all definitely worth a shot at least!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Okay, consider it added to my list! I do remember really liking Aliena in the miniseries, and I also really liked the monk(?), the one played by Matthew Macfadyen.

        Well the friend who found it modern does read mostly non-fiction history books and even her fiction favs (the Silmarilion) I gather, read like history, so it might be what bothers her doesn’t bother me. I just had flashbacks to trying the Julie Rose translation of Les Mis and giving up after about 50 pages because some of the word choices just knocked me right out of the story (the Signet Classics edition fit me much better). Thanks for the second opinion, I’ll definitely look into it!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh god no it is definitely not on Julie Rose levels. And I think what makes the Rose translation extra cringey is that she’s translating a book from the 1800s? Which makes the modern prose even more jarring. Signet classics for me too!! When I inevitably read Les Mis again I’m torn between rereading the Signet classics which I ADORE, or trying out something different, I’m thinking Hapgood? But we’ll see.

        Wow your friend sounds pretty hardcore, I love historical fiction but I can’t say I have much experience reading non-fiction history books for fun!


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