by Graeme Simsion)
"You don't find love; love finds you" says the blurb for The Rosie Project. It's romantic to attribute love to serendipity rather than effort, but I think enduring love is something we have to make rather than discover. The most engaging, uplifting and comedic stories come from our efforts to create and sustain love in difficult circumstances with imperfect human materials.
I've ranked my selection of love stories in order of increasing degree of difficulty. The Rosie Project, in which Don Tillman's social ineptitude is the main obstacle, would fall somewhere in the middle. I have sidestepped the romantic challenges faced by vampires.
1. Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding
Bridget Jones suffers no mental or physical illness; there is no war going on around her; she faces no real obstacle besides her own personality. It's obstacle enough. Everyone's heard of this book, but I suspect not many men read it. They should: the pitch-perfect voice and genuinely funny comedy put it in a different class to most chick lit, enough to edge out Nick Hornby's High Fidelity for this "beginners" slot.
2. Daniel Martin by John Fowles
The eponymous protagonist is a screenwriter and novelist, but I read Daniel Martin before I had ambitions of being either. If there was a connection, it was with the idea of love being thwarted by circumstances but never entirely extinguished. Daniel's love is for his friend's wife Jane, who is also the sister of his estranged wife. When his friend dies, Daniel is in a new relationship, but decides to take Jane on a cruise to the Middle East. When I read Daniel Martin 25 years ago, I was well placed to judge his rendering of the moral dilemma and emotional turmoil, though not to the extent of "wife's sister", which I'd suggest is a no-go zone.
3. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez
When it comes to love postponed, Love in the Time of Cholera puts Daniel Martin in the shade. Florentino and Fermina fall in love in their youth, but Fermina's father and then Fermina herself stand in the way of Florentino. Despite Fermina marrying what in a romantic comedy would be called the Bellamy character – the respectable choice – Florentino waits. And waits. Into old age. When does devotion become obsession?
4. Addition by Toni Jordan
The nearest thing to a sister novel to The Rosie Project: a first-person story of someone – in this case a woman – who believes their psychological oddness will forever stand in the way of a relationship. There's a strong comedic thread, laced with wry self-awareness. Grace's obsession is with numbers and counting. Seamus comes into her life and is initially accepting – but then wants her to take medication. Addition copped some flak for finding comedy in mental illness and supposedly encouraging sufferers not to take their meds: my wife, a psychiatrist, thinks Jordan describes the dilemma pretty well.
5. The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick
Matthew Quick specialises in the marginalised. Bartholomew, mocked at school for being a "retard", has lived with his mother for all of his 38 years. When she dies, he has to strike out on his own, with the help of the maverick local priest, a man diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The love interest is a psychologically-damaged library volunteer. Her alien-believing housemate completes the motley crew as they set out on a road trip to meet Bartholomew's father. Oh, and it's written as a series of letters to Richard Gere.
6. The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
Yes, I like Matthew Quick. This is his best-known novel, thanks to the film with Robert De Niro. The book does not have a contract with De Niro, so it can focus on Pat's efforts to reunite with his wife after being discharged from a neurological/psychiatric facility. Unlike in the film, Pat is not labelled bipolar, but he definitely has some issues. So does Tiffany – who finds something of value in Pat and goes after it with tenacity and ingenuity.
7. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
It's interesting how many of the books on this list have been made into or optioned as films: the unconventional or difficult love story is more a staple of the screen than the page. In a premise reminiscent of Daniel Martin, Toru's friend Kizuki has committed suicide at 19, and Toru has become close to his girlfriend Naoko, a fragile woman who is admitted to a psychiatric institution. The novel is as much a fascinating window into the ennui of Japanese student life as a story of frustrated love.
8. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
The protagonists would never be matched by an internet dating site, but more practical imperatives bring them together. Louisa is retained to care for Will, a quadriplegic at the point of giving up on life. It's a great premise for a string of clichés, but Moyes constructs a realistic, intelligent and moving story with a decent dose of comic relief.
9. The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson
A man is hideously disfigured as a result of burns sustained in a car accident. A sculptor, Marianne, apparently with psychiatric problems, comes to visit and then care for him. But this is no English Patient. Our protagonists have met in a past life, which only Marianne is aware of. The setting alternates between 14th-century Germany and the present day. The supernatural is not my normal fare, but the story of Marianne's devotion, whatever the motivation, is remarkably moving.
10. Goodbye for Now by Laurie Frankel
Anyone who has spent time interacting with Siri on their iPhone will require only a slight stretch of the imagination to accept the premise here – reconstructing online personalities from social media records after the death of their owners. After Sam programs a Skype version of Meredith's late grandmother, the two go into the business of bringing back the deceased. The twist is predictable, but it's engrossing light reading that will leave you with something to think about after you've finished with the tissues.
• The first 100 people to turn up to BOB's Lobster in Spitalfields Market on 14 February from 11.30am will receive a free copy of The Rosie Project - and a lobster roll
*Spitalfiedls is in the UK. For those interested here is the website: Click here.