Writers’ favourite literary lovebirds

From a slow-burn courtship between lovers who almost had a chance at happiness to mutants trapped in star-crossed romance, Singapore writers tell Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh and Lee Jian Xuan about their favourite literary couples and how they have shaped their views on love

Ultimate bromance on the road

Who: Marc Nair, 34, married. The poet, spoken word performer, photographer and creative writing teacher has published five poetry collections so far. Next month, he will launch Spomenik, a collection of poems and photographs from the Balkans.

My favourite literary couple is Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty from On The Road by Jack Kerouac.

Their relationship is the ultimate bromance. Long before The Hangover and other road trip movies, this thinly veiled parallel to the real-life relationship between Neal Cassady and Kerouac shaped a generation of young people as they drove through the heart of America in a barrage of prose.

There's a certain heft to the era that Kerouac managed to capture, an elusive zeitgeist of the young rebel male, literate, licensed for hedonism.

On The Road by Jack Kerouac

The romance of the road also lends an aura of uniqueness to their journey.

This book opened my eyes to a different kind of prose, not quite stream-of-consciousness, but descriptive, visceral and muscular.

It is a fluidity that I can only aspire to. That, and the general sense of wanderlust that turns the road into an unending quest.

Lee Jian Xuan

Sex and secrets at play

The Age of Innocence

Who: Noelle Q. de Jesus, 48, married with two children. Author of chicklit novel Mrs MisMarriage (2008, Marshall Cavendish) under her married name Noelle Chua. Her latest novel is Blood Collected Stories (2015, Ethos Books).

Revolutionary Road

I have almost too many favourites to list completely. I loved Edith Wharton's Newland Archer and Countess Ellen Olenska from The Age Of Innocence, even though their relationship never really got off the ground. I also loved Richard Yates' Frank and April in Revolutionary Road, although their marriage was very much on the rocks. These characters figure in pretty sad, pretty desperate stories, but they are my favourites.

Jane Austen's Emma

From happier stories, there is Jane Austen's Emma and Mr Knightley in Emma, and Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth in Persuasion.


Mr Knightley says to Emma: "I cannot make speeches, Emma. If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more. But you know what I am. You hear nothing but truth from me. I have blamed you and lectured you, and you have borne it as no other woman in England would have borne it."

Theirs is a love between two friends who like to spar and even bicker. That kind of honesty is what people think they want in a relationship, but I do wish that Austen gave us a glimpse of their future. I think Emma would likely want a little more flattery and a little less honesty in the later years.

I guess when you write about a great love, you draw unconsciously upon the impressions of the "great loves" you read about. But I'm also a bit of a cynic underneath my romantic illusions and aspirations. I'm well aware that a great love doesn't necessarily mean a happily-ever- after. That's not real life.

The romances, the great loves that strike me most powerfully are those that are flawed and fraught with conflict.

Relationships tend to be a big element in my writing. I want to get in really close and take a good look at the things that take place between two people, behind the closed doors of their marriage or love life. How do they make it work, what do they give and give up, what secrets do they share and which secrets do they keep?

Sex always figures in my work in some way because it's an element that is constantly at play. People downplay it all the time. It's just sex, they'll say. But countless times, families and marriages are wrecked just because of sex or people make choices because of sex. Ultimately, it has a much greater stake than people want to give it credit for.

Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh

Impossible couples with superpowers

Scott Summers and Emma Frost (aka Cyclops and the White Queen) from Matt Fraction's X-Men run

Who: Adan Jimenez, 32, and Felicia Low-Jimenez, 37. The husband- and-wife team wrote the children's book series Sherlock Sam (Epigram Books). They have no children. US publisher Andrews McMeel Publishing has picked the first four books for sale in North America.

Adan: My favourite couple is Scott Summers and Emma Frost (aka Cyclops and the White Queen) from Matt Fraction's X-Men run. Emma brought out the best in Scott. She clearly made him a much better man and, more importantly, a much better leader. They were ridiculously honest with each other, even when the reader thought they were not. There were times when Scott or Emma seemed to be betraying the other, but no, it was part of the plan they had cooked up together.

Rogue and Gambit from Jim Lee

Fraction is a great writer and he writes couples very well - read Sex Criminals (Fraction's ongoing series about a couple with the power to stop time when they have sex). I'm sure he'll be a go-to reference when I start writing about relationships. Felicia: Rogue and Gambit from Jim Lee's X-Men run. Sabretooth was being held prisoner by the X-Men and Rogue was the obvious choice to take food to him as she was invulnerable. Gambit nevertheless always accompanied her to make sure she was safe, even though he was more of a distraction than anything else.

It was romantic because it was a relationship not based on physical contact. They literally could not touch each other, but tried to make it work anyway. It was very tragic.

If I were to write a tragic romance, I'm sure aspects of their relationship would come in handy. They were comic-book characters that I loved reading as a teenager and continue to love as an adult.

Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh

Slow courtship

Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains Of The Day

Who: O Thiam Chin, 38, single. Author of short story collections, of which the latest is Love, Or Something Like Love (2013), which made the longlist for the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award. He also won the inaugural $20,000 Epigram Books Fiction Prize last year and his new novel will be out in May. My favourite literary couple is Mr Stevens and Miss Kenton from Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains Of The Day. I don't believe in love at first sight, in life and in books. To be convinced about love or its reality, I need to see and feel it coming into being, slowly and gradually.

I enjoy the slow-burning process of courtship, and the way in which each character is introduced. First his words, then his acts and his complications, and how each finds small, indelible ways to connect with one another and, if fate or the hand of the writer should dictate, fall in love. With Mr Stevens and Miss Kenton, I get all these in sharp, minutely observed vignettes.

What's special about their rela- tionship is that they almost had a chance at happiness or at least contentment, and the proximity to what could have been is what makes me ache for them. The near- miss is an open, bleeding wound.

They have taught me that the fulfilment of love is not a true or most significant end of a person's life, that sometimes, love complicates in ways that nobody can foresee.

Most of the characters in my stories never find what they are looking for - love or meaning or closure or redemption - but in the end, it may not matter as much.

Because life is never measured with what we did not get, only with the things we have done.

Lee Jian Xuan

Strong-willed women rule

Nicholas Sparks' The Notebook

Who: Munirah Jaafar, 23, married with no kids. She has written seven Malay-language books under her pen name Nirrosette. Her most popular work is Ikhlas, A.K! (Sincerely, A.K!) (2011, Jemari Seni), a love story between a good boy and a playgirl that sold 7,000 copies in less than a year. Her husband, 32, is a government officer in Malaysia.

My favourite couple is Noah and Allie from Nicholas Sparks' The Notebook (1996, Warner Books). I'm a sucker for heartwrenching love stories and theirs is very memorable.

I love their endless arguments and witty conversations. This quote is one of my favourites: "So it's not gonna be easy. It's going to be really hard; we're gonna have to work at this every day, but I want to do that because I want you. I want all of you, forever, every day. You and me... every day."

Although their love story is pretty idealistic - dying together in the end, how convenient - I'd say the way they overcame obstacles to make their relationship work is remarkable.

They taught me about courage, hope, passion and that nothing worth having comes easily.

This is something I emulate in my stories: falling in love is easy, but staying in love is hard work.

Allie does influence me in making my female leads strong-willed and independent. She taught me it's necessary to make sacrifices, especially in love and romance.

You can't have the upper hand all the time. Despite knowing you're right, you can't always win. And just like Noah, guys have their egos.

I have an issue with girls and guys who are too clingy or dependent on their partners. I feel like the relationship isn't healthy and is emotionally taxing.

We're living in an era where women are more empowered and vocal, so I like to feature female leads who are in love not because they want to conform to social norms, but because they want to be.

I got married last year. I wasn't looking for anyone with a certain trait to settle down with. But I just realised that my husband and I are probably similar to Noah and Allie.

Allie is strong-headed and my husband has a high threshold when it comes to tolerating my antics.

Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh

Journey of unrequited love

Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love In The Time Of Cholera

Who: Prabhu Silvam, 25, single. Full-time writer-documentarian who co-authored Riot Recollections, a book that retells Singapore's first riot in 45 years in Race Course Road on Dec 8, 2013, through interviews with witnesses.

As a fan of South American literature, I have always been drawn to the relationship between Fermina Daza and Florentino Ariza from Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love In The Time Of Cholera.

What's interesting is that despite its cult following, Garcia Marquez once admitted that this novel was intended as a parody of mainstream love stories.

The lives of the two male protagonists, Dr Juvenal Urbino and Florentino Ariza, intertwine because of their relationship with Fermina Daza, playing out a love triangle against the backdrop of an unnamed Caribbean seaport caught in the flux of 19th-century ideologies and romanticism.

The novel does a great job of illustrating the long, arduous journey of unrequited love.

Instead of delving into the heart- rending excerpts of star-crossed lovers, the relationship between Fermina Daza and Florentino Ariza is illustrated with exceptional wit and humour, which is juxtaposed with the refined, traditional ways of old courting styles and habits.

The subtle character nuances and the ability to capture a moment in its entirety without overdoing it - I don't think anybody does it better than Garcia Marquez.

Lee Jian Xuan

By choice, not need

Laurie R King's The Beekeeper's Apprentice

Who: Ovidia Yu, 54, married. The award-winning novelist and playwright is working on her Singaporean Mystery series (William Morrow), on a Peranakan restaurant owner turned amateur sleuth. The third book, Aunty Lee's Chilled Revenge, goes on sale in April.

If I had to settle on a literary couple, I would pick Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes from Laurie R King's The Beekeeper's Apprentice.

I love the relationship between the two of them. They are both highly intelligent and hugely anti- social, so in their coming together, each fills a need in the other. Plus theirs is a less than conventional relationship, which means they shape their relationship to suit them, rather than to meet any expectations of society, conscious or not.

My favourite moment between the two of them is their first meeting on the Downs, when she almost trips over him because she is walking with her nose in a book and he is lying on the grass observing bees. This shows how each is totally self-sufficient and absorbed, and their coming together is out of choice rather than need.

I love how, despite their exasperation with each other, they work things out rather than fall back on cliches defining what men or women are supposed to do and be.

I don't think I write very romantically. My ideal relationship is one where the characters can take each other for granted in the sense of knowing that no matter what happens, someone always has your back.

There are two "big" long-running romances in my books. One is between Rosie "Aunty Lee" and her late husband ML, whose photo portraits are in every room of her Binjai Park bungalow as well as her cafe, so that she can talk to him wherever she is. It is his company that she misses the most.

The other romance is between Nina, Aunty Lee's foreign maid, and Senior Staff Sergeant Salim. The rules governing foreign domestic workers in Singapore are very strict and I'm not commenting on them so much as presenting a situation where two people fall in love with each other - and there seems to be no way out for them.

At least that's where they are in the current book. I would really like a happy-ever-after ending for these two, but sometimes I think that's even less likely than a crime- solving Peranakan aunty.

Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 14, 2016, with the headline ''. Print Edition | Subscribe