Modern love

David Nicholls' novel One Day is a million-copy bestseller and could be a box office smash - but he's not the first man to write about love.

One Day, David Nicholls' bestselling novel about the slow-slow-burning romance between warm-hearted geekgirl Emma and troubled charmer Dexter, hits cinema screens next week.

The iconic orange faces on the book cover have been filled in by Jim Sturgess (relatively unknown, his CV includes The Other Boleyn Girl and A Touch of Frost) and, controversially, Hollywood beauty Anne Hathaway as the friends who we meet up with on the 15th July every year for 20 years.

The film has had mixed response from the critics (Screen International: "Beautifully shot and smartly cast"; Times: "this film deserves four stars for many reasons, but it is let down by Hathaway's two-star performance”) but we can't help liking Den of Geek's sentiment:  "Read the book and ditch the movie. But then, isn't that usually the best course of action?”

A love story with such gravitas hasn't captured the hearts of men and women so acutely in recent literary history – a 'popular fiction' love story, that is, and one written by a man. The love stories that take frequent residence in the bestseller list are usually written by women, and their female-friendly book jackets make them unlikely to be picked up by men. But that iconic jacket has been seen on tubes, trains and buses and in cafes and parks being read by everyone from builders to bankers.

Perhaps most telling is that female readers love Emma, the quick-witted Northern girl with NHS glasses; a small fish in a very big pond of rich kids at Edinburgh uni. Nicholls seems to have got Emma just right, and has seamlessly tapped into the minds of women of all ages and how they feel about men, and jobs, and life (in a Guardian interview, he admitted that there are bits of himself in the character, plus his friends, and parts of fictional characters: Shirley MacLaine in The Apartment, Katherine Hepburn, Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing and Annie Hall). Plus, everyone has a "Dexter" in their life.

In the 21st century it seems we still rely on the centuries-old Brontes and Austens for a romance fix, but Nicholls may have come up with a modern contender.

Other great love stories written by men:

Truman Capote – Breakfast at Tiffany's (1958)
Immortalised on the silver screen by Audrey Hepburn, Capote's novel isn't as squeaky clean as Hollywood made it out to be. The original Pretty Woman, Holly Golightly is a pearl-wearing prostitute who doesn't believe that a man will ever make her feel as good as diamonds do

F Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby (1925)
The romance between Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan (a married woman, as seems to be the theme with a lot of the most romantic books written by men) is vicariously experienced through the novel's narrator Nick Carraway, which makes the climactic romance and impending tragedy all the more affecting

Gustave Flaubert – Madame Bovary (1856)
The ultimate cautionary tale of adultery led to Flaubert's prosecution when the book was first published. Emma Bovary is married and bored, and craves the passion she reads of in novels; when she attains it with a succession of lovers and self-indulgence she succumbs to tragic Victorian heroine syndrome and dies

Ian McEwan – Atonement (2001)
The time-old barrier of class that so mars lovers' efforts to be together strikes again, and upper-class Cecelia and gardener Robbie's fleeting romance is brought to a dramatic end the very night it begins when Cecelia's younger sister is the sole witness to two consequential events

DH Lawrence – Lady Chatterley's Lover (1960)
Banned for decades before it was finally released, Penguin was still sued in 1960 for publishing this English country garden romp featuring an unhappily married woman and her gardener, in which the four-letter word was used for the first time in mass-market literature

Leo Tolstoy – Anna Karenina (1877)
Considered by many as one of the greatest novels ever written, this Imperial Russian masterpiece is rife with adultery, heartache and rejection, but Anna and Vronsky's passionate and fateful relationship could melt the hardest of hearts

Jeffrey Eugenides – The Virgin Suicides (1993)
Not a love story as such, but Eugenides explores with wistful precision the fascinating psyche of the teenage boy obsessed with the teenage girl. Set in a hazy 1970s American suburb in which all five daughters of the Lisbon family commit suicide 

Boris Pasternak – Dr Zhivago (1957)
Another dramatic wintry romance set against the backdrop of the Russian Revolution, this grand love story has been adapted for TV countless times after being deemed unsuitable for publication in Russia until 1988, 30 years after it was written

And the most depressing love story written by a man…

Richard Yates – Revolutionary Road (1961)
This brutally honest portrayal of married life in the 'dreaded suburbs' of Connecticut is the anti-love story and makes Cathy and Heathcliff's moor-top frolicks seem frankly ridiculous