Reading about obsessive love can be at the same time uncomfortable and addictive. The characters are always fascinating and their actions wildly unpredictable; they can be simultaneously funny, self-pitying, self-righteous, frightening and convincing. Here's our pick of the best brand new and classic books about romantic obsession, from Perfume to Enduring Love

Perfume by Patrick Suskind


By Patrick Suskind

Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born in a gutter in 18th century Paris. His start in life is not a good one, but he has a talent: his nose. Working in the perfume business, he wants to create the best smells in the world, smells whose origins you can't quite put your finger on. 

As well as perfume, Grenouille also likes women. Or, more specifically, he likes the smell of women. He follows them through the street, led helplessly by their odour which, perhaps, could be the smell he is looking for for his perfume...

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Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov

Pale Fire

By Vladimir Nabokov

Lolita might be the more obvious choice for a Nabokov novel about obsession, but Pale Fire wins for me.

Narrated by academic Charles Kinbote, we follow him as he (mis)interprets the work of American poet John Shade, for whose posthumous book Kinbote is the self-appointed editor. But Kinbote isn't your usual bookish man and as he takes you further into his own uncertain identity, his relationship with Shade begins to look slightly different, as does the reader's understanding of Shade's death.

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The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch

The Sea, The Sea

By Iris Murdoch

The subtly sinister cover of this book makes me squirm almost as much as the inisidious Charles Arrowby in the novel, who leaves his world of London theatre for a house by the sea.

The idea behind the move is to escape love, but when he bumps into an ex-girlfriend, now married, he undertakes to destroy her new relationship. The lack of control that any victim of obsession has always disturbs me, and this book is no exception.

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Enduring Love

Enduring Love

By Ian McEwan

One of the most chilling books on obsession has to be Enduring Love. When Joe Rose witnesses a horrific balooning accident (that first chapter is itself one of the greatest pieces of writing I know), he little thinks that things could get worse.

But Jed Parry, another onlooker that day, takes their brief encounter to be more than it was. So begins an excruciating obsession for all involved: Joe, his wife, Clarissa, and the reader.

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Death in Venice by Thomas Mann

Death in Venice

By Thomas Mann

This book, about a writer who, in old age, travels to Venice, is poignant and sad - but don't let that put you off! Gustave von Aschenbach's days are slow but full, all the more so when he notices a beautiful young boy also staying at the hotel. von Aschenbach becomes transfixed, unable to think of anything else, so much so that he is oblivious to the disease making its way through the hot, crowded city.

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