Books about obsession that have got us hooked

12 May 2016

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

Perfume

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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Dear Mr. M

Dear Mr. M

An unsettling and compelling literary thriller, set in the world of writing and bookselling by the bestselling author of The Dinner.

Mr. M. is being watched. As a famous writer, he is no stranger to the limelight, although interest in his work has been dwindling of late. Our narrator clearly takes a keen interest in M.'s work, and indeed in every aspect of his life. But what exactly are his intentions? And to what does Mr. M. owe the honour of his undivided attention?

Our narrator seems to be no stranger to murder either and his story seems to bear more than a passing resemblance to the plot of Mr. M.'s most famous novel. 

Available in Paperback and as an Ebook and Audiobook.

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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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Tender

Tender

Catherine and James are as close as two friends could ever be. They meet in Dublin in the late 1990s - coming of age in a city which is teeming - or so they are told - with new freedoms, new possibilities.

But while Catherine's horizons are expanding, James's own life is becoming a prison: as changed as the new Ireland may be, it is still not a place in which he feels able to be himself. Catherine desperately wants to help, but as life begins to take the friends in different directions, she discovers that there is a perilously fine line between helping someone and hurting them further.

A dazzling exploration of the complexities of human relationships, a novel about friendship, youth, selfhood and sexuality.

Available in Paperback and as an Ebook. 

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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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Wilful Disregard

Wilful Disregard

On the day that Ester Nilsson, a poet and a sensible person in a sensible relationship, meets renowned artist Hugo Rask, her rational world begins to unravel. Leaving her boyfriend and her past behind, Ester embarks on what is sure to be the greatest love story of her life . . . it’s a shame no one else agrees.

Bitingly funny and darkly fascinating Wilful Disregard is a story about total and desperate devotion and about how willingly we betray ourselves in the pursuit of love.

Available now in Paperback and as an Ebook. 

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Athena

Athena

John Banville’s Athena revolves around Morrow, an art expert with a shadowy past, and his love affair with a young woman inextricably linked to the paintings he is examining.

With his rich, Nabokovian use of language, Banville’s narrator is a man as slippery to grasp as the reality of the nameless woman he is obsessed with; a muse of his own making who sometimes seems as real as a figure on canvas.

Available now in Paperback and as an Ebook. 

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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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All This Has Nothing To Do With Me

All This Has Nothing To Do With Me

Hilarious, dark and quirky, this novel by the editor in chief of Grazia magazine's cultural pages in France will have you shrieking in disbelief – and perhaps even wincing in recognition every now and again.

It follows MS, who interviews the mysterious XX for a job and hires him because she fancies him. As their relationship develops, and then collapses, MS lays bare her feelings in emails, text messages, photographs that show the tragedy and the comedy of her obsession.

Available now in Paperback and as an Ebook. 

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