Books about obsession that will have you hooked

Our pick of the best books about romantic obsession, from Vladimir Nabokov to Iris Murdoch.

17/02/2020
2 minutes to read

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 books about obsession, from Elizabeth Macneal's The Doll Factory to Emily Brontë's classic tale of destructive romance, Wuthering Heights

The Doll Factory

by Elizabeth Macneal

Book cover for 9781529002430

In London 1850, dollmaker and aspiring artist Iris Whittle meets Pre-Raphaelite artist Louis Frost. Louis asks Iris to model for him, and she agrees on one condition: that in return he teaches her to paint. Iris throws herself into a new world of art and love, unaware that a chance meeting with another man has triggered a dangerous obsession. Silas Reed is a collector of curiosities, enchanted by the strange and beautiful. After seeing Iris at the site of the Great Exhibition he can't forget her, and soon she's all he can think about . . .

Dear Mr. M

by Herman Koch

Book cover for 9781447294702

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.

Enduring Love

by Ian McEwan

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One of the most chilling books on obsession has to be Enduring Love. When Joe Rose witnesses a horrific ballooning accident, 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.

Tender

by Belinda McKeon

Book cover for 9780330529907

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.

The Sea, The Sea

by Iris Murdoch

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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 is always disturbing, and this book is no exception.

Wuthering Heights

by Emily Bronte

Book cover for 9781509827800

One of the great novels of the nineteenth century, this haunting tale of passion and obsession is a tragic depiction of destructive love. When one snowy night a man asks the story behind a remote farmhouse on the moors, he learns of the tragic romance between beautiful headstrong Cathy and the orphan Heathcliffe, who Cathy rejects in favour of a rich suitor. But Cathy cannot forget her first love, and Heathcliffe is overcome with the need for revenge.

Wilful Disregard

by Lena Andersson

Book cover for 9781447268932

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.

Death in Venice

by Thomas Mann

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A poignant and sad story of a writer who, in old age, travels to Venice. 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.

Athena

by John Banville

Book cover for 9781509822638

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.

Pale Fire

by Vladimir Nabokov

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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.

All This Has Nothing To Do With Me

by Monica Sabolo

Book cover for 9781447274971

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.

Perfume

by Patrick Süskind

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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 . . .