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Love Stories: Forbidden Love

Posted on 10th February 2016 by Sally Campbell
Six novels that stray from the 'acceptable' path and take an altogether different route.

As the old saying goes, ‘You can't choose whom you love’ and in all seven of the following novels,  ‘the one they love’ is the one society says they shouldn’t choose at all. 


Death In Venice   - Thomas Mann

Death in Venice takes as its focus the one who desires; in contemplating the reasons why Aschenbach is obsessed with Tadzio, the young boy, the book presents a maelstrom of regrets, frustrations and desires that lurk behind a love of the forbidden. This kind of love is seen as damaging and disastrous – and in many ways, the book is a sumptuous cautionary tale; years of secrecy and suppression lead Aschenbach to reckless behaviour and ultimately, his death.

The Graduate - Charles Webb

The Graduate presents the American Ideal as the American nightmare. Its vision of suburbia has a Lynchian filter – the staid, boring and hypocritical world of nice cars, cocktails and swimming pools that Benjamin finds himself in seems strained, a cover that is stretched to breaking point. In this novel, it certainly breaks and what lies beneath is, of course, the desire to do precisely what you shouldn’t. Here, it is forbidden love for forbidden love’s sake though – and once the drama plays out and all lives are, effectively ruined, it all seems a bit cold and sad.

The God of Small Things  - Arundhati Roy

In prose that is genuinely mesmeric, The God Of Small Things captures the intoxicating world of India, in all its beauty, complete with all its stifling rules. The mystery at the heart of the novel is an affair between two people that Indian society would not allow to openly love one another, because of their beliefs. Their out-of-bounds love echoes downs the generations, showing that a love of the forbidden can cause not so much ripples as waves.


Portnoy’s Complaint - Philip Roth

Like so many of the novels on this list, Portnoy's Complaint caused controversy on publication.  While the 'forbidden' in this case is an excessive love of the self, the controversy actually arose more from the book's depicion of Jewish mothers, than from its over-zealous self-pleasing protagonist, Portnoy. An outrageous novel, it nonetheless has plenty of fascinating things to say about guilt.

The Other Boleyn Girl - Philippa Gregory

Henry the VIII certainly understood what it meant to want what you can't have - he just changed the rules so he could have it. His world, as protrayed in this novel, is a devious, duplicious, scorpion's nest of a place that seems almost exclusively governed by inappropriate desires. The Other Boleyn Girl seethes with passion and anger.

Carol - Patricia Highsmith

Carol is one of the best examples of a writer taking what society says is forbidden and challenging it. It is not, however sensationalised or polemic; it is a beautiful book and a subtle, extraordinary read, one that shows two respectable (especially to 1950’s readers’ eyes) people who fall in love. They just happen, in this case, to both be female. If you have yet to enjoy the film, read the book first – it is the kind you will devour in one sitting.

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