Love Stories: Obsession

Posted on 9th February 2016 by Sally Campbell
Here are seven instances in literature when love is taken too far...

Obsession and literature go hand in hand (or should that be hand in hand-cuffs?). The mere act of writing is obsessive; a writer locks themselves away for days, alone, devoting hours to thinking about their favourite characters, trying to capture their eyes, their expressions, their voice, much in the way an obsessive might. When this obsessive nature bleeds into the plot of a novel itself, the result is irresistible.

Romance is one thing, but we love to watch those in the throes of obsession. We like to voyeuristically live out their intense, dark, often deadly impulses. As I compiled this list, I realised that so many obsessions in literature have been adapted for cinema; because, we don’t just want to read about them, we want to watch them too.

We are an obsessive bunch, aren’t we?

All of This Has Nothing To Do With Me – Monic Sabolo

This understated book is full of wry humour, and seems to underplay the obsessive behaviour of the main character. However, it is not at all what it appears to be. Sweet at first, when it reaches the second part, it becomes heavier, and tinged with sadness. You will then reconsider the obsession as it takes on a darker edge.

Perfume - Patrick Suskind

From the opening scene where the protagonist is born in the stench and squalor of a fish market, through to the horrific, bloody ending, this is a visceral book. Fragrance is everything in this novel;protagonist Grenouille’s sense of smell is remarkable – his obsession with scent, however, is disturbing. As he trains as a perfumer, he manipulates people, using perfume, into respecting and loving him, while he serially kills young girls. The end takes the phrase ‘love to death’ rather too literally…

The Orchid Thief – Susan Orlean

Orchids are the perfect objects of desire: elegant, ethereal, obscure, elusive. In The Orchid Thief the whole intriguing and  peculiar world of orchid-loving comes to light as we meet the growers, the thieves, the collectors, and the admirers, all willing to go to extreme lengths to acquire these mysterious plants. Quests for trophies are not new to fiction, but the ardour for what is in the end (dare I say it) just a flower is what makes this book remarkable and a little unsettling.  


High Fidelity – Nick Hornby

Obsession doesn’t always have to be dangerous. Some people openly identify themselves through their obsessions. Rob Fleming in High Fidelity revels in his encyclopaedic musical knowledge, which he uses to compete with his colleagues. He is both proud and a little fixated on his ability to craft a Top 5 of just about anything. As an emblem of modern British men, or perhaps even modern romance in general, Rob defines himself by what he likes, the music and albums he owns, not what he is actually like – his fanatical list-making is a substitute for doing…anything. Thankfully, Rob learns that life is better lived than organised by height order or according to release date.

The Sea, The Sea – Iris Murdoch

For a lot of people, retirement provides too much spare time for idle thought. But while many contemplate an allotment or silver-screenings at the local cinema, not many resort to stalking, obsessing-over and kidnapping their first love. Charles Arrowby retires from his superficial and glamorous London life as an actor and theatre director, to a little cottage by the sea. The only trouble is, his theatrical past life – and in particular all of his over-dramatic ex-lovers – will not leave him in peace. As his life becomes tempestuous, his thoughts towards his first love become deranged. If ever a book suggested the Good Life is a myth, this is it.


The Collector – John Fowles

One of the most sinister obsessions on this list, and not for the faint of heart, The Collector is a psychological thriller par excellence. It is the tale of Frederick Clegg, a lonely, troubled butterfly collector who, on meeting one particular girl, decides he would like to acquire a human specimen instead. Most chilling of all, as you read every twisted thought in Clegg’s head, you witness the way he justifies his actions, even down to buying a property with an extensive tunnel system beneath it…


Talented Mr Ripley – Patricia Highsmith

Tom Ripley is a terrifying creation – intelligent, scrupulous and remorseless too. Numerous characters have been written in his image (Dexter Morgan, in Darkly Dreaming Dexter, for one). We love his complexity and his deceit - and we almost always want him to get away with murder.  But in this novel, obsession goes a step further than in all the others: Ripley not only desires elegant Dickie Greenleaf fervently, his love is of such intensity that it compels him to not only kill Dickie but to assume his identity as well. In that moment, Ripley himself disappears and his becomes the ultimate obsession: it consumes him.

Love is a dangerous thing…


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