5 books about forbidden love

5-books-200pixWith Valentine’s Day just around the corner I thought I’d put together a post about novels focussed on love — but with a twist. 

Instead of sweet, innocent romances, here are five novels that tell stories of forbidden love between people who should probably know better.

The books have been arranged in alphabetical order by author’s name — hyperlinks will take you to my full reviews:

Skin lane‘Skin Lane’ by Neil Bartlett (2008)

Set in the London fur trade in 1967, this book is narrated deadpan style by Mr F, a 46-year-old loner, who begins having weird dreams in which a young naked man, his face obscured by his hair, is found hanging upside down in his bathroom. When a new apprentice joins Mr F at work he begins to wonder whether he might, in fact, be the boy of his dreams… This is a dark and creepy tale, one that has parallels to Beauty and the Beast, about an older man falling for a younger colleague that he cannot have. I read it more than four years ago, but the story has stayed with me — it’s one that does, indeed, get under the skin.

the space between us‘The Space Between Us’ by John MacKenna (2009)

It’s a bit difficult to summarise this novel by Irish writer John MacKenna without revealing a crucial plot spoiler, but let’s just say it’s about a widowed man who faces the challenge of raising his young daughter alone in ways that might not immediately spring to mind. Instead of being upset by his wife’s death, he’s relieved, perhaps because a married friend, Kate, has confessed she’s in love with him. This is an intriguing story about love in all its many facets — forbidden, unrequited, sexual and parental — death, grief and the relationships between fathers and daughters.

Lamb‘Lamb’ by Bonnie Nadzam (2011)

After David Lamb’s wife leaves him his life goes into a bit of a tailspin. Then, following his father’s funeral, he makes a spur of the moment decision to kidnap an 11-year-old girl, with whom he develops an unhealthy relationship. The book is not sexually explicit, but it is clear that Lamb is grooming young Tommie for his own perverse interests by building trust and making her feel special at every opportunity. When the two end up in a cabin in the woods you can’t help but fear for Tommie’s safety…

Tampa‘Tampa’ by Alissa Nutting (2013)

Meet Celeste Price, eighth grade English teacher, who has blond hair, a red corvette, an ultra-handsome husband — and an unusual sexual obsession with her 14-year-old male students. A novel about a pedophile might sound a bit repulsive  — it is, especially as the author makes the reader complicit in Celeste’s crimes— but it’s also a  compelling read thanks to the narrator’s engaging, often humorous, voice. But this isn’t just a titillating read: it throws up many questions about sexualisation of children, the lines between pupils and teachers, trust and betrayal.

A ship made of paper‘A Ship Made of Paper’ by Scott Spencer (2004)

This novel is very much in the vein of Anne Tyler in that it’s about ordinary people finding themselves in extraordinary situations. It’s about a lawyer, Daniel Emerson, who flees New York after a messy trial has ruined his outlook on life. He takes his long-term girlfriend Kate and Kate’s four-year-old daughter, Ruby, back to his home town to start afresh. In the safety of the rural town, he settles into a comfortable, if somewhat easy, existence. But then life gets slightly more complicated when he notices that he is falling in love with Iris, the mother of Ruby’s best friend. This isn’t just a story about two people having an affair, risking everything in the process, but because Iris is black and Daniel is white it’s a fascinating exploration of race relations (without ever resorting to stereotypes or caricature) and societal expectations. It’s a truly compelling and utterly believable read.

Have you read any of these books? Or can you recommend another novel about forbidden love?

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20 thoughts on “5 books about forbidden love

  1. I love this twist on books about love! Those all sound intriguing. If I hadn’t just read about pedophiles, I’d be looking into Tampa for sure. But I can only read about child molestation so many times you know? I really need to space those reads out – it’s the one thing I read about that I have a really hard time with.

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  2. Lolita by Nabokov. This is an exceptional book, often placed in the best 100 novels of all time. Here’s the publishers synopsis:

    Humbert Humbert – scholar, aesthete and romantic – has fallen completely and utterly in love with Lolita Haze, his landlady’s gum-snapping, silky skinned twelve-year-old daughter. Reluctantly agreeing to marry Mrs Haze just to be close to Lolita, Humbert suffers greatly in the pursuit of romance; but when Lo herself starts looking for attention elsewhere, he will carry her off on a desperate cross-country misadventure, all in the name of Love. Hilarious, flamboyant, heart-breaking and full of ingenious word play, Lolita is an immaculate, unforgettable masterpiece of obsession, delusion and lust.

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    • Thanks, Marcus. That’s probably the best known novel about forbidden love of all time… sadly, I’ve never quite been able to bring myself to read it.

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  3. Love this! And, because 4 of these I have never heard of, my list just got longer. They all sound intriguing, but it’s funny to see the completely contradictory reviews of them on Goodreads. Especially for The Space Between Us – most people sound quite horrified by it. This, of course, just makes me want to read it and find out why.
    This year, I really enjoyed a book called Infidelity by Stacey May Fowler.

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    • I’m not surprised that The Space Between Us horrifies readers. Admittedly I was horrified by it too. But that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad read. I liked its originality and boldness, and it encouraged me to seek out more by this author — sadly, most of his books are out of print.

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  4. I have read Skin Lane & A Ship made of Paper – enjoyed both & remember A Ship made of Paper especially as I seemed to be holding my breath in parts of it 🙂

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    • Glad to hear you’ve read and enjoyed both. I think Skin Lane (especially) deserves a wider audience: it’s a highly original novel and I always think about it when I walk past the actual Skinner’s Lane in the city en route to the tube station most evenings!

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  5. I haven’t read any of these books! The only book I can think of about forbidden love is My Beautiful Enemy by Cory Taylor, about a prison guard who falls in love with a Japanese prisoner in an internment camp in Australia during WW2.

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    • Thanks for reminding me about the Cory Taylor novel, one I’ve been meaning to read. It reminded me of a novel I read years and years ago about a Jewish prisoner falling for her Nazi captor, which is called The Kommandant’s Mistress. I was so shocked by the book I threw it away. I then spent the best part of 10 years trying to remember what it was called so I could buy another copy — which I did about four years ago. I haven’t managed to bring myself to read it again, though.

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  6. I have a weakness for Irish writers and so the John Mackenna has been duly ordered. Although Ann Tyler doesn’t always hit the mark, I have such fondness for Ladder of Years that any comparison to her sparks interest and so the Scott Spencer is also on it’s way. As for a recommendation, Appletree Yard by Louise Doughty is not so much about forbidden love but certainly forbidden lust!

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    • I’ve read several of John MacKenna’s novels and they all centre on the idea of forbidden love in its very many different facets. This one, I have to say, is a bit stomach churning/shocking but wholly memorable. It’s also been quite some time since I read the Scott Spencer, so I hope I haven’t over-sold it here, but I do recall liking it a lot. And yes, I thought of Apple Tree Yard as soon as I pressed the “publish” button — that’s such a great book about a rather sordid love affair, isn’t it? I actually read it back-to-back with Tampa… and felt like that was my quota of forbidden love books done for quite some time. 😉

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  7. Excellent list – so much better than the usual welter of mushiness wheeled out at this time of the year! Great to see Lamb there, too. My suggestion is Bernard McClaverty’s Cal set in Ulster in the 1980s.

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    • Thanks, Susan. I can’t stand mushiness — or what I call sentimental claptrap!

      And thanks for the Bernard McClaverty recommendation… I’m yet to read anything by him, which is a shameful admission given my penchant for Irish writers.

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  8. What’s worrying is that I loved reading the two from this list I’ve tried. (Tampa & Lamb) Does that say something dodgy about me?! I also recommend adding ‘You Deserve Nothing’ by Alexander Maksik to this list, a book potentially even more dodgy as it is rumoured to be true.

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