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:
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.
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.
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…
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.
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?