We all know the power of a good love story; anytime we hear tales of undying devotion, passionate reunions or romantic proposals, even the hardest of hearts melt in the face of all that ardor. This is probably why romance novels continue to rack up billion dollar plus sales year after year.
While I’m not a romance reader (I read one Nora Roberts book about a hundred years ago), I do like reading stories with romantic elements in them, and of course if there’s some murder, obsession and infidelity in the mix, I’m in and I’m in big.
So, on that note, here are my Top Five Darkest Literary Love Stories:
“Madame Bovary,” by Gustave FlaubertIt’s hard to say who’s more tragic in this story; the insatiable Emma Bovary, a bottomless well of need for both the material and physical or her hapless husband, Charles, who won’t break the shackles she’s placed around him. Either way, “Madame Bovary” is a fascinating portrait of a woman’s descent into madness due to being unable to accept the reality of who she is and what her life is.
“Tess of the d'Urbervilles,” by Thomas HardyThere are so many things you could say about this book (and indeed, many things have been said about it), but I only have a few. The luminous Tess is exploited by everyone from her social-climbing father to her heartless seducer, Alec and even her true love, the pious Angel Clare. My heart ached for her foolish pursuit of the latter and in the end, her love for him ultimately proved to be her undoing as she’s put to death for the crime of murder.
“Written on the Body,” by Jeanette WintersonThis is a delicious exploration of a passionate love affair between a married woman and an unnamed narrator. For a further twist, the reader never learns the sex of said narrator. This novel plays with emotions, sex and imagination in a beautifully descriptive way, leaving the reader to ponder the mysteries of love.
“Strange Fits of Passion,” by Anita ShreveIf there is one writer who I desperately wish I could write like, it is Anita Shreve. There is such a lyrical and haunting quality to her storytelling. This tale of a relationship gone sour with the bitterness of domestic abuse chillingly illustrates once again that unless you are under the bed, you never really know what goes on between two people. This is beautiful and ugly all at once, a rare feat.
“Where or When,” by Anita ShreveI chose another Anita Shreve novel because like “Strange Fits of Passion,” it details a doomed love affair. The lovers, Charles and Sian decide to find out “what if?” when they consummate their relationship and the results are obsessive, all-consuming and tragic.