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Ahh, Valentine’s Day – love is in the air. Or, if you’re single, maybe you’re already simmering with cynicism and disdain. In that case, the most twisted love stories in literature are on hand to help you feel smugly unattached:
1. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
Synopsis: In Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys imagines a prequel to Jane Eyre, centred on one of the novel’s marginal characters: Bertha Mason. Set in the sensuously beautiful islands of the West Indies, the story follows Bertha from her traumatic childhood to her ill-fated marriage. Who is Bertha Mason? What made her mad? And is there more to her story than Rochester reveals?
Why I Chose It: Mr Edward Rochester is unquestionably the hero of Jane Eyre, often swoon-worthily cast in film and TV adaptations. In Rhys’ retelling, though, a feminist and post-colonial perspective presents the English gentleman in a far less forgiving light. Maybe the madwoman in the attic wasn’t so mad after all.
2. My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
“You can’t sit on the fence forever.”
Zorede takes the role of older sister seriously. She protects Ayoola. Takes the blame when she gets in trouble. And – quite literally – cleans up the bodies. Ayoola has now killed three of her boyfriends, and, although she pleads self-defence, Zorede is not convinced.
So when Ayoola starts dating the doctor Zorede is in love with, it’s finally time for her to pick a side. With family loyalty stretched to the limit, Zorede questions whether she should continue to defend her little sister – no matter what.
Why I Chose It: When your sister kills one boyfriend, that could be a coincidence, or innocent self-defence. Two is harder to justify, but we’re not in serial killer territory… yet. Beneath her novel’s offbeat wit, Braithwaite reveals sinister undercurrents of fear and vengeance that lie at the heart of these murderous encounters.
Full review here.
3. Macbeth by William Shakespeare
Synopsis: Macbeth is welcomed home as a great warrior after leading Scottish forces in a campaign to defeat two invading armies. King Duncan even names him Thane of Cawdor to recognise his bravery. Yet, still unsatisfied with this great honour, Macbeth plots to take the crown for himself – with the help of his wife and a little witchcraft…
Why I Chose It: Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are the ultimate power couple – if a violently unscrupulous one. When their ambition gets the better of them, the two tear each other apart in an insidious web of guilt, madness, and obsession.
4. My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier
“Someday, somehow, I would repay my cousin Rachel.”
Ambrose has been like a father to Philip, raising him single-handedly ever since the death of his parents. They live undisturbed on their Cornish estate, surrounded entirely by men – not even a female housekeeper. So when Ambrose travels abroad for his health, only to send word he has fallen in love and married, it is understandable for Philip to be jealous.
His feelings of hatred towards this woman only increase when Ambrose dies in Italy, with his new wife by his side. Philip is left the grand estate, but no chance to say goodbye. However, this bitterness soon alleviates upon meeting Ambrose’s widow, the beautiful and enigmatic Rachel. He may be falling for her. And that may be exactly what she wants.
Why I Chose It: In My Cousin Rachel, du Maurier takes the cliché of being driven mad by desire to disturbing conclusions. The transgressive and enigmatic Rachel is impossible to pin down, and I found her portrayal endlessly fascinating.
Full review here.
5. The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
Synopsis: While Odysseus is forging his reputation in the Trojan War and undertaking glorious voyages, his wife Penelope remains home in Ithaca. Alone she must raise their son, repel a slew of suitors, and learn to wield the subtle powers available to women in a violently patriarchal world. Written in the form of letters to her absent husband, this novel finally bestows Penelope with the epic story she deserves.
Why I Chose It: Of course an Atwood novel would end up on this list! Far from the lovesick wife pining for Odysseus’ return, Penelope is bitter, sarcastic, and hostile. Even Odysseus’ homecoming seems unlikely to soften her heart, especially when the warrior husband brings violence and devastation in his wake.
6. The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena
Synopsis: For young couple Anne and Marco, their seemingly idyllic life is thrown into chaos when their child goes missing, while they attend a dinner party next door. Besieged by suspicion, guilt, and unanswered questions, the facades of their relationship split open to reveal the devastating secrets that each has been keeping from the other.
Why I Chose It: The synopsis of The Couple Next Door immediately piqued my interest, and I added it to my TBR for the next time I’m in the mood for a psychological thriller. Shattering the image of a perfect couple and piecing together the warped shards that remain sounds like a concept I can get behind.
7. Deep Water by Patricia Highsmith
Synopsis: Victor Van Allen is proud of the ordered life he has created for himself. He runs a sought-after printing press, holds a respected position in the town, and is the father of a precocious little girl.
The only taint to this perfect facade is his wife, Melinda. Their relationship is tenuously held together by Vic sleeping in a separate room and pretending to ignore her involvements with other men. Yet a new arrival in the sleepy town of Little Wesley means Vic may not be able to look the other way for much longer…
Why I Chose It: Deep Water is such a unique crime fiction read! There is something so mundane and claustrophobic about this loveless marriage in middle-class suburbia, which makes the morbid deeds that follow almost feel like a relief…
Full review here.
8. Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo
Synopsis: Yejide has tried everything to get pregnant. Infertility is putting pressure on her relationship with Akin, her husband, and the man she has been in love with since their university years. However, the last thing she expects is for a young woman to arrive at her home and be introduced as Akin’s second wife, sending Yejide into a void of jealousy and obsession…
Why I Chose It: Although romance is really not my genre (in case you couldn’t tell), it sounds like Stay With Me has enough bite to keep me interested. I’m very excited to read a painfully emotive, character-centric depiction of how love can become corrupted by society’s expectations.
9. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
Synopsis: Theo has just started a new job at The Grove, a psychiatric unit for violent female criminals. Top of the list of new patients he must take on is Alicia. Alicia seemed to have it all – a flourishing career as an artist and a loving husband – until the night she shot him in the head. Since that fateful night, Alicia has refused to speak a word.
Disentangling Alicia’s past and the motives for her crime is not going to be easy – especially when The Grove is hiding secrets of its own.
Why I Chose It: The Silent Patient is a favourite thriller of mine, boasting plenty of twists and psychological intrigue. With such a dramatic mariticide and unclear motive, Michaelides sets up an intriguing premise right from the get-go.
10. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
Synopsis: The Bloody Chamber is a collection of dark, twisted, and often contentious re-workings of well-known fairy tales. Forget what you thought you knew about Beauty and the Beast or Little Red Riding Hood! Tackling sexuality, masculinity, family, feminism, the animal nature of humanity – this thought-provoking collection is sure to spark passionate debate.
Why I Chose It: In Angela Carter’s short story collection, fairy-tale endings are far from happy ever after. The author has created a sumptuously dark world where desire is inseparable from destruction, beauty becomes beast, and the fulfilment of dreams inevitably conjures the most terrifying nightmares.
Have you read any of these books? What are your favourite dark romances? Let me know in the comments – I would love to hear from you!