Tainted Love

There is an epigraph in Gillian Flynn’s novel, Gone Girl, that is pertinent for both the books I read last week:

Love is the world’s infinite mutability; lies, hatred, murder, even, are all knit up in it; it is the inevitable blossoming of its opposites, a magnificent rose smelling faintly of blood.

Gone Girl has had a huge impact on the book world since it came out; whilst the other novel I read, The Obsession by T. V. LoCicero will be unknown to most people, I imagine. But both are pacy, gripping narratives about love grown monstrous and out of control.

The Obsession is a stalker novel – and you may remember I read one of those not so long ago, but written sympathetically by a woman from the perspective (in part) of the stalker herself. This novel is an altogether more masculine affair. Lina Lentini is an Italian comparative literature specialist, a beautiful and brilliant woman, and a highly principled one. When she is made a lucrative offer to become visiting scholar at a Catholic Midwestern University, she decides that a break from Bologna will do her research and her spirits good. However, from the moment she arrives, trouble is brewing. She falls into a passionate relationship with an older professor seeking escape from his own deeply troubled marriage, and it’s not long afterwards that the pranks start. Her phone number is listed in newspapers and on mensroom walls for personal services, pornographic books are littered around college containing her name and the promise of a $10 reward on return, and gradually the attacks become darker and more personal and menacing until Lina is forced to flee America. Then, just when she thinks she’s safe in Italy, her stalker appears again. I don’t want to say anymore and spoil the plot, but there are initially a number of candidates for the role of Lina’s tormentor, but as the narrative progresses uncertainty drops away until the reader is caught up in a game of cat and mouse, wondering how far Lina must go to protect herself and the life she holds dear.

Gone Girl is the up close and personal account of a marriage gone disastrously awry. When the novel begins, Nick is narrating and it is the day of his fifth wedding anniversary to Amy. From the very start the atmosphere is uneasy and disturbing; it’s clear something is very wrong in the marriage, beyond the illness of Nick’s mother and the redundancies both have suffered from from good writing jobs in New York, precipitating their move to Missouri. Later on that same day, Nick receives a warning call from a neighbour. The front door to his house is wide open, and Amy does not seem to be around. When Nick gets home he encounters the signs of a violent struggle in the living room and Amy is missing. As the search for her gets underway, the narrative is interspersed with entries from Amy’s diary, dating back to five years or so before the main events we are reading. Inevitably the police are fixated on Nick as the potential killer, and Amy’s diary makes for disquieting reading. But where is this diary that contains so much damaging information, and come to that, where is Amy’s body to be found? This is another book whose plot is its chief delight, so I won’t say any more, except that twists and turns abound, and nothing that comes from the pens of these two terribly unreliable narrators is what it seems.

Both novels, though, are fascinating portraits of gender rancour, or the amazing ability men and women have to love and loathe each other with intensity. The Obsession is more straightforward in its premise; sexuality remains a dark and vexed region where reason holds no sway and the agony of unrequited love can provoke unstable individuals to violence. Love, which ought to promote ethical behaviour, can equally destroy it. Gone Girl begins with a great deal of subtlety in its evocation of a failing marriage, detailing the very ordinary way that men can become lazy in love and women overexert themselves by means of compensation (causing deep resentment). Squabbles over money, and family worries and questions about starting a family may seem superficially benign and the stuff of everyday life. But left unresolved and untended, they are capable of causing a very powerful rage to build, one that provokes threatening thoughts in an outwardly loving couple.

However, both books ask us to consider the possibility that, under the right circumstances, love can become murderous hatred. I actually found this far more convincing in The Obsession, where it was clear from the start that we were dealing with a damaged individual. In Gone Girl, the subtle and detailed portrait of an ordinarily horrible relationship is sacrificed for ever more exciting and unpredictable twists and turns; inevitably, this means one of our couple has to turn out to be pretty much insane, which I confess I was a bit of a disappointment. Of course, the underlying assumption here is that madness might be the ultimate result of meeting and falling in love with a nemesis. Well, you can judge for yourselves how well each novel juggles with that conundrum. Gone Girl still has a great deal to recommend it, primarily a very engaging story, with that awful-but-hypnotic voyeuristic insight into another couple’s domestic strife, and genuinely surprising twists. As for The Obsession, this was the first self-published novel I’ve ever read, and I was properly impressed and surprised by the quality of the story and the writing. Kindle readers, take note.


31 thoughts on “Tainted Love

  1. Speaking of twists, how subtly you dropped that in! Many a blogger might have mentioned upfront that they were reading their first self-published novel. Kudos for giving each equal weight.

    I thought GG was excellent, but it did start to feel more and more constructed towards the end, which does happen with plot-heavy novels, but which became too much of good thing eventually.

    • Charlotte, so much to admire about that book, but so hard to find a good ending, when it’s been all about the twists! I did think about declaring self-published status first, but then I thought, no, to me The Obsession read as well as if it had been edited by a professional house, so I should treat them as equals.

  2. Both sound very interesting but that last note about The Obsession being self-published makes it even more interesting. There is a huge hype around Gone Girl. I’ve read mixed reviws, yours is a kinder one. I suppose the twists and turns could be a bit tiring. Madness is difficult territory for writers.

    • And don’t you think that hype ends up defeating its own purposes? I think reader’s expectations can be sky high and almost impossible to be met. Plus, read too many reviews and all the surprise and freshness of the first reading inevitably vanishes. I must say I was surprised by how well the self-published book stood up. I wasn’t expecting it, I have to admit!

  3. I read Gone Girl recently and was pretty impressed with it. I’m not sure if I’m reading your conclusion right – “the underlying assumption here is that madness might be the ultimate result of meeting and falling in love with a nemesis” – and can’t really get into it here without plunging into spoilers, but if you mean what I think you might mean I think I disagree. Anyway — I’ve just finished Gillian Flynn’s earlier Sharp Objects, also a brilliant, gripping, deeply scary novel. The Obsession sounds good too. Thanks.

  4. I suppose because of the hoe when I actually got round to reading ‘Gone Girl’ I was rather disappointed. I felt that ultimately the psychological reality was sacrificed to the plot twists. I’d enjoyed Flynn’s earlier novels so this was a double disappointment. I’m off now to look for ‘The Obsession’. Thanks for the recommendation.

    • Yes, I think that’s a good way of putting it – psychological realism was sacrificed here, and I thought that was a bit of a shame too. I’m glad to know her other novels are good though. I would definitely read another book by her.

  5. Ms. litlove, how very kind of you! I’m thrilled you liked my book. As always, I find your takes and insights spot on. As for comparing it favorably to the season’s U.S. publishing sensation, I am of course terribly flattered.

    The Obsession is the first entry in the Truth Beauty Trilogy. I lost my heart to these characters and so had to search out their continuing fates. Book 2, The Disappearance, has already been published. Book 3, The Tryst, is due next year.

    For your visitors who might be interested, both The Obsession and The Disappearance are available from Amazon (US, UK and Europe) in both ebook and paper.

    Oh, and when you have a moment, please stop by my site: http://www.tvlocicero.com. Among other things, there are photo galleries of locations in the novels.

    Again, I’m so grateful to you!


    • Tom, I am delighted that you are pleased, and it was a genuine pleasure to me to read your novel and have my suspicions about self-published books blown out of the water! That being said, I am sure your novel is one of the top quality ones available. I hope your book goes on to be a huge success – let me know what happens, won’t you?

      • Victoria, of course I will keep you posted. I take it that all your interesting visitors have known much longer than I how wonderful you are, but certainly you are the most admirable champion I could have ever stumbled upon. I’m absolutely not complaining, but this self-pub thing is tedious, thrilling, maddening and scary. Try it sometime if you ever want to know what obsessive/compulsive feels like.

        If you go back far enough, I do have a traditional publishing history, though it’s rather strange. For those who might want a little back story, try my post “We’re Not in Manhattan Any More” (http://www.tvlocicero.com/2012/10/04/were-not-in-manhattan-any-more/). But after 40 years of a kind of crazed, busy, purposeful meandering, I’ve been pretty much forced into this. We’ll see what, if anything, happens. For giving The Obsession a try, my gratitude to you knows no bounds!

  6. I don’t think I can manage The Obsession — I am easily frightened by creepy books in which other human people are doing the creeping. Ghosts are much easier for me to deal with in fiction because I know they are a pretend thing, whereas creepy creepers are very real.

    • Jenny – there’s always something that scares us silly. With me it’s medical dramas. I’ll take my chances with the bogeyman and the stalkers! But after all, books are for pleasure first of all so it’s fine to avoid the ones that are red-flagged as difficult to read.

  7. I have Gone Girl on hold at the library – up to number 423 I think now! The other book I will have to look for. The Obsession sounds quite interesting and creepy too. I like how you compare what is good in both books as well as what you didn’t like – an honest and fair report. I’ve heard mixed things about Gone Girl too, so I wonder if it depends on how comfortable the reader is with madness, or if it is the plot? I’m anxious to find out. Both sound unsettling.

    • Susan, the plot of Gone Girl is very good – probably its best feature. I do think that the very hyped books have it hard as readers’ expectations may be sky high, and that accounts for a lot of the disappointment. In a way I found both to be tense more than unsettling. I was happy to read both alone in the house after dark! Must watch out for your reviews, though, as I’d love to know what you make of either of them.

  8. I’ve had Gone Girl on my TBR list for a long time, but your review of The Obsession has persuaded me to add this too. Speaking of obsession, have you read Damage by Josephine Hart? Another disturbing book.

    • Karen, I had forgotten about Josephine Hart but I have read the first two of her novels. Ages ago though! And I picked up her recent one cheap somewhere. I should try her again – she was rather good, wasn’t she? Would love to know what you think about either of these books.

  9. Perhaps I deal enough with madness not to want to seek it out in my reading. But I’m always interested in the books that you review. (And I take it that the reference to Kindle at the end doesn’t mean that you have succumbed to the occasional e-read has it?) Both sound very interesting in their own right but at the moment I’m choosing comfort reads so will have to come back to them when I’m feeling stronger.

    • Poor Pete – comfort reads are very particular and not to be trifled with! Oddly enough I find reading about people killing one another very restful. It’s probably the reassurance that someone will sort it all out in the end and it doesn’t have to be me who resolves the problems! And um, no, not succumbed to the Kindle, just thought I’d be trendy and mention it (as the book is probably cheaper as an ebook). 🙂

  10. First of all, when did you get a Kindle? Did I miss you mentioning it or is my memory starting to fail me?

    Bookman read Gone Girl not long ago and liked it but didn’t tell me anything else about it. Sounds kind of intense as does The Obsession. What you say about love and hate is really interesting since I am almost done with Anna K and watched the slow and fatal deterioration of their love as it turned to hate when it really didn’t have to but for various reasons neither of them could stop it happening.

    • Ah no, I am misleading you! I don’t have a kindle and read it as a standard paperback. But I expect the ebook is a bit cheaper for those who have a reader. At least you can be reassured that your memory is just fine! Gone Girl and The Obsession are sort of intense but I didn’t feel overwhelmed by that when I was reading them, if you know what I mean. Both keep the reader guessing in a way that’s quite pleasurable. Good call on Anna K, though, as it fits beautifully with what I was saying about love and hatred! 🙂

    • Lilian, Tom wrote to me and asked if I would read it. I very rarely accept review copies this way, but I’d seen his blog and liked it, so I said I would. I was very glad I did! So many authors are going to be forced one way or another down the self-publishing route, so I’m quite glad to have read his novel, and delighted that it was so good!

  11. I broke down and bought The Gone Girl when I realized the line at the library was so long I wouldn’t likely get to it until sometime after it was published in paperback! 🙂 Of course, now that I have it it sits unopened on my pile waiting for a moment when I can squeeze it in with my other reads! Your post and Harriet’s comment makes me very curious about it all of a sudden! Now I think I will have to add The Obsession to my pile, too. I’m glad to hear it is in paperback–I just can’t quite warm up to my Nook although I do on occasion try! 🙂

    • Well, I quite understand the issue with the Nook! 🙂 But I do think you will enjoy Gone Girl when you get around to it. I’d had it for a while before reading it, and was glad it was there when it was exactly what I wanted (I’ve been in a really funny mood lately with reading and struggled to find the right novel). So you will be delighted to be able to pick it up when the mood strikes! (I hear you about paperback – let’s not think about the number of times I’ve done exactly the same thing!)

  12. You are kinder than I was about Gone Girl, by far. But your point about love gone awry, be it in a marriage or obsessive relationship, I’d well taken. I can only connect the dots you drew here to my latest read Anna Karenina. Now that was an obsession turned into mind-numbing self loathing; a book which always fascinates me as I felt great grief for Anna in my younger years. It’s terrible to “love” that needfully where things can’t help but go wrong.

    • Bellezza, I think Anna Karenina is an excellent example of what I’m talking about. Yes, exactly! And oh, I tend to be kind to books – they’re on a par with kittens and puppies for me! 🙂

      • Kitties and puppies and children’s hearts. Exactly. (p.s. Glad to be in Technorati’s Top 100 for Books with you. I go in and out of that category ‘like a fiddler’s arm’, so it’s always a surprise on the occasion I do check back and find I’m up. Or, down.)

  13. p.s. Is it a bad thing to like Soft Cell’s song “Tainted Love”? Something about that beat does go hand in hand with obsession, though. Such a clever title for your post.

  14. Pingback: Best Books of 2012 | Tales from the Reading Room

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