When does seduction and fascination tip into classic obsessive behavior? Is it equally as torturous to be the obsessed as it is to be the object of someone’s unwanted desires and attentions? The theme of obsession lends itself particularly well to the psychological thriller where it can be given the space to develop and grow into the most monstrous of motivations.
The following novels all plumb the uneasy depths of obsession, navigating deep, dark waters to fully explore the minds of both the obsessed and the obsession.
The Silent Patient, Alex Michaelides
Late one evening, Alicia Berenson shoots her husband, Gabriel, five times and then never speaks another word. Forensic psychotherapist Theo Faber becomes obsessed that he will be the one to successfully treat Alicia where others have failed. The plot is twisty and told in two timeframes; the present day and the past, told via Alicia’s diary entries. Alicia and Theo’s characters are well-developed and there’s a constant sense of unreliable narration which keeps the reader tense and guessing all the way to the stunning conclusion.
Enduring Love, Ian McEwan
Joe Rose’s calm, organized life is shattered by a ballooning accident when he meets Jed Parry. The aftermath is an obsession between the two men that is so powerful, it threatens everything Joe holds dear, driving him to the brink of murder and madness. A skillful build-up of emotions in this story ensures it soon becomes a book that becomes very difficult to put down.
The Collector, John Fowles
This is the first literary psychological thriller I read at university and the quality of writing and concept captured me instantly. It’s a tale of loner Frederick’s obsession with a young art student, Miranda. The book opens with Miranda’s abduction and the reader is swiftly carried away into the horror and depth of Frederick’s obsession. Both fascinating and heartbreaking.
You, Caroline Kepnes
When aspiring writer Guinevere Beck strides into the bookstore where Joe works, he’s instantly smitten. But does Joe’s obsessive behaviour mean he is seducing or stalking her? Our opinion on this question develops as the book progresses. It explores some pretty powerful and important contemporary themes such as privacy online and modern-day stalking. Now a major series on Netflix.
Into the Darkest Corner, Elizabeth Haynes
When singleton Catherine meets charismatic Lee, she, and her friends, all quickly fall under his spell. But it soon becomes apparent there is a darker side to Lee. An interesting narrative structure that starts in the present day and goes back in time, documenting the full, disturbing story of a woman isolated and controlled until she trusts no one and can only rely on herself to escape. A gripping and at times, terrifying, read.
You Let Me In, Lucy Clarke
Since Elle rented out her home using a popular online platform, nothing has seemed right. A strange atmosphere in her beautiful home and the feeling that someone is watching her. Writer Ella begins to wonder if it’s all in her mind, or does someone out there know her closest secrets? The story jumps back and forth in time as the dread steadily builds and soon the reader is questioning the reliability of Elle’s narration. Full of secrets and lies, this one will keep you guessing… and looking over your shoulder after dark.
Misery, Stephen King
An undisputed classic from the Master of Horror, King. When novelist Paul Sheldon is involved in a serious car accident, Annie Wilkes pulls him from the wreck and takes him to her remote mountain home to recover. Annie was a nurse and has medication that can ease the pain of Paul’s terrible leg injuries. But Annie is also obsessive, dangerous and Paul’s self-confessed Number One Fan… and she’ll do anything to keep him writing and keep him with her. A story of imprisonment and the ultimate deranged fan obsession. Unmissable!
Notes on a Scandal, Zoe Heller
When Sheba Hart joins the staff at St George’s school, her colleague, history teacher Barbara Covett, is convinced she has found a new best friend. When Sheba is accused of having an illicit affair with a pupil, Barbara becomes her chief defender. But is Barbara’s obsessive loyalty to be trusted? A gripping and compelling read that I found totally absorbing. The characters are well-drawn and developed and as the story progresses, the tension really is palpable.
Disclaimer, Renee Knight
When Catherine discovers a novel on her bedside table, she begins to read. Soon, she is horrified to discover that she is a key character in a story where the obsessive mystery author threatens to reveal her darkest secret. This book is a real page-turner that has the reader shifting sympathy and suspicions with a number of characters.
The Bone Readers, Jacob Ross
Young detective, Digger, becomes embroiled in the obsession of a cold case; the disappearance of a young man on the Caribbean island of Camho. This story is a riot of Caribbean culture, intriguing cold cases and a different kind of enthralling detective work. The writing is skillful and the characters seem to leap off the page in this worthy Jhalak prize-winning debut.