Top Ten Tuesday | Problematic Depictions of Love

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

This week’s inspiration is love. But I’m not big on romance (unless its a teen romance story, in which case the heightened drama TOTALLY makes sense). I like romance to be one aspect of the story, not the only aspect of the story. So I thought it would be a little bit more interesting if to look at frustrating and problematic depictions of love and love-adjacent emotions like obsession (this seems to be a recurring theme in literature).

Oh, and spoiler warning (I can’t both rant and be cognizant of spoilers, sorry).

Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov


‘Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of my tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.’

Setting the bar really low here, I know, but Lolita had to be on this list. ‘Humbert-Humbert’, a middle-aged man falls in love with his landlady’s 12-year-old daughter who he refers to as Lolita. He grooms her, he gets rid of her mother, he steals her away. An unreliable narrator, he claims that Lolita is as interested in him as he is in her and as a reader you’re never sure how much truth there is in this. The older she gets, the less attractive and ‘nymph-like’ she is. It’s messed up but a weirdly fascinating book.

Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl

‘My gosh, Nick, why are you so wonderful to me?’ 
He was supposed to say: You deserve it. I love you.
But he said, ‘Because I feel sorry for you.’ 
‘Because every morning you have to wake up and be you.’

The obvious suspect when Amy Dunne goes missing is her husband, Nick. All evidence points to him: credit card debts, a staged struggle in their living room and five years worth of diary entries implicating him. The plot twist: Amy is not missing or dead, she’s framing Nick for her murder. The book becomes a cat and mouse game when Nick figures this out and tries to lure her back home through a media campaign. Second plot twist: he does actually love her in a weird twisted way and needs her in his life. Conclusion: they are as effed up as each other.

Romeo and Juliet – William Shakespeare9780143128571

‘Thus with a kiss I die.’

She’s 13, he’s 17, they see each other ONCE and decide that this is true love. Yes, yes they are star-crossed lovers and their love is forbidden when it shouldn’t be and it’s all very inspiring but it’s just not the greatest love story of all time. They don’t even end up together unless you count the morbid reading where they can only be united in death. (Really Romeo, why didn’t you just cry over her grave for a bit until she woke up?)

9780241978924Love in the Time of Cholera – Gabriel García Márquez

This book made me so mad. This is not a love story. This is a story of obsession where Florentino Ariza does not let go of his teen crush on Fermina Daza, and waits 50 years for her husband to die and he still gets together with her. In the meantime he sleeps with any women he can get his hands on in order to forget about Fermina for a little while, including his 14-year-old ward whom he grooms. There are a couple of instances of rape, as well as a sexual assault mentioned in passing, all described as ‘making love’. I am not on board with this book at all.

Switch Bitch – Roald Dahl


I loved this short story collection when I first read it. However, the one I remember best has not aged well. ‘The Great Switcheroo’ is a story about a pair of neighbours, Vic and Jerry, who, at a cocktail party one night, confess that they would like to sleep with each other’s wives. Knowing that their wives would never agree to it, they come up with a plan in which they tell each other the intimate details of their sex lives so that they can one night slip into their neighbour’s bed, have sex with the other’s wife in the dark and return home, the wives none the wiser. The twist ending is of course that each wife enjoys sex more with the neighbour than she has ever done. It was scandalous. It was clever. It was rape.

The_great_gatsby_pinguinThe Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

‘Oh, you want too much!’ she cried to Gatsby. ‘I love you now – isn’t that enough? I can’t help what’s past.’ She began to sob helplessly. ‘I did love him once – but I loved you too.’

Gatsby involves a complex mix of unrequited love, familial love and obsessive love. Gatsby is obsessed with the idea of Daisy Buchanan – he changes his entire identity and social standing to be worthy of her. It’s not until you reach that tense scene on that sweltering summer day in the Plaza Hotel before the climax of the book that you realise how much of Gatsby’s romantic narrative is in his head. He demands that Daisy tell her husband Tom that she never loved him. It is a brilliant book, this is obsession done well.


I couldn’t quite make it to ten this week (thankfully?) but I hope you enjoyed the list. Do you disagree? What’s the most problematic depiction of love you’ve read?

10 thoughts on “Top Ten Tuesday | Problematic Depictions of Love

    1. Haha, I’m glad I’m not the only one writing more cynical posts leading up to Valentine’s day! Love your TTT btw 🙂


  1. What a great topic and I love this list!!!! I’m SO glad Romeo and Juliet is on here because, to be honest, I’ve never really understood the hype around that play and I’ve always thought it was a bit overrated. That could just be me though! I mean, it’s Shakespeare, so I love it. But I’ve always been way more partial to his other stuff. I’m admittedly a huge fangirl of the Leonardo DiCaprio movie though 😂
    I absolutely LOVE the Great Gatsby, but it’s so appropriate for this list. Daisy is awful and Gatsby is in way too deep to realize how messed up it all is. Lolita is a book I’ve been wanting to read for forever, but I just haven’t gotten to it yet. Part of me is a little scared to though, because it just sounds so disturbing! But I know my curiosity will get the better of me in the end! I’ve heard it’s really good.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah thanks! Yeah with Romeo and Juliet, it’s kind of beautiful and tragic (with lots of excellent writing of course) but if you take a step back and look at the bare bones of the story it’s really not the most romantic story in the world! And yes, Romeo + Juliet is a classic!
      Gatsby is just so well-written that it’s one of the few stories with problematic depictions of love that I actually really like.
      Lolita is disturbing, but you kind of can’t stop reading it? It’s certainly not light reading. I had to read it for uni so I’m not sure if I would have picked it up on reputation alone. 😂


  2. Omg talk about problematic romances here, wow and yikes. I think most of these sound thoroughly disturbing, but like I never knew Roald Dahl wrote that?! I thought he only wrote kids books about chocolate factories.😂 Okay so WOW.


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