Give me some of that sexy, sexy self-loathing
February 6, 2014 1:25 PM   Subscribe

Book recommendation filter: Guy loves girl. Guy hates himself for it. Romantic drama ensues.

Okay, I'm pretty sure this is one of the most common tropes in romance literature, but I'm hoping that by narrowing it down a bit, I can get some good recommendations, as opposed to just a list of the hundreds of books that feature it.

Here's how I'm narrowing it down.

1.) It's a book you can actually recommend. I don't need it to be great literature at all - higher-quality genre stuff would be lovely, since I probably read less romance than any other genre - but no hate-reading. Along those lines, please recommend it because the central conflict works for you emotionally - I think The Scarlet Letter probably meets my specifications, but I don't think anyone has gotten sucked deep into its forbidden romance lately. (Though if I'm wrong, let me know!)

2.) No cheating. Well, there can be incidental cheating, but another person that can't be the primary barrier keeping the lovers apart. I'm hoping this will be the caveat that narrows down the field.

3.) No pedophilia/age gaps. "I love her, but I hate myself because she's only sixteen" isn't romantic, it's gross.

4.) Maybe this is more of a clarification than a specification, but: this can't just be a forbidden love, or a love with consequences. If, say, religion is keeping the lovers apart, the lover must have actually internalized the religious norms, and be conflicted about them - the drama can't just be "If we get caught, we'll get in a ton of trouble (c.f. Romeo and Juliet.)

5.) Hetero relationships only, please. Not because I'm not into gay fiction (I read a lot of slash, and this trope is everywhere). It's just not what I'm looking for at the moment. Examples where the trope is reversed (it's the girl who hates herself, not the guy) would, however, be welcome.

The book that sparked this question is The Thorn Birds, but the classic examples of the kind of emotional fetish fuel I'm looking for are Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. The obvious recent Bad Examples are Twilight and Fifty Shades (I think, haven't read the latter) but again, I'm looking for books you recommend.

posted by pretentious illiterate to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Pride and Prejudice.
posted by WinterSolstice at 1:32 PM on February 6, 2014 [7 favorites]

Of Human Bondage
posted by mochapickle at 1:33 PM on February 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

(They don't end up together, oh no.)
posted by mochapickle at 1:34 PM on February 6, 2014

Maybe try The Unknowns? I loved it and it may not be 100% to your criteria but definitely has a self-loathing (yet mostly endearing) protagonist who ruins a relationship for himself.
posted by mlle valentine at 1:36 PM on February 6, 2014

It has been a while since I read it, but I think The Song Is You comes close to what you're talking about, although it's slightly tangential. It is *possible* but I think not probable that I'm thinking of Juliet, Naked.
posted by janey47 at 1:38 PM on February 6, 2014

Best answer: Joscelin's feelings for Phedre in Kushiel's Dart meet your criteria. Also included: political intrigue, courtesans, excellent world-building.
posted by esoterrica at 1:39 PM on February 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Crome Yellow by Aldous Huxley has this sort of, depending on what you're looking for.

The central character of the book is in love with, or thinks he's in love with, a character who doesn't love him (she thinks he's a dumb little kid) and is way more into another character instead. Central character is angsty and upset all through the book because he thinks he's so damned special and authentic that anyone should be in love with him, but she's not, so he's all pissed off at himself for not being as cool as the guy she actually likes. Etc. Lots of jealousy, lots of bratty I'm typing this I realize it's coming off as sounding tedious, but really it's not.

Crome Yellow is really an absolutely delightful book in general, one of my favorites. It's basically Downton Abbey from an obnoxious hipster kid's perspective.
posted by phunniemee at 1:45 PM on February 6, 2014

I'll suggest The Sorrows of Young Werther without adding spoilers.
posted by rhizome at 2:25 PM on February 6, 2014

Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton. I love that book.
posted by HandfulOfDust at 2:40 PM on February 6, 2014

High Fidelity maybe?
posted by K.P. at 2:45 PM on February 6, 2014

Talking It Over by Julian Barnes.
posted by sweetkid at 3:04 PM on February 6, 2014

Are you interested in clinical insanity/tragic outcomes? E.g. the play Equus...
posted by amtho at 3:10 PM on February 6, 2014

The First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie has some of this as one of the minor plotlines.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:04 PM on February 6, 2014

Adrian Tomine's graphic novels have healthy dose of relationship related self loathing. Check out Summer Blonde etc..
posted by Captain Chesapeake at 4:26 PM on February 6, 2014

Best answer: The first few of Glen Cook's Black Company novels might fit the bill, although romance is certainly not the main focus and the main character is pretty recalcitrant about his feelings. Still, he's a mercenary doctor with a force that is, alternately, either in the employ of the world's most powerful semi-immortal sorcerress/demi-god, or being actively deployed by her enemies against her. Either way it's awkward and he's not a big fan of it.
posted by WidgetAlley at 5:47 PM on February 6, 2014

This might not be loathing or conflict enough, but what about Rainbow Rowell's Attachments? The man is an IT worker whose job is to secretly scan everyone's email; he finds himself falling in love with a woman at his office (in another department, so he's never seen her) due to her emails getting flagged by his filters.
posted by littlemisslaika at 6:08 PM on February 6, 2014

Phantom by Susan Kay. It's a retelling of Phantom of the Opera, as the story of Phantom's/Eric's life, from his point of view. The novel is lowbrow, but I gobbled it up as fast and I could, loved reading it, and it's stuck with me -- definitely a guilty pleasure rather than a hate read.

If you like stories along those lines, The Hunchback of Notre Dame also works. It's not all that steamy, of course, but I think it fits your other criteria (doomed love, self-loathing hero, hetero...) and if you haven't read it, I genuinely recommend it.
posted by rue72 at 7:53 PM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Age of Innocence.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 1:55 PM on March 17, 2014

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