Impossible Love

Georgetown LibraryStaff Picks

Impossible Love

Novels of ill-fated relationships

Complex even when unchallenged and reciprocal, love grows in complication when met with any type of resistance.
Such resistance can be large scale, such as cultural disapproval, or more intimate, such as the health of one of the lovers.
Drawn mostly from Literary Fiction, the following works differ in the reasons why the lovers’ relationships are fraught -- but they share heartbreaking results rendered with such emotional acuity that they inspire in the reader as much appreciation as heartache. 

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
Engaged to be married, Newland Archer develops a reciprocated attraction to his fiancée’s cousin Ellen Olenska in Wharton’s classic novel of Gilded Age New York. As the feelings between the pair grow, Wharton explores to aching effect the many and subtle restrictions of life in the late 19th century upper class. 

Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx
In spare prose, Proulx tracks the relationship that develops between Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist when they are hired to mind sheep together in the summer of 1963. As what neither intended to last pulls at them both over the following decades, Proulx explores how social mores limit and endanger those whose love lies outside their bounds. (Available as a standalone title and in her collection, Close Range: Wyoming Stories.) 

Atonement by Ian McEwan
The developing relationship between Cambridge student Cecilia Tallis and fellow student and son of her family’s housekeeper Robbie Turner in 1935 England is misunderstood by younger Tallis sister Briony with disastrous results in McEwan’s slow burning novel of how grave wrongs can arise out of timing and circumstance.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
College student Toru Watanabe falls in love with Naoko, the lover of his late best friend, who feels for him as well yet also struggles with her mental health. As she deteriorates, he becomes drawn to a classmate, Midori, yet the strength of his feelings for Naoko persist, as Murakami examines how the limitations of one relationship can enable another that in turn is complicated by that principal love. 

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
Like Norwegian Wood, Eugenides’ novel tracks two relationships among three individuals -- both of which are independently challenging and which complicate each other. Madeleine Hanna falls for Leonard Bankhead as they prepare to graduate, yet their connection is strained by his manic depression -- and clouded by earnest fellow student Mitchell Grammaticus’ feelings for Madeleine.