Happy Valentine’s Day, forbidden lovers!
There’s an undeniable appeal to forbidden-love stories: the secrets, the heart-pounding danger of being found out, the thrilling naughtiness of breaking the rules for the demands of passion.
And it used to be easy to titillate a reader—a married man or woman taking a lover? Gasp! Bickering families preventing their teens’ tru luv 4-eva? Oh, the drama! A wealthy individual besotted with a servant/prostitute/individual of a slightly lower social class? Fan me, darling, I’m becoming overstimulated.
But these days, there’s not much left to feed the appetite for the forbidden. Different races, different social standings, same genders, teenage girls and centuries-old vampires—what was once taboo is taboo no longer. And while this marks great social progress, it makes things a little less steamy for fans of dramatic, scandalous love stories.
Here are a few that still fit the bill, and none of them are going to get you put on a watchlist. My only criteria was that they be of a reasonable literary quality, that the love be requited, and that the taboos be ones that exist in our time and on our planet in a statistically significant degree, or that would if anyone took the time to think on it. (E.g., no Saga, because their cultural/racial conflict is invented for the series)
So, although there’s a lot of monsterotica out there, with the usual forbidden entanglements between humans and werewolves, tentacled beasties, dinosaurs, and the unusual forbidden entanglements squirming around in beloved author Chuck Tingle’s mind, whether human/creature (gay living billionaire jet planes, a handsome zombie elevator who is also a lawyer, bigfoot pirates); or human/conceptual idea given form (the socioeconomic implications of Britain leaving the European Union, the handsome physical manifestation of holiday shopping), this list is more for “everyday” taboos. But please do familiarize yourself with Chuck Tingle and his more imaginative genre-fellows once you burn through these, because the forbidden possibilities are endless.
Lolita isn’t on this list because it’s too obvious, but it also fails the reciprocity test; the relationship itself is taboo AF because of their age difference, but Lo’s just not that into him. This book pulls off the impossible, depicting a story, a situation, and two specific characters whose relationship is a true love story; tender and sympathetic and heartbreakingly lovely despite the huge age gap between them.
Can a book about a woman finding emotional and sexual fulfillment with a bear transcend the bestiality taboo and achieve literary recognition—winning awards and acclaim—if it’s written with a spare, yet lyrical grace and evokes universal themes of loneliness, empowerment, spirituality, connection, and the embrace of all that is natural and wild? Yes, it can. Can it also have a super-hot, cheesy cover? You betcha!
Many books depict intimacies between the quick and the dead, however, since a corpse cannot consent, and may or may not be into it, necrophilia is excluded, leaving this taboo to the UNdead: vampires (zzz), reanimated corpses, ghosts, and zombies. After exhaustive research and quality control, this book made the cut. A zombie boy and a living girl fall in love against impossible odds. What else is there to say?
Although Game of Thrones is blasé about twincest, sibling incest is still pretty generally frowned upon, but desperate times, desperate pleasures. Let they who have gone through puberty while locked in a room with their siblings for more than three years and not eventually fallen in desperate, passionate love with the only age-appropriate one cast the first stone, amiright?
A teacher/student relationship that also qualifies for the “extenuating circumstances” taboo-exemption. A 30-year-old tutor and her ‘nearly’ 17-year-old student are stranded on an uninhabited island after a plane crash, where the shared burden of survival and isolation changes the nature of their relationship into a partnership, and as the months become years, they forge an emotional bond that eventually skews sexy.
This book takes nearly seven hundred pages and fifty years to draw out the nailbiting “will they or won’t they?” attraction between a priest and a woman in Australia’s most popular family saga. Other things happen in-between all the suppressed passion and yearning gazes, but the forbidden love drives a lot of the plot, and it is juicy with taboo, so it makes the list.
Another student-teacher relationship, additionally taboo-d by the teacher being a robot. A very high-end advanced-tech android, but still something programmed to teach and attend to a little girl’s needs, a girl who eventually becomes a woman with confusing, shameful feelings for her tutor, which he shouldn’t be able to return. Not an easy love story, but one deeply invested in notions of humanity, consent, and taboo.
M/M romance hasn’t had to wear the scarlet T for some time now, but what about when one of the Ms is an angel who comes down to Earth once a year to “wrestle” with a married human M who already has an F lover on the side? Is that a recognized taboo? For all that this sounds like some blasphemous key party, Elizabeth Knox is no purveyor of smut, and she plays it spicy, not sleazy.
This is a collection of short novels and even shorter novelettes in which Philip José Farmer explores a variety of romantic human/alien encounters. Written in the ’60’s, the sexy bits are less explicit than in contemporary fiction; this isn’t Fifty Shades of Grey(s) or anything. But human/alien sex is taboo, right? Even if it’s not, that cover is spectacular, and I got to make a terrible pun, so it was all worth it.
An honorable mention. Perhaps dishonorable. Although not the book’s focus, what always springs to mind when I think of Suttree is its man-on-melon action. I’m not sure where human/fruit falls on the taboo spectrum, or if it even does, but between this and Call Me By Your Name, it’s happening all the time, and even though it violates this list’s otherwise strictly observed mutuality rule, forbidden fruit makes it in.
As a PS, because it won’t be published until after Valentine’s Day, this is the novelization of Del Toro’s film, and it pretty much proves my point about the erosion of sexual taboos: if the tale of a love affair between a woman and a fish-creature can be nominated for more shiny film trophies than any other this year (13 Oscars and 7 Golden Globes), monsterotica has officially become respectable. Bring on the Tingles!