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5 of the most toxic relationships in fiction

Toxic relationships lie at the heart of so many thrillers, our pages filled with terrible marriages, gaslighters, stalkers and the obsessed. We seem to enjoy reading about dysfunctional relationships as much as we do great loves, maybe because we are all capable of being the best and worst versions of ourselves in romantic relationships. Reading about these couples is a reminder that the scariest places to be are often not the haunted house or the dark street, but inside our own heads or trapped within a bad relationship.

Here are five novels with fictional couples so toxic they should come with a health warning:

5 of the most toxic relationships in fiction:

toxic relationships in Deep Water by Patricia HighsmithDeep Water by Patricia Highsmith

It’s fair to say that many of Highsmith’s novels featured toxic relationships, but my favourite has to be Melinda and Vic Van Allen, a couple so filled with hatred for each other that they are lost inside terrible mind games that ultimately lead to murder. A brilliant portrayal of just how wrong a marriage can go.

toxic relationships in Rebecca by Daphne du MaurierRebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Never let anyone tell you this is a love story, it is one of the best depictions of gaslighting you will ever read. As this brilliant book progresses we begin to see that Max de Winter is so far from what he seems, taking pleasure in controlling and ruining the lives of both his wives, with a shocking final reveal as to what really happened to Rebecca. Especially important for revealing to us how we see and blame women within bad relationships.

toxic relationships in fictionGone Girl by Gillian Flynn

We can’t really talk about toxic relationships without mentioning this seminal book, which re-ignited our current passion for unreliable narrators and twists in the tale. The mid way flip of this book turns everything we think we know about Nick and Amy on its head and was truly shocking when it came out seven years ago. It’s impossible to like either character, which makes the final scene so chilling as we realise that being trapped with each other is the worst fate either of them could imagine.

toxic relationships in fictionSunburn by Laura Lippman

Set over a long, hot summer with two people fleeing terrible loves and lives, Polly and Adam reveal another side to the toxic relationship: what happens when you meet the worst person possible for you. Neither character are exactly pleasant, easy going types, but you get the feeling that if they hadn’t run in to each other in a dive of a bar both on their way to somewhere else, things might not have turned out so badly. This novel is filled with a dangerous passion that ends up too explosive, in more ways than one.

toxic relationships in fictionMy Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing

Taking the idea of the toxic relationship to new levels, we realise early on that we are not reading about a normal married couple with two children, but actually about two serial killers who happen to be married with two children. It is hard not to be swept up in the who is worst, who is telling the truth as the twists come thick and fast. And strange that you end up feeling sorry for someone who has brutally murdered several women. Just goes to prove there’s always someone worse out there and you might just be sharing a bed with them.

Read about a seriously toxic relationship in fiction recently? Let us know in the comments below…

Read an extract from Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall here.

Araminta Hall
Araminta Hall
Araminta Hall

Araminta Hall has worked as a writer, journalist and teacher. Her first novel, Everything & Nothing, was published in 2011 and became a Richard & Judy read that year. Her second, Dot, was published in 2013. She teaches creative writing at New Writing South in Brighton, where she lives with her husband and three children. Her latest book, Our Kind of Cruelty, is a deeply unsettling thriller of a love story, in which a secret game between lovers has deadly consequences…

Follow Araminta on Twitter.

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