I’ll just say it: I hate Valentine’s Day. Sure, I like romance and reading romance novels and watching all of the rom coms I can find. But I am kind not a fan of the holiday that focuses on those things. Because if you’re in a relationship, expectations can be too high. And if you’re not, you just feel lonely because everyone else is out celebrating with their significant others. Either way, I don’t think it ever works out well. Also, I really don’t like pink and hearts and cutesy things all that much, so I’ll be glad when it’s over.
And while I am still personally reading some romance novels this month (mostly for a fun reading experiment post that you’ll get to see next week), I definitely understand the impulse to read anything but romance. So I thought I’d share some books that I really enjoyed that are the antithesis of romance novels. Some of these have toxic relationships, others are just romances that don’t work out, but not a single one ends with a happily ever after.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
This book starts out like a lovely romance: our main character meets the rich, brooding Maxim de Winter, who she falls in love with. And he marries her, despite the fact that she’s kind of a servant and he’s definitely upper class. When they get to Manderley, the de Winter estate, the new Mrs. de Winter can’t stop feeling like she’s intruding on someone else’s life. And that person is Rebecca, the previous Mrs. de Winter, who died under tragic and mysterious circumstances, and who Maxim refuses to talk about.
This is basically classic Gothic romance. But is it really a happily ever after if the characters involve are still haunted by tragedy at the end? Bonus: if you’re more in the mood for a anti-romance movie this Valentine’s Day, the Netflix adaptation is pretty great (although Armie Hammer is in it, so do with that what you will).
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Perfect couple, perfect house, perfect life. Until woman goes missing and man gives some press conferences acting a little suspicious. I know there’s a high probability of you having already read this – it has almost two and a half million ratings on Goodreads – but if you haven’t and you’d like to spend this Valentine’s Day reading about the most toxic relationship I’ve ever encountered, here’s your book.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
This one is a bit different from the books on this list in that it’s not about a marriage that is toxic or messed up. It’s about a marriage that falls apart due to circumstances no one could have seen coming. Celestial and Roy are happy newlyweds. Unfortunately, a woman at a hotel they’re staying at is raped. And when that woman sees Roy, a black man, she identifies him as her rapist. And he’s sentenced to twelve years for a crime he didn’t commit. And even though Roy and Celestial both go into his sentence hoping for the best, Roy being away for so long takes a bigger toll on their marriage than they were expecting.
This book is honestly heartbreaking. There is no possible way it could have ended happily. And it’s just a story about how sometimes life happens, and you can’t fix it.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
This is basically about a woman who is unhappy in her relationship and has an affair. Which also isn’t the healthiest relationship in the world and does not end well. I hope I’m not spoiling this too much for anyone, but it ends with a train and it’s pretty sad. But that doesn’t make this book any less great. I can honestly say that, even though this is sad (and really long), I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s the book that ignited my love for Russian literature (and inspired me to actually read War & Peace). It’s just a classic tragic love story, filled with unhappiness and toxic relationships.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Ah yes, toxic stalker romance. Honestly, it’s a little like Romeo & Juliet in that it starts with two young lovers and ends up with people being dead. Only this one has a cheating husband. Fun, right? Actually, it is kind of fun because 1920s is more interesting than whatever Romeo & Juliet was. It’s also a little bit about how love stories don’t always work out, sometimes they end, sometimes they’re not healthy, and sometimes it’s hard to let go and that’s not great, either.
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Okinyan Braithwaite
This is about a woman who gets stuck cleaning up after her sister… when her sister murders her boyfriends and claims it’s “self defense”. It’s weird and dark and probably about the worst possible relationship dynamic out of all the books on this list. It’s kind of like those Black Widow stories where a woman gets rich by repeatedly murdering her husbands, except this one doesn’t get to the “I do” part of things before killing.
The Guest List by Lucy Foley
You might think that since this is set at a wedding that it has too much romance to be on this list. But you’d be wrong. This book is full of some pretty dark secrets and almost all of the characters are hiding something. There’s definitely a wedding, but there is also murder and mystery. It’s as if the bride and groom went into their wedding day totally unaware that their wedding is also a murder mystery party, but not fake.
My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing
I actually do have some thrillers on this list, but this one had twists I didn’t see coming. And I’m pretty good at seeing twists coming. It was also just a really dark, great thriller. It’s about a couple who, to spice up their marriage, turn to inviting a young girls over for threesomes… and then holding them hostage and murdering them. Unsurprisingly, things go sideways. But not in the way you might think. This might be tied with Gone Girl for most toxic, screwed up couple on this list.
And that’s it for this post! Hope you enjoyed it! Sorry if my descriptions are kind of short, I didn’t want to spoil anything for these books, but also I’m super busy working on a massive reading experiment post that’s coming next week.
Do you read anything for Valentine’s Day (romance or otherwise)? Are there any books you’d add to this list?