Is the front door locked? Did I turn the kettle off? You rattle the doorknob just to check if it's secure or maybe you rush inside and sigh when you see the hob is off.
We all have little tics, those inoffensive thoughts that suddenly rise like a tidal wave and take control of our actions. These can be sporadic or they can completely seize your life. We are, of course, glossing over these compulsions, these repetitive thoughts that feed our anxiety, distress, and disgust. We mostly try to ignore these impulses but from time to time they can be recurrent. Obsession encompasses a wide spectrum and is so heavily nuanced we cannot make it justice in the space of a few paragraphs. This is why we turn to literature, as it offers all the different variations that make up the term, obsession.
Through the pages of these books, we get to know characters that deal with a mental disorders or perhaps are simply driven to comply to their most basic instincts. The protagonists of these books are consumed by their obsessions, to the point that these distort their perception of reality and affect the lives of those who surround them.
The Collector (1963)
“When she was home from her boarding-school I used to see her almost every day sometimes, because their house was right opposite the Town Hall Annexe. She and her younger sister used to go in and out a lot, often with young men, which of course I didn’t like. When I had a free moment from the files and ledgers I stood by the window and used to look down over the road over the frosting and sometimes I’d see her”.
Frederick Clegg is a butterfly collector. He begins to nurture an obsession for Miranda Grey, a young art student he constantly observes but has never spoken to. By a stroke of luck, he wins a bet that allows him to quit his job, so he decides to move to the countryside. Dealing with solitude and isolation, he starts fantasizing about capturing that young woman as if she were a butterfly for his collection.
That fantasy soon becomes an obsession that will lead to drastic results...
This is John Fowles' first novel and due to its success, it was soon adapted into a film version.
Prozac Nation (1994)
“I want to explain to Noah how exhausted I am, even in my dreams, how I wake up tired, how I'm being drowned by some kind of black wave that I can’t write but he doesn’t really want to hear about it anyway.”
Prozac Nation, an autobiographical novel by Elizabeth Wurtzel, portrays all stages and emotions behind depression. This book tells the story of a young woman dealing with an emotional unbalance. It also shows how in the nineties Prozac became a common solution for these mental disorders. However, many of these young consumers ended up trapped in obsessive behaviors that drove them into a downward spiral of sex, drugs, and alcohol.
Wurtzel is now a rock critic for the Rolling Stone Magazine. She graduated from Harvard and has won many awards.
"But sometimes the sounds –like the pain– faded, and then there was only the haze. He remembered darkness solid darkness had come before the haze. Did that mean he was making progress? Let there be light (even of the hazy variety), and the light was good, and so on and so on? Had those sounds existed in the darkness? He didn't know the answers to any of these questions. Did it make sense to ask them? He didn't know the answer to that one, either."
Annie Wilkes, an unstable woman, has abducted Paul Sheldon, a writer she obsessively admires. Little by little, Annie starts revealing her true nature and Paul does the best he can to be safe from his captor's madness. In this novel, Stephen King takes us into a vortex of sensations that go from compassion to horror.
The Vegetarian (2007)
“Before my wife turned vegetarian, I’d always thought of her as completely unremarkable in every way. To be frank, the first time I met her I wasn’t even attracted to her. Middling height; bobbed hair neither long nor short; jaundiced, sickly-looking skin; somewhat prominent cheekbones; her timid, shallow aspect told me all I needed to know."
Out of a sudden, a woman decides to stop eating meat. One day, her husband sees her throwing away all the meat from the fridge. She explains she had a dream that made her decide to stop eating meat. This decision will affect all the people around her.
Thanks to the people that surround her, we learn of her changes. This book goes beyond a mere description of an eating disorder, since the author makes us question how a life can change so abruptly and how a dream can become an obsession that can affect both the individual and the people surrounding them.
These novels were successfully adapted into films. Since their release, they managed to move their readers' deepest emotions and became best sellers. If you want to know more about literature, you might be interested in these 51 Classics You Should Read If You Want To Be A Literature Know-It-All. Literature is a form of art that allows us to travel everywhere we want, check how these 5 Books That Show How Borders Only Exist In Our Minds.
American Psychiatric Association
Translated by María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards