The dangerous liaison, the brief encounter, the coup de foudre. Is there anything more exciting than a steamy affair or unexpected embrace? The British reading public obviously don’t think so. Here’s a selection of the best ever books about infidelity, as voted for in a recent Guardian survey.
1. Madame Bovary – Gustav Flaubert
Following its publication in 1857 Flaubert was tried for breaking religion and morality laws but was acquitted and the controversy surrounding the case inevitably made it a huge success. Madame Bovary was truly radical in its time and the Leon and Emma’s impassioned cab ride through Rouen’s cobbled streets has set many a heart a flutter.
2. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
When Tolstoy created Anna Karenina he had intended to show a woman who had been destroyed by an extramarital affair after having witnessed a spurned adulteress throw herself under a train, but the eponymous heroine emerged instead as a bright and vivid character who has cemented her place as a literary icon.
3. Lady with Lapdog – Anton Chekhov
Often called ‘the high priest of unprincipled art’ due to his ability to create difficult characters without heaping judgement on them, Chekhov’s ‘Lady with a Lapdog’ is one of a series of short stories exploring infidelity and illicit affairs. It tells the tale of a married man and his attempts to woo a much younger woman at a Russian seaside resort.
4. Lady Chatterley’s Lover – DH Lawrence
One of the most controversial books of all time, Lady Chatterley’s lover was reportedly a reflection of Lawrence’s own life. According to reports, the author was impotent and his wife Frieda was well-known for taking lovers. Contrary to popular belief the book was never banned, but large portions of the text, which told the story of upper-class Constance Chatterley’s torrid affair with a gardener, were omitted when it was first published. A ban attempt was made in 1960 when an infamous obscenity trial was held but the prosecution was unsuccessful and the novel was finally published in its entirety. Penguin gave a dedication of thanks to the jurors in the new edition.
5. The End of the Affair – Graham Greene
The exquisite pain of heartbreak is examined to the full in Graham Greene’s wartime classic. The End of the Affair is told from the point of view of narrator Maurice Bendix, a writer who years after an affair with the frustrated wife of a civil servant has ended, is still haunted by the mysterious and exasperating she made to call an end to it. Greene’s delicately nuanced and pin sharp style is perfect for conjuring up understated passion and furtive glances amidst the falling bombs of World War Two. The End of the Affair is one of Greene’s most successful novels and like the majority of tomes on our list it’s been adapted into a movie. Julianne Moore is a perfect Catherine Walston so if you really can’t face reading anything other than chick lit or celebrity biogs on the beach then watch the movie instead!