4x4th Estate: Bad Love

Wetlands by Charlotte Roche


When the protagonist clarifies that ‘[b]y very successful I mean that I can come with just a cock up my ass, not being touched anywhere else. Yep, I’m proud of that’ on the first page of a novel you know you’re onto some bad loving. This remarkable, provocative, engrossing and just plain gross novel from a super-cool British-German wunderkind became the biggest selling book on Amazon at the time in all of the world. Here was a young woman, Helen, bearing her soul: yes there was anal shaving and some really eau naturel parfum, but there was also an acutely lonely person abandoned by unfeeling, selfish parents and left to find their own way in a world still ruled by the Madonna/Whore dichotomy. Plus the Daily Mail declared it ‘profoundly upsetting’, so it must be good, right?


Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov


Oh Humbert Humbert, that most unreliable of unreliable narrators – was ever a poor soul so manipulated in the name of (bad) love? Or was ever an amoral sexual predator given such poetry to express his evil thoughts? The power of Nabokov’s dizzying masterpiece is such that ‘Lolita’ has transcended noun-status to become a by-word for all things sexualised, fantasised, corruptible and transgressive. When Humbert Humbert consents to lodge with Charlotte Haze on the unspoken understanding that her 12-year-old daughter will live with them, so ensues this strange love affair between nymphet and scholar. Alternately beguiling and unsettling, this problematic novella reaches the heady heights of bad love. (Incidentally Kubrick’s 1962 classic must surely be one of the greatest literature-to-film translations of all time.)

Atomised by Michel Houellebecq


This controversial dissection of modern lives and loves centres on two brothers, Bruno and Michel, who have nothing in common except their mother. Michel is a molecular biologist – an asexual loner who (inadvertently?) creates a process whereby human life is created solely by cloning, therein extinguishing all human sexual acts, which turns out to be bad for love. And then there’s Bruno, a shagging mess of a self-styled libertine whose proclivities for prostitues and chat-rooms leave him depressed and hospitalised.

Atomised was awarded the prestigious Prix Novembre, which then changed its name to the Prix Decembre because the prize’s founder didn’t agree with Houellebecq winning (which is really pretty cool in terms of fucking the system). It is dark, it is compulsive, and it is really bad for love.


Single, Carefree, Mellow by Katherine Heiny

Single, Carefree, Mellow

Woman falls in love. Woman gets married. Woman meets stranger on Facebook and falls in love again. Man falls in love with woman but then meets other woman on Twitter. Other woman is called ‘Paisley’.

In ‘Cranberry Relish’, one of eleven short stories in this whip-smart and utterly charming collection, Josie discovers that sex with Billy is genuinely less physical in person than online, and that Paisley is a name that Josie will never say out loud,  ‘not even if Paisley were about to step in front of a truck.’ There’s bad sex, really bad sex, for a first, second, third and fourth (and final) time. So bad that Josie thinks she needs to find a new person to be, if only to escape the fact that she had sex with a basic stranger who sighs when he comes and writes ‘defiantly’ when he means ‘definitely’. It’s funny because it’s true, and it’s poignant and heart-breaking because it’s funny.



Words by Morwenna Loughman

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