Obsession— my recurring theme. What’s yours?
Sometimes, as a writer, it’s helpful to identify a common thread that weaves through our work. This can draw our focus back when our story-line begins to wander. Identifying a consistent theme may help us rediscover the enthusiasm we felt when we started writing. It’s what makes our work unique, after all, what delineates it from other writing. There are always going to be moments when our work feels arduous, exhausting, confusing. Returning to basics, rediscovering the energy that fired us up to begin with, by remembering the themes that fascinate us, can help us untangle the knots so we can move forward.
The more I write, the more I see that ‘Obsession’ is a recurring theme in my work. I believe that everyone is a little obsessive in their own way, and of course obsession can be a positive thing, when it refers to the desire to see something through to completion. Perfectionists are obsessive, as are successful sports people and many entrepreneurs, but obsession can be negative; stalkers are obsessive and stalking is never positive.
Obsession – as in the case of stalking—becomes destructive when it attaches itself to something impossible to achieve, but won’t let go, so that the sufferer ends up resorting to extreme behaviour in order to follow it through.
Literature is full of obsessive characters. Humbert Humbert in Lolita, (twelve year old girls) Macbeth, (status and power), Anna Karenina, (fear of rejection) -all suffer from overly obsessive natures that lead them down increasingly fixated paths towards murder, rape and suicide.
Personally I’ve experienced positive kinds of obsession‑ I can get obsessed with the garden, or with finishing novels, but a lot more negative types—worrying endlessly over things I have little control over; things I’ve said, mistakes I’ve made, regrets, and anxieties about whether I can keep all my children happy and safe at all times.
But I’m fascinated by what happens when an otherwise normal, psychologically healthy person lets an unwise obsession take over. When they find themselves going to places they probably shouldn’t—no, definitely shouldn’t! When the type of emotional responses we’re all subject to (love, desire, guilt, anxiety) progress to something irrational. When what starts out as a minor obsession gets out of hand. I find the fact any of us could get that obsessed, but that luckily, most of us don’t, an interesting ‘what if?’ scenario. It carries with it that ‘there but for the grace of god go I’ sense of voyeuristic fascination.
Obsession is a common thread in all the novels I’ve written so far.
In Tideline, Sonia is obsessed with recapturing a teenage love to the extent she falls for a teenage boy and becomes obsessed with keeping him in his present form, ‘protecting’ him from the outside world and from growing older (in the way she wasn’t able to protect her first love). An obsession gone at least one step too far!
In the Darkening Hour, Theodora is obsessed with status, both within her family and at work, so when this comes under threat, she takes it out on her domestic worker, belittling and bullying her— projecting her low self esteem onto someone who is beneath her in terms of social standing.
And in A Trick of the Mind, Ellie becomes obsessed with the idea she might have been responsible for a hit and run incident— against all the evidence— to the extent that she visits the victim in hospital and lets him believe she’s someone she isn’t, until she realises this has led her into real danger. Her obsession starts out as misplaced guilt and ends up with her becoming the victim of a psychopath.
So obsession, whether in the guise of obsessive love, obsessive ambition, obsessive guilt, or obsessive pride is a theme I return to.
At the moment, I’m writing about mothers, two friends, obsessed with proving their children are the innocent parties in a rape allegation— an understandable response—but this desperation hides a deeper obsession; the need to prove each is a better mother than the other.
I’m doing it again.
Writing about obsession.