12 Genuinely Great Books About May-December Romances

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There’s a reportedly terrible movie called Adore premieres out imminently — it stars Naomi Watts and Robin Wright as moms who end up sleeping with each other’s sons. Everyone’s super-hot and the climate is humid, and yet critics say the picture is terrible, too serious and self-regarding. Critics wrote something similar about “The Grandmothers,” the Doris Lessing novella on which the film was based, so this isn’t a case of a bad adaptation. So we can’t even refer you to the book.

But if you’re hankering to read and earn about the ups and downs of dating outside your age bracket, we have some other recommendations. Romantic or dark, here are 12 books that get at the meat of the issue of age disparity in romance. Sometimes: BIG AGE DISPARITIES.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Not like our good friend Jane needs another film adaptation, but we could do with one that grapples with seriously with Jane being only about 18, Rochester pushing 35 at least (she says twice her age), and that Madwoman up in the attic, instead of Hollywoodizing all of that as just another obstacle to True Love.

Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

Griet is 19 to Vermeer’s 33. What? In the 17th century, 33 was quite old, I assure you.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

The Second Mrs. DeWinter is just a young lass in her early 20s, and her widower husband in his 40s. She fares pretty well, if you figure all that psychological torture comes out in the wash when it turns out the whole husband-murdering-wife thing was a huge misunderstanding.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

To be honest, I never understood Jo’s obsession with the 40ish Professor Baer. I was rooting for Laurie all along.

Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Weber

This novel is written in the form of letters by a young girl to an older male correspondent, whom, at the end of the book, we learn she has married. Just how much older he is isn’t clear, but as she refers to him as “Master Jervie,” a considerable gap can be inferred. A bit of a patriarchal ending, but hey, who doesn’t love a guy who falls in love with a girl who writes?

What Was She Thinking? [Notes on a Scandal] by Zoë Heller

Exploitative is the only way to describe the relationship between the 40-ish Sheba and her 15-year-old student. No matter how “mature for his age” he is. Great book, though.

The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek

Elfriede Jelinek’s novel only says that the teacher is middle-aged, and her student is clearly just “younger,” but the violent turn their BDSM attraction takes turns some of the assumptions of the May-December romance on their heads.

The Lover by Marguerite Duras

In Marguerite Duras’ classic, a 15-year-old girl and a 27-year-old man have an affair in Saigon. Her inexperience is not a weakness in this novel, however, not by a long shot.

Middlemarch by George Eliot

Middlemarch, by contrast, is 100 percent pure cautionary tale. Sometimes, on reread, it’s like a horror show. Do not go into the Casaubon house, Dorothea!

Death in Venice by Thomas Mann

Aschenbach’s obsession with young Tadzio may never be consummated, but that’s what makes it so compelling. Passion as confusion and degradation, indeed.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

You knew this one was coming. If you read this book as sympathetic to Humbert Humbert, you read it desperately wrong.

Dracula by Bram Stoker

She’s 20 or so. He’s got a few centuries under his belt. Maturity isn’t so much the issue. But he’s a deeply unreliable sort, always vanishing into the shadows, and a terrible marriage prospect. We’ll put this in the “Date someone your own age!” column.