"Labyrinth of Desire:
Women, Passion, and Romantic Obsession"
by Rosemary Sullivan: A Review
Harper PerennialCanada ISBN 0-00-639431-0
(c) Cheryl Lynne Bradley 2005

Summer is a great time to catch up on your reading. I had the pleasure of reading this book this weekend. I felt very much like I was in a conversation with the author. It is a deeply sensitive reflection on women's most compelling weakness, how quickly and willingly we hand our personal power - what we think we deserve to have happen in our lives - over to a man..You can tell that Ms. Sullivan thought about writing this book for a while. It is definitely a concept that would require a lot of inner reflection and soul searching. It would also involve recognizing and coming to terms with these patterns within herself to achieve the clarity with which she writes on the subject.

As readers and as people, we have all dealt with, been involved in or know people who have become submerged or obsessed in a relationship. Co-dependence is a huge factor in relationships and it is easy to fall into it. Ms. Sullivan makes some interesting points - obstacles to the relationship are what create the obsession. I found that to be so true, obstacles in or to relationships create the desire to overcome the obstacles or to fight the obstacle to the relationship. This can be a third party, drugs, alcohol, their family, our family, money ....whatever can interfere with, prevent, hold back or end a relationship with another.

Another intriguing insight that Ms. Sullivan shares with us is that very often in a relationship, we don't really listen to the other person when they are speaking with us. We don't listen with an ear for getting to know this person and what they are all about, but look for anything in their conversation that gives us a clue to what their feelings are towards us. I thought a lot about past relationships when I read this part of the book and wondered where I had led myself astray by not listening properly to what men were saying to me. I have always found they telegraph things in unusual and circumspect ways that can set us upon a path of paralyzing overanalysis which leaves us unable to take constructive actions on our own behalf.

The book contains sections that discuss the different kinds of love we experience and the impact it has on our souls and spirits: Tantalus Love, Pleasurable Cruelty, Don Juan and Dona Juana, Erotic Diabolism, The Demon Lover,The Shadow Artist. She also talks about the Love at First Sight that we often hear about or feel that we have experienced. It is really just the initial flush of attraction - a real enlivening and reanimation of our world occurs when we are in love or when we think we are in love. She writes about the games we play, whether we are aware that we do or not - our erotic gestures and how we play the game of attraction. She also thoughtfully discusses the sense of longing and loneliness, and the related fears we can feel, The section on This Gnawing Hunger talks about how our deep feeling of unconnectedness can be a self-inflicted gaping wound. "Perhaps all romantic love is the search for defense against emptiness. And perhaps the more desperate the search, the more obsessive the love." p.88

She feels that we get our notion of what real love is from literature or movies. These are created depictions of love and not reflective of what we should realistically be looking for in a relationship. She covers a range of people in this discussion, Elizabeth Smart, Simone de Beauvoir, Emily and Charlotte Bronte - and the torments and triumphs that these brilliant women endured and experienced in the name of their great loves.

Rosemary Sullivan was born in Montreal and studied at McGill, Connecticut and Sussex Universities. She has written ten books. Her 1995 biography" Shadow Maker: The Life of Gwendolyn MacEwen" won the Governor Generalís Award for Non-Fiction, the Canadian Authorís Association Literary Award for Non-Fiction, the University of British Columbiaís Medal for Canadian Biography, and the City of Toronto Book Award. Her first biography, "By Heart: Elizabeth Smart/A Life" (1991) was nominated for the Governor Generalís Award for Non-Fiction.

She teaches at the University of Toronto and she holds a Canada Research Chair and is director of the MA in Creative Writing. She is also the Chair of the Cultural Journalism and Creative Non-Fiction Program at the Banff Centre for the Arts.

A thoughtful and thought provoking work. I believe it is a very honest book and well written - not sentimental, maudlin or overly dramatic. It accurately reflects the power and control themes of all human relationships - whoever appears to care the least, has the most power in any relationship.


This page was created August 6, 2005 and updated August 10, 2006.