Top Ten Books that Broke My Heart a Little

“You couldn’t pretend the terrible things in life didn’t happen. You can’t clean it up. You keep all the refuse and the scars. It’s how you learn. And try to make improvements.”

Marisha Pessl

Bring out the tissues, readers. Also, spoilers.

  1. The Silmarillion – J.R.R. Tolkien. “And an end was come for the Eldar of story and of song.” This is essentially the plot of the entire book and everyone dies and everything is terrible and what is this dust in my eye.
  2. Perdido Street Station – China Mieville. This book did many, many things to my emotions, and, yes, heartbreak was one of them. Because WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT, MIEVILLE. WHY. (And, you know what? I don’t buy your argument about tragic heroines, which feels in itself misogynistic and wrong-footed.)
  3. Gormenghast – Mervyn Peake. Speaking of tragic heroines. Yes, Peake’s treatment of Fuschia is problematic in some respects, but there is so much else that is tragic about his work. No, not tragic; “tragic” implies catharsis, ennobling grief, the Beauty of the Human Spirit. Gormenghast is…a litany of awfulness and oppression and hypnotic emptiness. I’m making it sound really appealing, aren’t I.
  4. The Last Hero – Terry Pratchett. “No one remembers the singer. The song remains.” A farewell written about fourteen years too early (though still at the tail end of the Discworld series). This was the book I turned to when I heard that Pratchett had died (ah, Discordia!), the book in which Cohen and the Silver Horde pass into eternity, and Rincewind says farewell in that amazing final illustration, and I damn near broke down. The Shepherd’s Crown has nothing on this.
  5. Persuasion – Jane Austen. Anne basically has a shit life, OK? Her entire family hates her, her best friend convinced her not to marry the love of her life, and her new suitor is only interested in her money.
  6. Room – Emma Donoghue. I think it’s Ma’s courage that carries this book: her determination to make her son’s life as happy as possible despite their terrible isolation. It is heartrending.
  7. The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant – Stephen Donaldson. I remember being almost unable to comprehend the scale of the destruction of the Land, the wasteland that Donaldson had made of all that was high and good and beautiful. I’d never read an author who’d dared to do that before, and I haven’t since.
  8. Lirael – Garth Nix. Lirael’s isolation, her desperation to fit in, her self-destructive behaviour, and her final realisation that she will never be like her cousins; this is the stuff of Shakespeare, surely.
  9. King Lear – Williams Shakespeare. And talking of Shakespeare…King Lear is one of my favourites, earth-shatteringly awful in its tragedy and its truth.
  10. Special Topics in Calamity Physics – Marisha Pessl. I recently re-read this (review to come!), and it got me for much the same reasons as Lirael: Blue’s loneliness, her adoration of her obviously douchebaggy father, and her eventual abandonment just got to me.

(The theme for this post was suggested by the Broke and the Bookish’s weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)

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