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What to Read When You're Feeling Melancholic About a Lost Love

Claire Handscombe


Sometimes, when we’re heartbroken or melancholic, we might want to read books that will cheer us up. Other times, though, we want to wallow in those feelings. Here are some books to help with that wallowing.

“Come to the Edge”, by Christina Haag

I’ve written about this memoir before: it’s one of my very favourite books and deserves to be so much better known. Christina Haag writes movingly of the deep love she shared with John Kennedy, Jr. Her writing is exquisite. “Lyrically and precisely recaptures the frenetic ecstasy of early love,” the Washington Post review said of this memoir, and I wholeheartedly agree. But it’s tinged with sadness from the beginning: you know this joy won’t last, that it’s all the more precious for it, and that adds a beautiful poignancy to the book.

The Song Is You”, by Arthur Phillips

Julian’s first love has always been music. His second was his wife, Rachel, but he has lost her in the midst of sad family circumstances. When he wanders into a bar and hears Cait O’Dwyer sing, he thinks he may have found the third. This is a novel of wistful longing, of desperation for the unattainable. Arthur Phillips makes poetry out of the everyday, like the clicking of the wheel on an iPod (remember those?) as Julian walks along a Brooklyn street.

“Like Water for Chocolate”, by Laura Esquivel

When Tita meets Pedro, neither has any doubt: they are destined to be together. But Mexican tradition disagrees; Tita’s destiny is something else entirely. As the youngest daughter, her role is to care for her (not particularly likeable) mother until she dies. In desperation, Pedro agrees to marry Rosaura, the older sister, so he can be near Tita. If you like your heartbreak with a touch of magical realism, this is the book for you.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Henry is forever leaving Clare to go to the future or the past. “Don’t you think,” she asks at one point, “that it’s better to have been extremely happy for a short while, even if you lose it, than to just be okay your whole life?” If you’ve wondered about this question too, read this book. It is a wonderful way of exploring it.

Do you have a favourite book on the theme of romantic heartbreak?

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Claire Handscombe is a British writer who moved to Washington, DC, in 2012, ostensibly to study for an MFA in Creative Writing, but really, let’s be honest, because of an obsession with The West Wing. She is the host of the Brit Lit Podcast, a monthly show about news and views from UK books and publishing; the author of Unscripted, a novel about a young woman with a celebrity crush and a determined plan; and the editor of Walk With Us: How The West Wing Changed Our Lives.

Washington, DC

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