6 Novels That Don't Shy Away from Grief

Claire Handscombe

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When you're grieiving, it can be really comforting to read stories of other people who get it too, even if those people are fictional. These six books all explore aspets of the bittersweetness and pain that comes to us when a loved one passes away.

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Bonnie and Stan, by Anna Stuart

Bonnie and Stan tells the story of a marriage that began in the Swinging Sixties and is nearing its end as Stan knows his days are numbered. As a final act of love for his wife, he sets out to find her a new man so that she is not alone when he is gone. On the day when I’m writing this, this book has a Goodreads score of 4.06 – which is glowing praise.

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Ghosted, by Rosie Walsh

Imagine you meet someone. You spend seven glorious days together, and you’re sure, you’re sure it’s love. You’re sure they feel it too. Then…nothing. You don’t hear from them. You feel yourself descending deeper and deeper into madness. There must be a reason why he didn’t call. And you’re right: there is -- but I can't say more without giving away a major plot point.

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Late in the Day, by Tessa Hadley

To my shame, I wasn’t really aware of Tessa Hadley until I interviewed The Nest‘s Cynthia d’Aprix Sweeney about her favourite British author, and that was who she named. Trade magazine The Bookseller agrees, calling her “the one of our finest living writers”. Late in the Day is about a group of lifelong friends and what happens to them and their relationships when one of them dies, old grievances surface, and grief turns to anger. This novel might just be an excellent place to start if you haven’t yet discovered Tessa Hadley.

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Now Let's Dance, by Karine Lambert, translated by Anthea Bell

This is a love story between two older adults, both navigating the world after recently being widowed. There’s not as much fiction about people at that stage of their lives as there ought to be, and so it was refreshing to find something that rang so emotionally authentic.

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The Song Is You, by Arthur Phillip

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. Haunting, poetic, bittersweet, and laced with melancholy, this book deserves to be better known.

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Tin Man, by Sarah Winman

This is a sad but beautifully-written book that much of British book twitter had a lot of love for in 2017. It’s the story of two young men, Ellis and Michael, and their friend Annie who becomes Ellis’s wife and whom he must live without now that he is newly widowed.

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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.

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