The Books That Broke My Heart
I’m not particularly romantic when it comes to Valentine’s Day (as you might have guessed with this post arriving ten days late) but one thing I can get sentimental about is a good book. So, I decided to celebrate the month of love in my own way with a list of six books that have made me cry.
Because surely the sign of a great writer is one who has rendered you a weeping ball by the last page?
1. War & Peace – Leo Tolstoy
I’m not sure I can put into words how this book makes me feel, other than that it made me feel. I read War & Peace at a time when nothing I read satisfied me. I felt lost and unfulfilled, stuck in a cycle of mediocre fantasy books that never quite lived up to The Lord of the Rings. I desperately sought the book that would set me on the road to discovering my taste in literature as a grown-up bookworm.
A little daunted I took War & Peace off of my parents’ bookshelf and decided to see for myself what all the fuss was about. Over the next three months I became immersed in humanity – life, death, pain, hope, joy - the whole gamut of human emotion and experience. Previously I read fantasy to escape the world, but War & Peace was the book to pull me back, and I knew then, from the age of seventeen, that reading would never be the same again.
2. O, Caledonia – Elspeth Barker
O, Caledonia is a book that has stolen my heart and breaks it over and over with each reread. Set in the bleak Scottish Highlands the protagonist, Janet, is a social outcast, bullied at boarding school and ignored at home. She is comforted only by her books, pet jackdaw, old Scots ballads and the wild, romantic landscape of her homeland. Desperate to transcend her dreary existence Janet lives in a world of imagination, oblivious to the fact that she is the tragic heroine in her own life story. Menace and darkness haunt each page of this exquisitely written novella, building to a dramatic and unforgettable crescendo of Gothic heart-break.
3. Lavondyss – Robert Holdstock
To journey into the wildest wood to save your brother, to age, to leave your parents behind, to become trapped in that wood for centuries looking for its mystical heart, to become a tree, to withstand an ancient winter of apocalyptic strength, to become a woman again, an ancient woman now, and only after all this to return to the beginning again, no further forward or back. (In hindsight this is probably the book I should have read between The Lord of the Rings and War & Peace!).
Spellbound by this sequel to Mythago Wood, I decided to finish Lavondyss in the early hours of a December morning. A foolish move - have you tried falling asleep with a melted brain and broken heart?
4. Henry & June – Anaïs Nin
Perhaps one of my most dog-eared books. Tears ached in my throat at so many pages of this extract of Anaïs Nin’s legendary diary. I’m sure most folk read it for the sex and Nin’s account of her tempestuous relationship with fellow writer Henry Miller, and his wife June (plus a host of other famous characters from 1930s bohemian Paris), but for me this book was so much more. It was about a young woman trying to escape the roles that society had assigned her and how she finally breaks free.
5. Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys
Passion turns to madness turns to hatred. Antoinette Cosway is the ‘madwoman’ in the attic of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Rochester’s first wife. In this novel Jean Rhys imagines the circumstances that brought Antoinette and Edward Rochester together and the events that lead to her horrific fate.
The atmosphere to this book is intense. Rhys evokes a post-colonial Caribbean of oppression and brutality where British Rochester’s desire for and need to control Creole heiress Antoinette reflects the insidious relationship between coloniser and colonised. As Antoinette herself says, “I often wonder who I am and where is my country and where do I belong and why was I ever born at all.”
This is not a novel; it’s a dagger in the heart.
6. The Oaken Throne – Robin Jarvis
I know, it’s a children’s book about a feud between squirrels and bats, a fateful curse and the recovery of a magical silver acorn, but hear me out. This book is Chaucer, Shakespeare and Tolkien rolled into one and a tragedy to end all tragedies that cemented my preference for the twisted and tragic tale from seven years old. I loved all of Robin Jarvis’ books but The Oaken Throne was my favourite for character development, frightening forces of evil and sheer underbelly of the imagination darkness (think poisonings, fatal prophecies and skinnings).
Forget a list of favourite ‘heart-break books’ or even children’s novels, The Oaken Throne is one of my favourite books full stop.