10 Tragic Novels: Find Solace upon Shedding a Tear

Often, the saddest novels are the most moving; and sometimes, novels are not sad on the surface, but somehow still tragic.

If you want to try something different, these ten novels with a heavy theme of tragedy may be right for you. The subject matters range from romance, childhood to family and death.

10. My Cousin Rachel, by Daphne du Maurier

First Published: 1951

What It’s About:

Philip Ashley became an orphan as a young child and was given shelter by Ambrose, his loving elder cousin. Since Ambrose never married, he makes Philip the heir to his fortune as well as the stately mansion with beautiful grounds which surround it. Ambrose sets off on a trip to Florence, where he meets and falls in love with a beautiful young woman, Rachel. One day, Philip receives news that Ambrose has married Rachel and then, just as suddenly, he is told that Ambrose has died. Philip is highly suspicious of the young widow when she arrives at his doorstep and is filled with hatred towards her. Unfortunately, he is also attracted to the beautiful young woman and must decide if she had a part to play in his cousin’s death or if it’s all in his imagination.

Why You Should Read It:

A study of human nature, especially the power of suspicion and the actions it can inspire in another human being, this book is a tragedy because it deals largely with loss. A woman loses her husband, a man loses his cousin, and another man loses his life. Du Maurier’s ability to make use of the powerful human emotion of suspicion is displayed in all its glory in this suspense tragedy.

Best Quote:

“But a lonely man is an unnatural man, and soon comes to perplexity. From perplexity to fantasy. From fantasy to madness.”

9. We the Animals, by Justin Torres

First Published: 2011

What It’s About:

The story follows the journey of three young boys who have a Puerto Rican father and a Caucasian mother. The boys are a wild trio enjoying their childhood in Brooklyn. Their family is full of drama, chaos, heartbreak and unity. The story follows the children as they slowly grow up and begin to see the reality of the cruel world that they live in.

Why You Should Read It:

The book is a tragedy because as the children become older, slowly but steadily, their view of the world changes, something every child experiences with the loss of innocence. It is a harsh look at life through the eyes of a child living in less-than-wonderful surroundings, with parents that are often absent and with life that often gets tough to live. This bleak coming-of-age tale will open your eyes to how our adulthood is shaped deeply by our childhood experiences.

Best Quote:

“What happens when you die?” I asked. “Nothing happens.” he said. “Nothing happens forever.”

8. The Glass Menagerieby Tennessee Williams

First Published: 1945

What It’s About:

Set in 1937, the story is relayed in a series of flashbacks in the memory of the narrator, Tom Wingfield. As the story progresses, we learn that Tom’s father ran off many years ago and Tom works long hours to support his mother and sister Laura. His mother belongs to the Southern belt and talks frequently of the picture-perfect life she led in her youth with no dearth of suitors pursuing her. Her daughter Laura is a disappointment to her mother. Being painfully shy and wearing a leg brace, and she hardly attracts any ‘gentlemen callers’ as her mother refers to them. After failed attempts at enrolling Laura in a business school, the mother and son turn to marriage as the solution to Laura’s problems.

Why You Should Read It:

This tragic story is one so commonly found, the yearning for the past, the longing for a bright future and the complete avoidance of the present. Each of the characters is unhappy with their present, and the play shows exactly how an unhappy present can quickly become an inescapable burden.

Best Quote:

“I’ll be all right in a minute, I’m just bewildered – by life…”

7. The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion

First Published: 2005

What It’s About:

American author Joan Didion wrote this deeply personal account of her life with her husband and daughter, which was tragically altered by his sudden death. Didion discusses her life before her husband’s death, the effect of the tragedy on her everyday life, and the lasting impact that death has on an individual. The book studies the struggles of the author, trying to make sense of her life after her husband’s death, all the while dealing with her severely ill daughter.

Why You Should Read It:

At its core, this is a story of a woman’s struggle to make sense of the world around her after a tragic loss. It is a tale that is shared by everyone, as we all have to lose someone close to us one day. By discussing the time before her husband’s death as well as her life after his death, Didion weaves together a book of survival and resilience through extremely tragic times.

Best Quote:

“A single person is missing for you, and the whole world is empty.”

6. Of Mice And Men, by John Steinbeck

First Published: 1937

What It’s About:

The story follows two drifters who want to make a better life for themselves. George and his friend Lennie have dreams of owning their own land one day. The pair finds work on a ranch in California’s Salinas Valley, but their hopes of success are dashed when Lennie becomes a victim of misunderstanding and cruelty mixed with rage and jealousy. Of Mice and Men focuses on those in America who are lonely, and dream and hope for a better future.

Why You Should Read It:

This tragedy brings to light the ease with which our dreams and hopes can be crushed. The smallest actions can spiral into a nightmare, tearing down any semblance of a good future. Its subtle discussion of mental health is relevant even today, while the cruelty with which the character’s dreams are forever destroyed is what makes this a classic tragedy a must-read.

Best Quote:

“Maybe everybody in the whole damn world is scared of each other.”

5. Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro

First Published: 2005

What It’s About:

Kathy, Tommy and Ruth are three children in an exclusive English boarding school called Hailsham. The story takes places many years later, when Kathy is 31, a young woman who is reconnecting with Ruth and Tommy after a very long time. For the first time ever, Kathy looks back on the trio’s past, their shared memories and what made that time so special. The school they went to was special for all the wrong reasons, and as the plot unfolds, the true horror of their childhood comes to light.

Why You Should Read It:

The novel brings to light many subjects including the futility of life, and how we ourselves help shape our destiny. Ishiguro also focuses on how memories can often be distorted so that what we remember isn’t actually what happened, but what we wanted it to have been. One woman’s struggle to make sense of her life is at the core of this work of tragedy.

Best Quote:

“Memories, even your most precious ones, fade surprisingly quickly. But I don’t go along with that. The memories I value most, I don’t ever see them fading.”

4. Who Will Run the Frog Hospital by Lorrie Moore

First Published: 1994

What It’s About:

Berie Carr is on vacation in Paris with her husband when she finds herself reminiscing over her youth. Berie is struck by bittersweet memories of one particular summer when she was fifteen, a summer she spent with her best friend Silsby. Berie and Sils, as she fondly called her, spent that summer selling tickets in upstate New York at a store called Storyland. They sold Cinderella tickets and led wild, free and happy days, smoking during their break time, gossiping and laughing. Berie talks about her childhood, her parents, her siblings and especially what happened with Sils.

Why You Should Read It:

This is a poignant tale of one woman looking back at her life and how relationships change over time. It touches on topics such as family, marriage, friendship and mental health. This relatively short novel will make you wonder if you can ever really remain in your past.

Best Quote:

“No matter that you anticipate a thing; you get so used to it as part of the future that it’s actuality, it’s arrival, it’s force and presence, startles you, takes you by surprise, as would a ghost suddenly appearing in the room wearing familiar perfume and boots.”

3. Dombey and Son, by Charles Dickens

First Published: 1848

What It’s About:

Mr. Dombey is a man who doesn’t often show emotion. He is a stoic person who longs for a son who would help him run his mercantile firm, making the title of his store, ‘Domby and Son’. When his son, Paul is finally born, Dombey is overjoyed. Mr. Dombey doesn’t care much for his daughter or his wife, who dies shortly after his son’s birth. The story follows Dombey as he suffers a tragic loss, how he meets a myriad of characters, and what he eventually learns about life.

Why You Should Read It:

The story unravels itself over a course of around 20 years and the protagonist is seen as an ageing man who slowly shuns everyone around him, especially his daughter, who he has treated horribly her entire life. Eventually led to bankruptcy, Domby realizes those who have truly cared for him are not those who he has cared for enough. A moving, tragic and flawless novel, this is one of Dickens’ finest works.

Best Quote:

“For not an orphan in the wide world can be so deserted as the child who is an outcast from a living parent’s love.”

2. Barefoot to Avalon, by David Payne

First Published: 2015

What It’s About:

The true story of writer David Payne, who, while moving houses from Vermont to North Carolina, looked in his rearview mirror to see his younger brother George’s car behind him meet with a horrific accident. The book deals with Payne’s struggle after the tragedy, how his life went downhill in every way possible, affecting his career, his marriage and leading to alcoholism. Not only was Payne suffering from depression after his brother’s death, he also found himself suffering from manic depression, a hereditary illness which his brother also suffered from.

Why You Should Read It:

The novel’s subject is certainly a tragic one, which will lead many to shed a tear. However, it is also a study of sibling love, sibling rivalry and family problems that are carried over for years. An intimate memoir full of painful introspection that will certainly move you.

Best Quote:

“Once upon a time, in the Official Version, we were blessed and happy, our parents young, privileged and good-looking, we, their children, bound for special destinies like they’d had.”

1. Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes

First Published: 2012

What It’s About:

Will Traynor is a young man with his entire life ahead of him. He is full of enthusiasm and spends his time working on his successful business while his free time is spent on adventures such as climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, scaling the steep cliffs of California or trekking through Kenya. Will’s life is turned around when he is hit by a motorcycle, which leaves him a quadriplegic. He decides he doesn’t want to keep living, that is until he meets inexperienced caregiver Louisa Clark. She enters his world and her positive attitude towards life is infectious. As these two personalities get to know each other, what follows is a tragic love story.

Why You Should Read It:

Few things are as tragic as seeing someone with every will to live, having his entire life shut down. Brought to his knees, we see Will battling with a life he used to love living. How do we keep on living when life makes it impossible to do so? This is one of the central questions this poignant novel asks of the reader.

Best Quote:

“You only get one life. It’s actually your duty to live it as fully as possible.”

Conclusion

These ten novels are brilliantly tragic in subject matter and will move any reader. If you are in a somber mood or simply want to experience something a little different, these ten tragedies are sure to pique your interest.

Keeping sharing simple