“This Will Not End Well:” The Appeal of Tragic Fiction

I often get asked “Why do you always read such depressing books?” My answer, succinctly, is that I don’t find “depressing” books, well, depressing. I’ll be the first to admit that I tend to favor fiction with content that others may deem dark or upsetting, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth reading.  In fact, that might be the exact reason literature of this sort is worth seeing through to the end. After all, what one reader considers dark or upsetting, another might find beautiful, hopeful, and moving.


Another reason I read tragic fiction is simply that I am in the mood for it. The same way someone going through a breakup might intentionally seek out heart-wrenching songs, I seek out fiction that has the potential to bring on a nice cathartic cry. More often than not, I don’t read to be in a good mood, I read to feel something. We are not happy all the time, and I don’t think we don’t need to relegate ourselves to reading books that are. I would even argue that, for the most part, tragic fiction merely tells the story of an ordinary person navigating common life events, that just so happen to alter their lives forever. If the mark of a tragic novel is the fact that the main character dies, or experiences a great loss, well then, life itself is a tragedy.

For those of you who, like me, enjoy an occasional bleak read, here are a few novels that will absolutely depress you, but that are absolutely worth reading.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert – A classic that will stay with you long after reading, Madame Bovary tracks the life of a bored, rich, woman whose life culminates in a perfect storm of tragedy and heartbreak.

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver – A novel that is equal parts disturbing and tragic, We Need to Talk About Kevin sparks the nature vs nurture debate regarding what turns a young boy into a monster.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy – This dark, dystopian novel definitely lives up to its hype. The Road is at once terrifying, bleak, depressing, and beautiful.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath – Sylvia Plath’s only novel is perhaps my favorite of all time. On its own this is an excellent novel, but what makes it especially tragic is its connection to Plath’s own life, and subsequent suicide.

 ~ posted by Ashley J.

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