Breakups come in as many flavors as the pints of ice cream we disappear into to soothe them. The pain of splitting from a long-term partner is responsible for many a bender, sexy rebound, and long brooding nights spent feeling lost and alone. This list of books to read after a breakup is for all the readers out there looking to bury their noses between the pages to heal. (Or maybe just distract themselves from the heartbreak.)
In this list, you’ll find lovers going crazy, rejects searching for meaning, and the occasional laugh. So if you think you have it bad, you’re not alone. These books are here to get your heart healed quick.
1. Oola, Brittany Newell
Boy meets girl gets weird, then weirder, in this short but tantalizing debut novel by author Brittany Newell. Leif, a 25-year-old writer who’s the narraror of this tale, pursues an endearing, then obsessive romance with the titular Oola, as he studies her as the subject of his next literary work. The story unfolds as the romance between the two characters grows into something beautiful, before taking a sharp turn that will make your skin crawl.
“Oola” puts a twist on the classic romance formula pitting love against obsession, relationship against autonomy, and partner against partner. This book will call into question everything you thought you knew about relationships and boundaries, and may very well have you wishing you’ll never be in one again. It’s an especially good read for pop culture nerds, or fans of paranormal fiction or psychological thrillers.
2. Tender is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald
This is the fourth and final novel by famed writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. If you haven’t touched anything by Ol’ Scott Fitzgerald since high school, this is your chance to get back into good graces with your tenth grade English teacher. The story follows Dick and Nicole Diver, a glamorous expatriate couple living and partying in the French Riviera and across Western Europe in the 1920s. Things go awry as the Divers explore taking their high profile party guests as lovers.
Set against the backdrop of Jazz Age excess, “Tender is the Night” is a portrait of desire and the false promises that often come with it. This book will have you poring over the beautiful passages, shedding the occasional tear, and struggling to remember the line between attraction and misguided expectation.
3. Sputnik Sweetheart, Haruki Murakami
An older woman, unrequited love, and classical music—these are the active ingredients in Haruki Murakami’s 1999 novel “Sputnik Sweetheart.” The narrator, known only as K, is in love with Sumire, who in turn falls in love with her boss Miu, who is 17 years Sumire’s senior. Nobody is quite happy with the situation, then to make matters worse, Sumire mysteriously vanishes.
In this poetic short novel, all of these would-be lovers wander around dazed, hoping and, at times, begging for affection, which never quite works out for them. In just over 200 pages, Murakami paints a beautiful picture of life in Japan, the European countryside, and the loneliness of rejection. The language is beautifully stylized with a hint of sadness that anyone suffering a recent heartbreak can get into.
4. Cathedral, Raymond Carver
No one does melancholy quite like Raymond Carver. While there are some less than happy couples in this collection of short stories, this book made the list on the sheer strength of its sad factor alone. From a death in the family, to a rehabilitation facility, and, yes, an estranged marriage, Carver delivers this literary gut punch with the tact of a doctor bearing bad news.
Breakups are hard. Take your time to heal. This book is just a good reminder that we’re not suffering alone. Sometimes there’s comfort in that.
5. As She Climbed Across the Table, Jonathan Lethem
We’ve all been rejected before, but usually not for nothing. But this is just what happens when Philip Enstrand’s girlfriend Particle Physics Professor Alice Coombs creates a miniature spatial void in her lab. This void, which Alice nicknames Lack, has a taste for strawberries but not paperclips, cats but not people, this but not that. In other words, Lack has a personality. Alice becomes captivated with this hole in space and time and disillusioned with her boyfriend. She dumps Philip for Lack, a void—a literal nothing.
This light science fiction comedy brings levity to heartbreak and pokes fun at the colorful cast of dysfunctional characters. This book is for anyone in need of a good chuckle or two to slip out of the post-breakup slump.
6. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera
Part romance, part philosophical musing, Milan Kundera’s internationally acclaimed “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” follows the relationship of Czech doctor Tomas and his wife Tereza from the moment they meet to the moment they pass. Tomas is a chronic adulterer, and Tereza is left to mend a heart broken from her husband’s infidelities.
Relationships and love aren’t often easily explained by logic and reason, and in “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” Milan Kundera captures just that. While the book may not offer you strict answers about former or future relationships, maybe there’s comfort in knowing at least someone else is asking the same questions.
There’s no surefire way to get over a breakup. They’re never easy and these books aren’t a cure. This list is meant to entertain you, take you on a trip, or at least offer some time off from brooding.