Glorious Sadness! Books With Sad Endings

For the most part, stories end well. That’s kind of how our story-telling works: character gets into conflict, then the conflict is resolved and he’s okay again. In fact, he’s probably better than before.


Sometimes, though, stories don’t follow this formula exactly and that ‘it’s now okay’ sentiment above proves false. Sometimes, characters end up in way worse situations than what they started with. These are the books that give you a downlift over an uplift. These are a sampling of the books that have tugged my heart the most, two of them actually made a tear roll down my cheek. But just one tear, one manly, strong tear. Pfft, I don’t sob over fiction. Whatever.

1. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte
You can’t really say that this ended well for Heathcliffe and Cathy. It wasn’t the romantic love story you get used to from movies but the what happens when 2 really flawed people fall for each other but it doesn’t work out.

2. Beloved, by Toni Morrisson 
This was the kind of story where the lives of the characters are so wrapped up in bad pasts that the guilt / depressive feel / no-escape is suffocating. Plus, who doesn’t feel super happy when people slit the throats of babies? Laugh a minute right there.

3. The Kite Runner by Khalid Hoessini 
Though the book ends on the slightest of hopes, there’s no denying that there’s enough bad bits to make you wonder why the kid didn’t attempt suicide sooner. Story of how life, country, situation and relationships with parents affect the friendship of two children from different privileges. Man, I’m sensing a theme for dragging your readers through turmoil here: make the bad stuff happen to kids.

4. Heart of Stone by Renate Dorrestein
Yeah, the bad stuff happening to kids doesn’t end above. The children of a loving couple suffer when their mother develops post-natal depression after her last baby. Your heart will stop during the scene with the mother and baby in the bathroom, and the search for a safety pin. The bad childhood doesn’t end in adulthood, either. Yeah, not every character gets over the shit that happened to them when they were young.

And that was the last time they ever went barefoot.
And that was the last time they ever went barefoot.

5. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
I began the story thinking that the character would eventually not be a giant bug by the end… unfortunately, good things just don’t happen people who transform over night into different creatures.

6. The Crucible by Arthur Miller
Situated during the Salem witch trials, you quickly realise – against your will – that the bad, lying people are going to triumph over the good, moral people. You know how bad that feels? Really bad. And totally real because that’s generally what happens in reality.

7. Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Piccoult
About a highschool shooting, which is pretty much a good enough setup for tragedy but Piccoult adds in a sub-story that seems as sad. Again, a book that involves young people. I know that Jodi Piccoult is known for her tear-jerkers, but this is the only one of her books that I’ve read so I’m not sure what’s the biggest tragedy out of all of them.

8. The Boy in The Striped Pajamas
Centred around the holocaust and one German boy on the right side of the fence (for a while) the story shows the innocence of children. You have to read it with ‘a pinch of salt’ and remember it’s fiction because some little things don’t make sense.

9. I’m Not Scared by Nicolo Ammanti
The bad things happening to kids just does not end! One summer, five friends discover the secrets of their town and parents, and innocence and life are lost.

"Man, killing your parents is going to make such a great story. You heard of Batman? Don't worry, you'll be just like him when you grow up. Except poor."
“Man, killing your parents is going to make such a great story. You heard of Batman? Don’t worry, you’ll be just like him when you grow up. Except poor.”

10. This Charming Man by Marian Keyes
I believe this book falls under the genre of chick-lit, and I was led to believe that chick-lit didn’t have any scenes of domestic abuse, just love and silly squabbles. Oh, how wrong you can be. Told from multiple perspectives that was at first annoying but then awesome, the book shows how one man can manipulate many women in his own douchey, sexist way. Want to read something where a lady gets punched in the throat? This book is for you. Charming stuff.

11. The Alison Rules by Catherine Clark
Okay, don’t judge for me this because this one is a tween book but  I read it when I was a tween. I hadn’t really read any sad books before, and it hit me quite hard when the character’s best friend suffers an ill-fate. If you want your 13 year old to cry – give her this book. Start ’em on the misery of fiction and life nice and young. Like all the characters in these books.

Honorable mention: The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet for including a character so beastly you wanted to punch the pages.

There are a lot of other books I have read where bad things happen to characters to the point where you don’t know if there’s any goodness in the world any more, but these were the ones where the good resolution I craved didn’t happen. I do believe – if I can recall correctly – that the last 2 ended well, but the rest didn’t have the happily ever afters that you expect when heading into a book. So I guess this list is actually lacking a lot of sad books that could technically be included.

A story with a tragic ending does not necessarily make a for a tragically awful book, however. Even if children die and adults are awful to each other, the writing, story and characters can still be interesting. Saddest thing you’ve ever read? Book where the ending never became happy?


Author: SighOhJessica

I like stories, history, the bizarre, biographies, mysteries, justice, nature and mountains. I write about... not many of these things on my blog.

14 thoughts on “Glorious Sadness! Books With Sad Endings”

  1. I don’t think I’ve read quite a few of these, but I’m a sucker normally for books that get me right in the feels. I’ve heard great things about The Kite Runner, it’s one of my mum’s fave books. Maybe I’ll have to borrow it off her. Beth

    1. It’s a good read, so if you can borrow it then do 🙂 I don’t normally go for sad books, actually, but maybe I should read one on purpose one day.

  2. I read this charming man and I didn’t like it. I hate the ending because I thought the writer let him get away with all the abuse. I haven’t read a Marian book since. Except her cookbook.

    1. I couldn’t remember the end but thanks for reminding me that it wasn’t a completely happy ending after all.
      I liked her book ‘Watermelon’, it wasn’t like This Charming Man if you ever feel like reading her again.

  3. Some books belong in the “sensational” section because they have little to contribute other than shock value. I think one of the greatest “sad” books would have to be “Diary of Anne Frank”. It somehow demonstrated that life is precious and joyous under the most difficult circumstances. I have read a lot of books in my life and I believe there is a difference between sadness and despair. There are books which I consider porno for misery junkies or those who get off watching others suffer. If a piece of writing can expose raw human suffering while at the same time inject a ray of hope they are brilliant. I am well qualified because of my age, my life experience and the fact that I was a Nurse Manager for a hundred years to say “while there is life, there is always hope!” People do much better if they are encouraged. as “Shakespeare wrote “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” Yes some things are indeed bad. We must learn by them. The Crucible is an excellent and important example of what we can learn. Ripping post!

    1. I agree. Haha ‘porno for misery junkies’ is an excellent term! Have you seen the movie ‘Requiem For a Dream’? that film made me feel dead inside afterwards, which is okay for every now and then if the film is made well and is different from what you normally watch but people who only watch depressing films / read depressing books must have some kind of misery addiction.
      That’s a lovely saying, makes me feel better.

      1. Ha. I haven’t seen that movie but I agree it is good to watch something different from what one normally watches. The human spirit is inextinguishable. 🙂

  4. Hmm, think my reply vanished? I was saying, don’t read whatever Colm Toibin one I read then. Old lonely judge’s wife dies, he gets older and lonelier. The end.
    Just noticed your Kite Runner comment. Lots of people love that book and I just…meh. Didn’t like it at all!
    Wuthering Heights gave me nightmares but I was a kid when I read it. Planning to read it and Jane Eyre again this year to see what I make of them as an adult – so much of them must have swooshed over my head, reading them so young.

    1. It worked 🙂
      At least I can see it. Sounds awful and I’ll avoid this name. Well I read the Kite Runner for school so my feelings quickly just became ones of resentment at having to analyse all of it.
      I read Jane Eyre when I was 18 so I’ve forgotten a lot of it but I thought it swooshed over my head in parts of the prose even at 18.

  5. Kite Runner is one of my favourite books. Very powerful. I couldn’t stomach That Charming Man. It’s probably the only book I actually didn’t see through to the end. =/

  6. To be honest, I avoid ‘hopelessly sad’. I like a bit of uplift, even if tragic and terrible things happen in the book, I don’t want to end it feeling like life is crap. This is where I differ from my husband – he loves entirely gloomy films and books. One of his favourite authors is Colm Toibin. I keep promising I’ll read more of CT – I read one or two years ago and can remember very little except a feeling of ‘gah, relentless bleakness’.

    1. Well I went into all of these books expecting some uplift and all I got was a “…..oh” at the end of the book. I don’t even know what I’m in for with gloomy books until it’s the end and the characters are worse off than when they started!

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