In the mood for something dark? Collected for you on the list below, I've got 12 books that are truly grim to read, so buckle up for some crying, horror, and feelings of dread, book nerds.
I've written before about my preference for reading sad books when I'm sad, and about my love affair with absurdist fiction, so it should come as no surprise that I'm writing about books with no light at the end of the tunnel, or even that many lights along the way. Although it may seem strange to those who don't feel the same way, I find plenty to love in heart-destroying, soul-suckingly sad works of fiction. The negative and neutral emotions — such as melancholy and apathy — that saturate books like the ones below feel more real to me than happy narratives that tie up in neat bows at the end. I'll take a gut-wrenching conclusion full of death and despair, or an open ending in which it isn't quite clear what has happened to our hero, over happily-ever-after any day, and I'll come away from reading that book feeling better about the state of my own life.
Check out the 12 grim books I've picked out for you below:
'A Little Life' by Hanya Yanagihara
Nominated for the Man Booker Prize and National Book Award, Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life follows four college friends through three decades of their lives. As the members of the group become established in their careers, with the rest of their lives ahead of them, the echoes of one friend's childhood trauma break through and into his present-day life.
'My Sister's Keeper' by Jodi Picoult
Anna was born with a purpose: to keep her older sister Kate alive. By the time she reaches puberty, Anna has already been subjected to numerous medical procedures, but Kate is still sick with leukemia. Which is why, at 13, Anna makes a difficult and painful decision for all involved, taking legal action to stop her parents from using her as Kate's donor.
'Brave New World' by Aldous Huxley
In a dystopia where bodily pleasure is everything and automation has made natural living obsolete for most people in the World State, a white man born among the "savages" — indigenous people who live natural lives and die natural deaths — travels to the cities where his mother once lived, but finds the conditions there untenable.
'Beloved' by Toni Morrison
Years after she elected to kill her child rather than return to the South, a freed slave lives in a home haunted by the revenant spirit of her dead daughter, who acts as an agent of chaos in the lives of her mother's family members.
'The Road' by Cormac McCarthy
After an apocalyptic event leaves the U.S. a sparsely populated field of ashes, a dying man risks cannibal attacks and starvation to take his young son to the sea in search of someone who may care for him.
'The Light Between Oceans' by M.L. Stedman
Living on an island hours from the shore, a lighthouse keeper and his wife suffer a series of miscarriages before one day, seemingly in answer to their prayers, a boat carrying a baby washes up nearby. Years later, after raising the child as their own, the couple move back to the mainland, to find that someone still hopes the girl will return home.
'I'm the King of the Castle' by Susan Hill
This disturbingly grim novel, the relationship between two schoolboys, thrown together by circumstances beyond their control, deteriorates as one begins to cruelly torture the other.
'Never Let Me Go' by Kazuo Ishiguro
As students at Hailsham, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were among the lucky ones, exposed to art and music and other creative pleasures. When one of their instructors, called "guardians" at Hailsham, exposes the truth about their existence, however, the three children discover that they were never meant to live normal or happy lives.
'Idaho' by Emily Ruskovich
Jenny and Wade take their two young daughters on a wood-chopping expedition one morning, but return home without the girls. When all is said and done, Jenny has been locked up for murdering their younger daughter, and the older girl has disappeared into the forest, leaving everyone to wonder what happened that fateful day.
'Human Acts' by Han Kang
Set during the summer of 1980 in Gwangju, South Korea, Han Kang's Human Acts weaves around and through a small cast of characters impacted by the death of a middle schooler at the hands of the military.
'Sophie's Choice' by William Styron
In this gut-wrenching novel, a young, Southern writer moves into a boarding house occupied by a couple: the unpredictable scientist Nathan and his beautiful girlfriend Sophie. As the writer-narrator Stingo grows close to his neighbors, he discovers the dark and turbulent secrets that linger in their pasts.
'Push' by Sapphire
The novel that inspired the movie Precious, Sapphire's Push is so much more dark and disturbing than the Gabourey Sidibe film. In this version of the story, Precious is a semi-literate teenager, pregnant with her father's child for the second time, and living under the same roof as her sexually abusive mother.