Bleak Books


I love bleak books. Novels where only sad things happen, and then they get more miserable. Not the weepy kind of fiction where you know the characters will overcome their troubles at the end of the book, or grisly horror, just pretty relentless grimness. A few days ago Lissa Evans author of Crooked Heart wrote her top 10 bleak books and inspired me to do the same. These aren’t necessarily my favourite books ever, just my favourite really unhappy ones. You can look for our lists on Twitter using #bleakbooks, but here’s mine below.

And if anyone else loves bleak books too, what have I missed (plenty, I’m sure)? If this inspires you to write your own list, I’d love to see it, and will update this post and link to yours. So ready for a bit of a cry?

The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Father and son trudge through destroyed USA looking forA photo by Pawel Kadysz. food and trying to save people from cellars.



Legend of a Suicide by David Vann. In the main story two people go to an Alaskan island. One gets angry and destroys the radio. Only one survives. 


16 thoughts on “Bleak Books

  1. I too like to wallow in bleakness, although perhaps I should opt for more ‘feel good novels’, as my library keeps helpfully suggesting. I find David Peace very bleak in general – and ‘Tokyo Year Zero’ in particular. Practically all of Richard Yates, especially ‘Revolutionary Road’. Finally, ‘Death in Venice’ is creepily brilliant in its sombre bleakness.

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  2. I love Halldor Laxness, Independent People is brilliant. It’s hard to think of books which are solely bleak, but I love The Wall by Marlen Haushofer, and anything by Jean Rhys, and Buriel Rites by Hannah Kent. All great, but sad reads.

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  3. I’m a total wuss when it comes to bleakness! There was a thriller I read a few years ago – Alex, it was French though I can’t right now think of the author’s name unfortunately – and while I enjoyed a lot of it, it was just so unrelentingly dark that I felt like sitting down and weeping every few pages!

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  4. I think I can take (and even sort of enjoy) bleak but something…
    Jean Rhys: bleak but so so stylish in every sense.
    Hardy’s Jude: bleak but dramatically shocking. Came home from the pub aged 18 to see the children’s demise in a televised version and remember feeling my temperature plummet.
    But Stoner I just found bleak. Perhaps I missed something.

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  5. Claire, interesting because I like that type of book and have read a good number of those listed. Suggest The Drought (and the not quite so good,€“ although my son preferred it,€“ The Drowned World) by JG Ballard. Or do they fall into a different category of Dystopian novels? Not sure which category Margaret Atwood’€™s the Handmaid’s Tale would fall into.

    BTW my wife thoroughly enjoyed your book, as did I.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I haven’t read any JG Ballard. Perhaps I should because I like dystopian, and aren’t they always bleak? I don’t see why they couldn’t go in both categories. And so glad you and your wife enjoyed Our Endless Numbered Days!


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