My Top 5 Tearjerkers

I’m going to put this out there straight away: I cry a lot.  Charity TV adverts make me weep.  If someone writes something particularly nice in a greetings card, more tears.  I start crying telling people about things that have made me cry!  It verges on the ridiculous, is a constant source of embarrassment (many friends who’ve made the mistake of seeing a sad film at the cinema with me will testify to that) and it is also the subject of today’s blog.

The word “tearjerker” conjures up, for me at least, a very specific type of novel: Nicholas Sparks, maybe, or “The Fault in our Stars”.  If I stuck with that definition then this would be a very short article indeed as I usually steer clear of books with an overtly emotional theme.  Thinking over my reading history, however, there are still many books that have in places reduced me to a soggy mess of tears, despite the fact that you may not think of them as fitting the model of your classic tearjerker.  So I thought it would be interesting to share with you today the top 5 books that made me cry!

  1. The Mayor of Casterbridge – I first read this when I was studying it in sixth form and have vivid memories of having to hide watery eyes from my soulless classmates. Michael Henchard has got to be one of the most tragic figures in literature, his character failings bringing him crashing down time and time again in spite of his constant battle to make things right.  One of his last wishes is “that no man shall remember me”:  cue violent sobbing…
  2. Memoirs of a Geisha – to be denied a life that one could, and should by rights have had, is an almost unimaginable cruelty. But the agony of unrequited love is perhaps the greatest cruelty of them all.  There’s a line from this novel that I remember as if I only read it yesterday and it gets me every time it comes to mind:

 

“What if I came to the end of my life and realised that I’d spent every day watching for a man who would never come to me? …And yet if I draw my thoughts back from him, what life would I have?”

Anyone who’s ever experienced a love that was not returned will recognise the excruciating pain behind this paradox; the author hits the emotional nail right on the head.

  1. Ptolemy’s Gate – if you’ve never come across it, this is the final part of the Bartimaeus trilogy, a series of young adult novels featuring a boy magician and his wise-cracking demon accomplice. I think this might win the prize for the most emotionally shattering end to a series ever – when I’d finished I was in floods of tears…and then had to go back and read the last couple of pages again just to make sure I’d read what I thought I’d read!  Heart-wrenching but superb.
  2. The Boleyn Inheritance – this might seem a bit of an odd one to include on a list of tearjerkers, but I found this novel in Philippa Gregory’s Tudor series surprisingly upsetting. The reason is the author’s exceptionally clever take on Katherine Howard; the segments written from her point of view bring home precisely what she was, namely a naïve teenager manipulated by the trusted adults around her in their quest for power.  The horror lies in the fact that we know the terrible fate of this poor girl, but in this interpretation she is pathetically unaware of what is happening to her even in her final days.  It’s genuinely very emotional.
  3. The Shock of the Fall – this was one of the books everyone was talking about last year, and if you haven’t read it yet I’d thoroughly recommend it. Tears will be shed I promise you…and yet somehow, despite the fact that it deals with some very tough issues such as childhood death and severe mental illness, it doesn’t leave you feeling overwhelmed with sadness.  The image of a little girl burying her doll, however, in a scene whose significance bookends the novel, will stay with you for a long time.

Hopefully today’s blog post hasn’t thoroughly depressed everyone!  I do maintain there’s nothing like a good cry though, so as ever feel free to share the books that reduced you to tears!

Why I love… Thomas Hardy

Today’s blog is a little tribute to the man who is perhaps my favourite novelist writing in the Victorian age.  I’ve always felt slightly sorry for him, believing – probably incorrectly – that he loses out in the popularity stakes compared to some of the other nineteenth century novelists.  He doesn’t have Dickens’ verbosity and larger than life characters, or Austen’s tightly wound love stories that set pulses quickening through their very restraint.  The qualities that he does have in abundance, though, happen to be ones that appeal very much to my nature and are the reason I find his stories resonate so deeply with me.  First and foremost, Thomas Hardy is honest.  Bad things happen to good people with no guarantee that divine justice will right things in the end.  Even when people manage to find some level of comfort and contentment in their lives, many of them will end their days carrying around an underlying sadness, regretting those from the past that slipped away or the things that didn’t go to plan.  In short, life is cruel and there’s nothing anyone can do to change that.

“But he’s so miserable!” is a response I’ve heard on numerous occasions when professing my love for his books.  Well, yes – I have to concede that some of his novels contain a few pretty horrific goings-on.  I can totally see how his choice of subject matter could be off-putting and I pass no judgement on anyone who feels that way!  I suppose the reason why I choose to read his books is the overwhelming sense that his characters are just doing what so many of us are doing: fighting to survive, thrive and find love and hope in a world that can at times present us with the toughest, most unjust and undeserved of obstacles.  And I also have to admire a writer who can provoke in me a physical reaction to the pain of his fictional creations; there are times while reading his stories that my stomach ties itself in knots so acutely do I feel his characters’ plight.

The more appealing side to Hardy, if it’s right to call it that, is his beautiful portrayal of rural England.  When I think of his books I can’t help but think of scenes akin to a Constable painting; in essence, a landscape and a way of life that is now vanished forever.  It would be inaccurate to claim that Hardy himself intended these backdrops to be purely idyllic; the communities he depicts do not exist in a serene bubble but are subject to the uncertainty that pervades any era, as technology advances and people have to adjust to changes of all sorts as time marches on.  Reading the books over a century later, however, the sense is one of nostalgia as much as unease.  I’ve always been drawn to the old-fashioned rather than the current, the comfort of the past rather than the excitement of the future, so getting lost in a rustic Victorian existence for a couple of hundred pages plays to my natural inclinations.

If I was going to recommend a Thomas Hardy novel to start you off if you’ve not read him before, I would definitely put forward “The Woodlanders”.  It’s not got the crushing trauma of some of the others and is a very enjoyable read; it’s also probably my personal favourite, although it’s very a very tight call between that and “The Mayor of Casterbridge”!  If you’re also a Hardy fan I’d love to hear what your favourite is…

Happy reading!