The misanthropic novel
November 21, 2015 8:57 AM   Subscribe

I need fictional novels to help me dive head first into the abyss. Please recommend some.

I am looking for novels in which the protagonist has been rejected by society, hates society and all it's people generally or just feels very disconnected from everything. I liked Perfume but I like the free flowing rage of Henry Miller too despite his joy for life. I don't mind if there is misogyny or misandry. I like sadness, despair, bleakness, isolation and melancholy. I don't care what the story is about and I don't care how it ends. Violence is welcome. If there is a random act of kindness that may throw me emotionally, I'm ok with that too. Occasional hope is also acceptable.

Thanks
posted by ihaveyourfoot to Media & Arts (115 answers total) 61 users marked this as a favorite
 
Bret Easton Ellis, specifically American Psycho.
posted by amro at 9:07 AM on November 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


The Stranger by Albert Camus

The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
posted by sevenofspades at 9:10 AM on November 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Michele Houllebeque, especially Atomized/The Elementary Particles.
posted by seesom at 9:11 AM on November 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


Dead Babies by Martin Amis.
posted by ejs at 9:14 AM on November 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Louis-Ferdinand Céline... Journey to the End of the Night (Voyage au bout de la nuit, 1932)
posted by Mister Bijou at 9:21 AM on November 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Knut Hamsun's Hunger.
posted by teremala at 9:22 AM on November 21, 2015 [6 favorites]


Confederacy of Dunces!
posted by nkknkk at 9:22 AM on November 21, 2015 [6 favorites]


Notes from the Underground and Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky. For me, personally, Notes from the Underground is kind of the quintessential misanthropic loner handbook.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 9:23 AM on November 21, 2015 [8 favorites]


I'm not done with it yet but I think Eileen by Otessa Moshfegh might be right up your alley.

Great question btw.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 9:36 AM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Pledge.
posted by mark k at 9:38 AM on November 21, 2015


Donna Tartt's The Little Friend.
I would guess Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian would suit you too, but I haven't read him primarily because I have a low tolerance for bleakness in my literature.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 9:42 AM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


A Fraction of a Whole by Steve Toltz is all about a reviled misanthropic philosopher, but a lot of it is on the humorous side. There are some bleak moments, though.
posted by thebots at 9:46 AM on November 21, 2015


I can verify Cold Lurkey's suggestion: Blood Meridian definitely fits your criteria.
posted by minsies at 9:46 AM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


I recommend Murphy, and Molloy, by Samuel Beckett.
posted by lathrop at 9:48 AM on November 21, 2015


Speaking of Martin Amis... Money. London Fields sorta fits, too.
posted by notyou at 9:49 AM on November 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


I should add that both those books are darkly humorous rather than bleak.
posted by notyou at 9:51 AM on November 21, 2015


Love Is The Law, Nick Mamatas.
posted by foxfirefey at 9:53 AM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh, and Hanya Yanagihara's The People in the Trees.
posted by minsies at 9:54 AM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Two that come to mind are The Wasp Factory and We Need to Talk about Kevin.
posted by thebrokedown at 9:59 AM on November 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver. Possibly Double Fault by Shriver, too, but it's been a while since I read it. Shriver's pretty consistently misanthropic in my experience, except for The Post-Birthday World.
posted by jaguar at 9:59 AM on November 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Jinx, thebrokedown!
posted by jaguar at 10:00 AM on November 21, 2015


Doris Lessing.
posted by effluvia at 10:01 AM on November 21, 2015


Speaking of Céline, Castle to Castle.
posted by zer0render at 10:05 AM on November 21, 2015


Haunted, by Chuck Palahniuk.
posted by RedEmma at 10:09 AM on November 21, 2015


Lanark by Alasdair Gray, though his most misanthropic novel might be 1982 Janine.
posted by kariebookish at 10:10 AM on November 21, 2015


Patricia Highsmith

Osama Dazai, No Longer Human
posted by betweenthebars at 10:15 AM on November 21, 2015


John Fante.
posted by littlewater at 10:18 AM on November 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Franz Kafka too!
posted by littlewater at 10:21 AM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Murakami is about a protagonist who has been abruptly rejected from society. There is an awful lot of sadness, despair, bleakness, isolation and melancholy, although the book also chronicles his 'return to society,' so to speak.
posted by telegraph at 10:25 AM on November 21, 2015


Agota Kristof's trilogy The Notebook, The Proof, and The Third Lie seem like they might be what you're looking for.

And if Hamsun's Hunger scratches your itch, The Growth of the Soil is also excellent.
posted by ernielundquist at 10:46 AM on November 21, 2015


Charles Bukowski should fit the bill nicely. "Post Office" would be a good start.
posted by jzb at 10:47 AM on November 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


you need to read Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand. all of her stuff is wonderful but this is definitely the darkest, most bleak. protagonist is VERY much the misanthropic outcast.
posted by supermedusa at 11:02 AM on November 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Dark Places by Gillian Flynn.
posted by SisterHavana at 11:05 AM on November 21, 2015


Satantango by Laszlo Krasznahorkai
posted by perhapses at 11:20 AM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Thomas Bernhard
posted by edeezy at 11:23 AM on November 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Doris Lessing.

Specifically, The Grass is Singing. That book is seething psychosis in a cookie tin; I'm not sure I was fully oriented x3 for a month after reading it, and the state of mind Lessing must have been in to write it scarcely bears thinking about.

I thought Sillitoe's Loneliness of a Long-distance Runner was particularly bleak, along with Ellison's Invisible Man.

And in the unlikely event you can get your hands on a copy, I recommend Arthur Bremer's An Assassin's Diary. Bremer attempted to assassinate George Wallace after failing repeatedly to get close enough to have a go at Nixon. A merciful fog has settled over my memory of most of the details of the book, but suffice it to say that the movie it inspired, Scorcese's Taxi Driver, seems almost light-hearted in comparison.
posted by jamjam at 11:31 AM on November 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


Can it be funny? The Epicure's Lament by Kate Christensen is so well written and very darkly humorous.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:33 AM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being recently scratched this itch for me.
posted by gatorae at 11:34 AM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


For bleak, blank hopelessness without pretense or grandiosity, Shulamith Firestone's Airless Spaces. ("Stories," not a novel. Short and crushing.)
posted by generalist at 11:40 AM on November 21, 2015


The Dwarf by Pär Lagerkvist tells the story of perhaps the greatest misanthrope in all of literature.
posted by little eiffel at 11:52 AM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]




The Dinner, by Herman Koch.
posted by snorkmaiden at 12:14 PM on November 21, 2015


The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

I like sadness, despair, bleakness, isolation and melancholy.

McCarthy's writing has an infinite supply of all those.
posted by cnc at 12:14 PM on November 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
posted by Leontine at 12:36 PM on November 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


this is pretty much all I've been reading for the past five-or-so years. here is a list of authors I've liked, because I've found that the people who do this well also tend to do it a lot: Bruno Schulz, Joseph Roth, Ingeborg Bachmann, Italo Svevo, Jaroslav Hasek, Witold Gombrowicz, Robert Walser, Boris Vian, Marguerite Duras, Collette (her later work), Elfriede Jelinek, Herta Mueller, and Djuna Barnes.

I would also mention Agota Kristof's The Notebook/The Proof/The Third Lie and Pessoa's Book of Disquiet, and of course Kafka and Beckett, but they've already been mentioned so I shall nth them instead.
posted by spindle at 12:36 PM on November 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


Elisa Albert
posted by brujita at 1:12 PM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


There's lots of this in Russian literature, unsurprisingly; in addition to the Dostoyevsky mentioned above, two famously misanthropic novels are Saltykov-Shchedrin's The Golovlyov Family (also translated as A Family of Noblemen) and Sologub's The Petty Demon (also translated as The Little Demon). Unpleasant people up the wazoo!
posted by languagehat at 1:23 PM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Torrents of Spring starts out nicely enough...
posted by Oyéah at 1:24 PM on November 21, 2015


Hubert Selby Jr., Last Exit to Brooklyn and Requiem For a Dream.

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates.

Tampa by Alissa Nutting.
posted by cakelite at 1:30 PM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Edward St. Aubyn's novels about Patrick Melrose are exquisitely well written and utterly brutal; misanthropy seems to be the guiding theme.
posted by artemisia at 1:33 PM on November 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Seconding Beckett and Thomas Bernhard.

As well as Satantango, recommended above, László Krasznahorkai’s novels The Melancholy of Resistance and War and War also fit the bill.

B. S. Johnson’s Christie Malry's Own Double-Entry.

Thomas Ligotti’s novella My Work is Not Yet Done.

Cain’s Book by Alexander Trocchi.
posted by misteraitch at 1:38 PM on November 21, 2015


It's a comedy, but Vernon God Little, by DBC Pierre. It's about a teenager in Texas who gets blamed for a school shooting perpetrated by his only friend. It's dark.

Also, if you want bleak short stories (for a break from the novels), George Saunders is incredibly bleak. Tenth of December is great, but pretty miserable.
posted by teponaztli at 1:40 PM on November 21, 2015


The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kozinsky
Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo
posted by telstar at 1:46 PM on November 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas. Ugh. So many characters, and everyone's empty, selfish and awful in a very suburban, middle class way.
posted by sively at 1:58 PM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Haruhi Murakami is pretty famous for this, Norwegian Wood was definitely in that category. I also think Zadie Smith's On Beauty as well, but I haven't reread it in a while.
posted by yueliang at 2:07 PM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


  George Saunders is incredibly bleak

Aww … I find him cheerful and bright. And Kafka's downright hilarious.

My go-to dark books are The Third Policeman and The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. The protagonist of the first has no understanding or feelings outside his own head, and the one from the second is so absolutely sure of his Calvinist election that he commits great evil with impunity.
posted by scruss at 2:12 PM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Kathe Koja - The Cipher
posted by bifter at 2:57 PM on November 21, 2015


+1 Doris Lessing. Depressing, bleak, melancholic. And cynical. And very well-written.

Go 20th Century Russian. Especially Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov.

Check out Australian novelist Patrick White. Depressing, misanthropic, and often bizarre.
posted by valannc at 3:04 PM on November 21, 2015


now that I think of it Peter Watts Starfish fits your bill also. you probably can't go wrong with any of his work for bleak, dystopian alienation.
posted by supermedusa at 3:17 PM on November 21, 2015


Nathaniel hawthorns blithedale romance!
posted by flink at 3:28 PM on November 21, 2015


The Elegance of the Hedgehog
posted by bleep at 3:33 PM on November 21, 2015


If you don't eschew fantasy, the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen R Donaldson are a classic in the genre. This is misanthropy writ large. Trigger warning for rape, however.
posted by OHenryPacey at 3:39 PM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Lorrie Moore's Birds of America (series of short stories--pretty dark in the existential despair way. I recently tried to revisit after many years and promptly said "Hmm, I am currently in a good place. No-thank-you" and back on the shelf it went.)
posted by lovableiago at 4:06 PM on November 21, 2015


Jim Carroll's "The Petting Zoo."
posted by Melismata at 4:12 PM on November 21, 2015


Against the grain by Joris-Karl Huysmans.
posted by leopard-skin pill-box hat at 4:32 PM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Thirding Beckett and Bernhard.

Adding Gary Lutz (short stories).
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:15 PM on November 21, 2015


The Magic Christian by Terry Southern. Main character might be the most misanthropic I ever read about—sort of an OFFline troll, pre-internet. Not a downer though, very funny.
posted by Flexagon at 5:29 PM on November 21, 2015


The Room by Jonas Karlsson. Often described as Kafkaesque. The English edition is translated from the author's original Swedish.
posted by fuse theorem at 5:31 PM on November 21, 2015


I normally wouldn't recommend The Tunnel by William Gass to, well, anyone ... but in this case it definitely ticks all the boxes. Even now I feel a gnawing in the pit of my stomach at the thought of its narrator.
posted by Lorin at 6:33 PM on November 21, 2015


Stephen Elliott, Happy Baby, or My Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me Up
Imre Kertesz, Fatelessnes, or Kaddish for an Unborn Child or Liquidation
Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life
Janice Galloway, The Trick is to Keep Breathing
Jerzy Kosinski, The Painted Bird (or virtually anything)
Patrick deWitt, Ablutions: Notes for a Novel
posted by sweltering at 7:16 PM on November 21, 2015


Of Beckett, particularly Krapp's Last Tape. Small, accessible, devastating.
posted by sweltering at 7:19 PM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ablutions by Patrick DeWitt.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 7:29 PM on November 21, 2015


Of Beckett, particularly Krapp's Last Tape. Small, accessible, devastating.

A Piece of Monologue, too. I saw a dress rehearsal of that piece and Krapp's Last Tape and "Birth was the death of him" lodged in my head. I'd recommend finding a video or audio recording, though, rather than just reading the script.
posted by jaguar at 7:49 PM on November 21, 2015


The Patrick Melrose novels by Edward St Aubyn.
posted by sideofwry at 8:06 PM on November 21, 2015


The Engineer books by KJ Parker. They have the form, the set-pieces, even the blurbs of a heroic fantasy trilogy, but no: bleakness, pointlessness, despair.
posted by clew at 12:55 AM on November 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh! Purge by Sofi Oksanen, internationally not terribly well known although it should be. Military occupation, sexual violence, betrayal, shame, silence, abandonment and despair in Estonia during WW2 and after the fall of USSR. It was very good - pretty much a page turner - yet I really struggled to finish it, because omg so bleak.
posted by sively at 2:24 AM on November 22, 2015


The Blind Owl by Hedayat is a good one for that.
posted by switchbladenaif at 2:58 AM on November 22, 2015




The Fuck-Up.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:26 AM on November 22, 2015


John Lanchester's The Debt to Pleasure

"The narrator, Tarquin – real name Rodney – Winot, is a wonderful invention, at once appalling and appealing, if only for the pathos of his self-delusions, and lucidly, utterly mad. He is a middle-aged gourmand, scholar and monstre damné; he is also a kind of artist, with an artist’s ambition, ruthlessness and greed for recognition. As he says himself, the real point about the conjunction of art and evil “is not that the megalomaniac is a failed artist but that the artist is a timid megalomaniac”.
posted by Jakey at 1:19 PM on November 22, 2015


Keep the Aspidistra Flying
posted by pompomtom at 6:04 PM on November 22, 2015


Auto-da-Fé by Elias Canetti. Very good and very misanthropic.
posted by grapesaresour at 10:07 PM on November 22, 2015


Oh wow - so much misery. I can't wait! I'm ok with the humorous stuff too but I'll probably save it for last. I'm looking to be 'destroyed' somewhat. Thanks for all of the recommendations. I have a lot to get through :) ... Or maybe that should be :(
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 6:28 AM on November 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


A thousand times Under the Volcano.
posted by kaspen at 11:13 AM on November 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Getting Rid of Mr Kitchen
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 12:01 PM on November 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I completely adored Hilary Mantel's "Beyond Black," and it was the first thing that jumped to mind when I read your question... but it's been many years since I've read it, and I thought, "hm, maybe it's not that misanthropic, maybe it's more hopeful than I remember." So, I had to look up reviews, and the first one I came upon begins, "It strikes me as a novel marinated in pessimism and misanthropy, running from the unremittingly horrible people that surround Alison while she’s growing up, to the dim, inarticulate and generally low-watt people that come to see her medium stage show or pay her for palmistry and tarot readings."

It continues, later, "Reading Beyond Black is a fairly dispiriting experience. There’s no let-up from the pessimism, no ray of hope or redemption, at any point. The spectrum of humanity, dead and alive, runs from the murderously evil on one end to the stupefyingly bland and mediocre on the other. It takes place in a modern dystopia where nothing good could ever happen, and the best one could hope for is that nothing really bad will happen."

So, yay? I found it amazing, though. I was most in love with her atmospheric descriptions and settings, which begin immediately in the first paragraph:
Travelling: the dank oily days after Christmas. The motorway, its wastes looping London: the margin’s scrub grass flaring orange in the lights, and the leaves of the poisoned shrubs striped yellow-green like a cantaloupe melon. Four o'clock: light sinking over the orbital road. Teatime in Enfield, night falling on Potter’s Bar. There are nights when you don’t want to do it, but you have to do it anyway. Nights when you look down from the stage and see closed stupid faces. Messages from the dead arrive at random. You don’t want them and you can’t send them back. The dead won’t be coaxed and they won’t be coerced. But the public has paid its money and it wants results.
posted by taz at 8:33 AM on November 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's a commitment, but the overarching them of the Malazan Book of the Fallen series, by Stephen Erikson, is tragedy. Deadhouse Gates is particularly bleak.
posted by drklahn at 9:05 AM on November 26, 2015


Independent People, by Halldór Laxness fits your requirements perfectly with the addition of inter-generational family pride and cruelty, Icelandic sagas and the crushing life of penniless farmers in an unforgiving environment. It is a beautiful book.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 10:09 AM on November 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


I was totally spooked by God is a Bullet by Boston Teran.
posted by zardoz at 4:50 AM on November 27, 2015


Michel Houellebecq has already been cited above for Atomized, but his debut novel, Whatever is somehow purer in its misanthropy and bleakness (though it's also quite funny, go figure).
Excerpt: The rules are complex, multiform. There’s the shopping that needs doing out of working hours, the automatic dispensers where money has to be got (and where you so often have to wait). Above all there are the different payments you must make to the organizations that run different aspects of your life. You can fall ill into the bargain, which involves costs, and more formalities. Nevertheless, some free time remains. What’s to be done? How do you use your time? In dedicating yourself to helping people? But basically other people don’t interest you. Listening to records? That used to be a solution, but as the years go by you have to say that music moves you less and less. Taken in its widest sense, a spot of do-it-yourself can be a way out. But the fact is that nothing can halt the ever-increasing recurrence of those moments when your total isolation, the sensation of an all-consuming emptiness, the foreboding that your existence is nearing a painful and definitive end all combine to plunge you into a state of real suffering.
posted by elgilito at 5:49 AM on November 27, 2015


We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, so many times over.
posted by oulipian at 6:15 AM on November 27, 2015


Ghost Children by Sue Townsend. So different from her most famous works, the Adrien Mole books, but such a good story. Sad in so many ways but so much more than that. Worth reading, for sure.
posted by h00py at 6:54 AM on November 27, 2015


No one has suggested 2666 yet? I haven't read it yet as I'm intimidated by the subject matter (the femicides in Ciudad Juárez-- sorry, can't read that), but I've had friends who have and found it sufficiently bleak.

And another vote for Last Exit to Brooklyn. I read it when I was 25 and teetering on the edge of depression and it pulled me down like a muddy river's undertow. I will never read it again, and would be happy to forget it if I could.
posted by jokeefe at 11:35 AM on November 27, 2015


Seconding Selby and 2666. Richard Yates biography "Tragic Honesty" by Blake Bailey was full of desolation.

Finally, Atticus Lish's new book "Preparation for the Next Life" was so brutal I could barely finish reading it. A slowly cresting story of two people over whom the wave of life builds and then, eventually, crashes. It was heart-breaking.
posted by nevercalm at 11:39 AM on November 27, 2015


The Wasp Factory, by Iain Banks.

"Two years after I killed Blyth I murdered my young brother Paul, for quite different and more fundamental reasons than I'd disposed of Blyth, and then a year after that I did for my young cousin Esmerelda, more or less on a whim.

That's my score to date. Three. I haven't killed anybody for years, and don't intend to ever again.

It was just a stage I was going through."
posted by slappy_pinchbottom at 9:28 PM on November 27, 2015


The Alexandria Quartet by Laurence Durrell. My copy was given to me by my ex and I tried very hard to read it for her sake but could never make it past the first one what with all the angst, despair and annoying people.

A Confederacy of Dunces would be another choice, though I must confess I couldn't finish reading it because the violent self-absorption and general indifference to humanity displayed by most of the characters made it impossible for me to get past the first hundred pages. Oddly, many people simply adore this book and find it hysterically funny, so clearly one person's despair about humanity is another person's light entertainment.

I also find the works of John Updike induce a similar feeling that the world is a miserable place full of miserable people, little hope for the future and a seething hopelessness that may only be alleviated by violence or explosions as you set the books on fire after thoroughly dousing them with gasoline.

You will gather this is not a genre I care for very much.
posted by Athanassiel at 10:49 PM on November 27, 2015


A Confederacy of Dunces would be another choice, though I must confess I couldn't finish reading it ... many people simply adore this book and find it hysterically funny, so clearly one person's despair about humanity is another person's light entertainment.

There’s no question the novel falls apart in the second half, but I think that much of it (especially the opening chapter) is tremendously good (and yes, hysterically funny). I like to think that the author would have revised the later pages if he had known it would be published but then again – speaking of one person’s despair – he had committed suicide 11 years earlier.
posted by LeLiLo at 12:16 AM on November 28, 2015


FWIW, I don't find 2666 misanthropic at all.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:34 AM on November 28, 2015



Check out Australian novelist Patrick White. Depressing, misanthropic, and often bizarre.


I came in to recommend White's The Vivisector
Many of Mary Gaitskill's novels fit this criteria.
posted by thivaia at 6:36 AM on November 28, 2015


Krakauer's Into the Woods and Missoula have this element.
Doris Lessing's The Fifth Child
Nth-ing Cormac McCarthy
There's a reason Kafka-esque is used as an adjective here if you have had a full tour of his works.
I'm thinking on where Gogol is with the Russian contingent mentioned. I enjoy his humor which brings up how-bleak-is-this-hmmm? For me.
posted by childofTethys at 8:19 AM on November 28, 2015


How can I forget Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections or Freedom?
posted by childofTethys at 8:23 AM on November 28, 2015


> The Alexandria Quartet by Laurence Durrell. My copy was given to me by my ex and I tried very hard to read it for her sake but could never make it past the first one what with all the angst, despair and annoying people.

I disagree with this, and I'm saying so here not because Someone Is Wrong on the Internet but because I wouldn't want the asker to waste time on a whole series of novels on a mistaken premise (nor would I want other people reading this post to avoid them out of fear that they're too depressing). I myself do not generally enjoy novels of "sadness, despair, bleakness, isolation and melancholy," but I've read the Alexandria Quartet twice all the way through and dipped into it many times, and I don't see it that way at all. The characters aren't angels, but who is? It's a story of love, jealousy, and colonialism, seen from different perspectives and forming a satisfying whole. If you want horrible misanthropy, don't waste your time on it!

(I also disagree about A Confederacy of Dunces and agree with LeLiLo's take on it.)
posted by languagehat at 9:19 AM on November 28, 2015


Ghost Children by Sue Townsend. So different from her most famous works, the Adrien Mole books, but such a good story. Sad in so many ways but so much more than that.

OMG thank you, how did I not know about this!!!
posted by listen, lady at 3:02 PM on November 28, 2015


Oh, god, the David Peace 19XX novels. 1974, 1977, 1981, 1983. Dark as fuck, the lot of them.
posted by listen, lady at 3:03 PM on November 28, 2015


Beyond late to the party but Dirty Snow by Georges Simenon fits your bill perfectly.
posted by my face your at 6:13 AM on November 30, 2015


Seconding Alasdair Gray's "1982, Justine".
Also, Yevgenia Ginzburg's gulag memoir "Journey Into the Whirlwind" and if you can find it, the sequel "Within the Whirlwind" contain some of the most powerful and instructive examples of sadness, despair, bleakness, isolation and melancholy I have ever read. The second book, while authentically bleak and horrifying, does depict some transcendent human kindness.
posted by jcrcarter at 10:57 AM on November 30, 2015


Cormac McCarthy, definitely. China Mieville has his moments, depending on your tolerance for fantasy. I found the Bas-Lag novels to be very bleak, particularly Perdido Street Station.
posted by domo at 12:44 PM on November 30, 2015


Sadness, despair, bleakness, isolation, and melancholy, wooooo!!!!

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Stranger by Albert Camus

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

On The Beach by Nevil Shute

Grendel by John Gardner

The Child Garden by Geoff Ryman

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

1984 by George Orwell

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
posted by kyrademon at 4:09 AM on December 1, 2015


Cormac McCarthy, one more time: his very bleakest, for me, is "Suttree." Had to crawl away from it, but couldn't not finish it.
Also "Cat's Eye," by Margaret Atwood. (And, plenty of history books are just as bleak as these fiction titles.)
posted by mmiddle at 2:08 PM on December 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Night Work by Thomas Glavinic.
posted by Alex Voyd at 8:58 PM on December 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Many people have said Beckett. Here is why Beckett: he writes better than anyone about being incorrigibly lost and alone. His protagonists can't know or hope for anything and they can't help each other.

They are not despairing novels, though. No one in actual despair writes a novel, or talks as endlessly as these novels' protagonists do. The novels are acts of active faith, not that there is some possible worthwhile goal to life, but that carrying on living is somehow worthwhile in itself.

The three great Beckett novels, are, in increasing order of bleakness and of difficulty to read, Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable. Oddly, all three of them are periodically quite funny, though by the time you get to The Unnamable, you are mostly laughing at yourself for continuing to read.
posted by ckridge at 10:49 AM on December 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


Oh, and Coetzee's Disgrace. It is Becketty, but wetter. It is about a thoroughly bad man trying to change without the slightest faith in the existence of any better state or even the ability to imagine any such state. All he knows is that he cannot stand himself as he is anymore. It is a straight walk down into darkness.
posted by ckridge at 10:54 AM on December 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


Do they have to be novels? I personally have been most disturbed by memoirs. Night by Eli Weisel comes to mind, but also Prisoner Without Name, Cell Without Number by Jacobo Timmerman is a must if you want to really question your faith in humanity.
posted by genmonster at 8:33 AM on December 6, 2015


Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton.

From Wikipedia:
Hangover Square is a 1941 novel by English playwright and novelist Patrick Hamilton. A black comedy, it is often cited as Hamilton's finest novel, exemplifying the author's concerns over social inequalities, the rise of Fascism and the hovering doom of World War II.

Set against the backdrop of the days preceding Britain declaring war on Germany, the main character is George Harvey Bone, a lonely borderline alcoholic who suffers from a split personality. He is obsessed with gaining the affections of Netta, a failed actress and one of George's circle of "friends" with whom he drinks. Netta is repelled by George but, being greedy and manipulative, she and a mutual acquaintance, Peter, shamelessly exploit George's advances to extract money and drink from him.


I would dispute the word 'comedy' in 'black comedy'. It's very good, though.
posted by Cantdosleepy at 7:02 AM on December 8, 2015


What, no one's mentioned Graham Greene? Everything of his fits your bill. He writes from a world where no one is searching for happiness because it's never even occurred to them that such a thing might exist.
posted by hoist with his own pet aardvark at 7:22 PM on December 21, 2015


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