My heart longs for you, my soul dies for you, my eyes cry for you, my empty arms reach out for you.
May 15, 2009 10:10 AM   Subscribe

[BookRecommendationFilter] Please recommend some good tragic love stories.

Specifically, I'm looking for books about tragic love stories where the tragedy or unhappiness could have been avoided if only one circumstance had been different, the kind of stories that leave your insides twisted with sadness and regret at the end because of how badly things went awry, and how preventable it could have been.

I'm thinking sort of along the lines of Ian McEwan's Atonement (where the ending could have been completely different if Briony simply hadn't walked into the library, for example, or Robbie hadn't gone off to search for Lola alone) rather than books where the tragedy is inevitable because of a character's illness or death (as in Nicholas Sparks's A Walk to Remember).

Fiction preferred, non-fiction is also fine, but not really interested in plays.

posted by anderjen to Media & Arts (43 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
OK, neither of these recommendations are particularly highbrow (to say the least) and certainly unconventional but: White Palace by Glenn Savan and The Dead Zone by Stephen King.
posted by 8dot3 at 10:15 AM on May 15, 2009

Hemingway is probably the gold standard for this. "A Farewell to Arms," but especially "For Whom The Bells Tolls," which is one of the greatest novels ever written.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:15 AM on May 15, 2009

Hemingway is probably the gold standard for this.

Sorry, have to dispute that. The ultimate classic for this has to be Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Not that it's his best play, of course, but better than Hemingway any day.
posted by cerebus19 at 10:19 AM on May 15, 2009

Wuthering Heights might meet your criteria. I don't know if you can really boil all the tragedy down to a single incident, though.
posted by soelo at 10:28 AM on May 15, 2009

Also, Inventing the Abbotts was a novel (or short story?) by Sue Miller before it was a movie.
posted by soelo at 10:30 AM on May 15, 2009

Oooh, a long-ish book, but well worth the read, The Magus by John Fowles. Probably also his book The French Lieutenant's Woman. They both have ambiguous endings though, so I would say you're really left wondering rather than sure that the relationships didn't work out. Plenty of tragedy and heart-wrenching situations along the way....
posted by hellogoodbye at 10:31 AM on May 15, 2009

The Children's Hospital by Chris Adrian is a horrible, harrowing book. It's one of my favorites. The love story isn't the main thrust, but it does end tragically. For all of human kind.
posted by GilloD at 10:33 AM on May 15, 2009

Edith Wharton has some stories like this, although her protangists' tragedies are usually a result of a series of events.

Lily's problems in The House of Mirth are not caused by any one event, but the events build on each other in a way that is very compelling (at least to me).

In The Age of Innocence, though, there is a single twist that seals the lovers' fates.
posted by jeoc at 10:35 AM on May 15, 2009

leaving cheyanne, larry mcmurtry. not sure if it meets the 'avoidable tragedy' guideline above, but i think it would be close.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 10:36 AM on May 15, 2009

The Age of Innocence, again.

The Sun Also Rises, in my opinion...

And another classic, The Sorrows of Young Werther.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 10:45 AM on May 15, 2009

Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Possibly my favorite novel, almost unbearably depressing, and yes, one single event sets the stage for the lovers' tragedy. (There's also an A&E miniseries version that I found utterly affecting, if you'd prefer to watch your tragedy ... )
posted by delayed-reaction android at 10:48 AM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

On Chesil Beach, also by Ian McEwan, was heartbreaking for me and totally preventable.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 10:48 AM on May 15, 2009

Mary Doria Russell - The Sparrow. More agape than eros, though ...
posted by [@I][:+:][@I] at 10:54 AM on May 15, 2009

Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami
posted by gushn at 11:02 AM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ethan Frome fits your description I think (although I personally didn't like it at all). The Awakening somewhat fits but is more tragic due to intractable societal issues rather than a single event.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:07 AM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding the Time Traveler's Wife.
posted by ambrosia at 11:15 AM on May 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Hemmingway. Read For Whom the Bell Tolls. Everything else suggested is going to be lame and not that tragic in comparison. It's probably one of the best books ever written. It's so fucking awesome.

Norwegian Wood by Murakami is good as well.

And yeah, The Time Traveler's Wife is enjoyable.
posted by chunking express at 11:25 AM on May 15, 2009

The God of Small Things
Though the love story is not always overtly front and centre in the narrative.
posted by scribbler at 11:35 AM on May 15, 2009

Seconding The God of Small Things. It's great because it more or less opens with the tragedy, and as the story goes the pieces get filled in.
posted by chunking express at 11:36 AM on May 15, 2009

seconding The Magus. it had my skin crawling with all of the heart-wrenching twists. a very, very good read! it will swallow you up.

Tess of the D'Urbervilles is great, but any time i've recommended it, i've found it's hit or miss. if you like "classics" give it a shot.

Le Grand Meaulnes is one of my favourites, and full of despair.
posted by gursky at 11:43 AM on May 15, 2009

The English Patient. A classic "if this one thing had been different" novel. And what a love story.
posted by meerkatty at 11:47 AM on May 15, 2009

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

Dangerous Liasons by Choderlos de Laclos

And less utterly wrenchingly tragic but still:

The Stars' Tennis Balls by Stephen Fry
posted by runincircles at 11:54 AM on May 15, 2009

Buffy and Angel.
posted by RussHy at 12:17 PM on May 15, 2009

Possibly Thomas Mann's Death in Venice.
posted by jgirl at 12:27 PM on May 15, 2009

Spoilers galore, and I don't know if it'll ruin it for you to know this in advance... but I find Shogun incredibly tragic, romance-wise. Ann Patchett's Bel Canto is also like this.

You said you weren't interested in plays, but I can't help myself -- Cyrano de Bergerac makes me cry every time.
posted by cider at 12:39 PM on May 15, 2009

The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas.
posted by firei at 12:54 PM on May 15, 2009

OOh, and seconding Cyrano.
posted by firei at 12:55 PM on May 15, 2009

Dr. Zhivago, Jude the Obscure, Return of the Native, Anna Karenina, Mill on the Floss
posted by cass at 1:04 PM on May 15, 2009

Jeffrey Eugenides recently edited a collection of love stories, My Mistress's Sparrow is Dead. Many of the stories have the sort of tragic or unconventional tone I think you're looking for.
posted by lunalaguna at 1:07 PM on May 15, 2009

delayed-reaction android beat me to it, so: seconding Hardy. Tess is satisfyingly tragic, but all of his books [of the 7 that I've read] have an element of that "if only one circumstance was different" sadness to them, some to more tragic ends than others.

Also, George Eliot's Mill on the Floss, already-mentioned Edith Wharton, and Howard's End.

If you want a more modern read, Revolutionary Road was wonderful.
posted by bluestocking at 1:14 PM on May 15, 2009

Sorry...cass beat me to it, too (I really should preview, shouldn't I?!)
posted by bluestocking at 1:22 PM on May 15, 2009

You might enjoy A Nervous Splendor. It's a very fun, readable nonfiction book about the intersection of culture, social conditions, and politics in Vienna in the late 1880s, with the narrative framework being the doomed love affair between Crown Prince Rudolf and his teenage mistress.
posted by scody at 1:28 PM on May 15, 2009

Oh, and I forgot to say that I second the recommendation of Ann Patchett's Bel Canto.
posted by scody at 1:30 PM on May 15, 2009

Nthing House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Also, a short story: Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx

Possession by AS Byatt is fantastic

The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzegerald
posted by bluedaisy at 1:35 PM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow, great answers so far. Thanks so much, guys. I didn't specify above, but ambiguous endings are fine as well.

Please keep 'em coming!
posted by anderjen at 1:48 PM on May 15, 2009

Peony in Love by Lisa See is an historical novel set in 11th (?) century China that would probably fit the bill, as it starts off with a sad, preventable tragedy for the narrator.
posted by trunk muffins at 3:14 PM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

seconding "The Sun also Rises." Honestly not my favorite book, but it matches your description well, and, in all honesty, it probably has the best ending to any book I've ever read. I mean that.

I just finished some Carson McCullers short stories. She does a pretty stand up job working with love and tragedy. The Ballad of the Sad Cafe had strong characters and a folksy twang of a fabricator sitting by the fire and telling you the real story behind this town. It’s a fun story with all the exaggerations and hopelessness you would expect from a southern writer discussing how love works regardless of its reciprocation, and the dreadful beauty and power of emotions. You expect every paragraph to begin with “Whell, it was the hottest summah we’d evah seen and the corn was popping itself in Old Smith’s farmyard when Josie first came to town with a suitcase made of purple leathah like sunset over the Louisiana itself ayup.” But in a good way, somehow.
posted by OrangeDrink at 6:08 PM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance. Everyone should read that book. It will break your heart.
posted by apricot at 1:28 PM on May 16, 2009

Captain Corelli's Mandolin

I would personally avoid the movie...
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:32 PM on May 16, 2009

Oh and The Remains of the Day - book and movie.
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:35 PM on May 16, 2009

By Grand Central Station I Sat Down And Wept by Elizabeth Smart. Devastating.
posted by Scram at 10:10 AM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nthing The Time Traveler's Wife
posted by Brainy at 4:26 PM on May 17, 2009

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