Fiction books to take my mind off a breakup
July 30, 2022 12:40 PM   Subscribe

An intense romantic relationship I was in recently ended and I’m feeling pretty crushed. I’d like to immerse myself in a novel or short stories to get out of my own head. The book should not be about a romantic relationship.

A relationship can be a subplot or something, but I don’t want to read about happy or unhappy couples. Also, nothing highbrow - my attention span is poor right now and I want something easy on my brain. Maybe a good mystery or something suspenseful? I’m open to all genres as long as it’s engrossing and won’t make me cry about my ex.
posted by southern_sky to Writing & Language (26 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
I've got two great ones for you: Circe by Madeline Miller, and Piranesi by Susanna Clarke. Both very well written, easy to read, maybe highbrow in the sense that they got excellent reviews from the establishment, but really wonderful reads.
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:51 PM on July 30, 2022 [9 favorites]

The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells. ("As a soulless killing machine, I was a complete failure.") Start with All Systems Red.
posted by SPrintF at 12:56 PM on July 30, 2022 [23 favorites]

A Psalm for the Wild-Built is uplifting and short, and not about romance. I found The Dispossessed to be fairly easy reading, but also very fulfilling — there are a couple small romance subplots, but they're fairly minor. (these are both books that I read and enjoyed in the wake of a recent breakup)
posted by wesleyac at 1:15 PM on July 30, 2022 [2 favorites]

Just getting into this book about counterfeit handbags. Counterfeit by Kirstin Chen.
posted by Juniper Toast at 1:20 PM on July 30, 2022 [1 favorite]

Emphatically seconding The Murderbot Diaries.

P.G. Wodehouse is light escapism, maybe more enjoyable as audiobooks if you don't have a good internal "soundtrack" of various British accents. Bertie Wooster's ditzy friends fall in love at the drop of a hat but it never amounts to anything, and they are always brought back to their senses by Jeeves.

I really enjoyed A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, about a Russian aristocrat sentenced to house arrest after the Revolution. Since he's been living in a grand Moscow hotel, that's where he's confined, and to support himself he takes a job as a waiter in the hotel's restaurant. He meets quite a few people, and falls in love, but it's a fairly small subplot in a book that's mostly about living a good life and finding friends under constrained circumstances.
posted by Quietgal at 1:31 PM on July 30, 2022 [3 favorites]

In a similar situation I reread Moby-Dick and it was everything, everything I wanted it to be.

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can...

posted by derrinyet at 2:36 PM on July 30, 2022 [11 favorites]

True Grit by Charles Portis
posted by Morpeth at 2:40 PM on July 30, 2022 [3 favorites]

Thirding Murderbot (I am super-jealous of anyone who gets to read it for the first time) and seconding anything Becky Chambers.

Recently read absorbing things:

The Vanishing Half- Brit Bennett- twins leave strange small town of their birth; only one returns

Remarkably Bright Creatures- Shelby Van Pelt (elderly small-town woman develops friendship with octopus, uncovers truths about past)

The Cartographers
- Peng Shepherd (woman finds a map with a secret in her recently-murdered father's belongings; adventure ensues)

I haven't read them recently enough to remember the role of relationships in them, so read the descriptions, but Jane Harper writes great Australian mysteries: The Dry, The Lost Man, Force of Nature, The Survivors.

It sucks and I am sorry. I spent an entire depressed summer after a breakup reading every single Dirk Pitt book that Clive Cussler had ever written- I am sure you can do better than I did!
posted by charmedimsure at 2:40 PM on July 30, 2022 [5 favorites]

A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher - Young baking-wizard just wants to make good bread, but has to save the city. Very amusing and engaging. Not really any romantic subplot. I think Minor Mage also fits the criteria.

Nancy Springer's Enola Holmes series - Short YA novels chronicling the adventures of Sherlock Holmes's younger sister. (The movie adaptation included a romantic subplot but I don't think there is one in the books.)

The King's Peace and The King's Name by Jo Walton are good alt-historical/fantasy with very limited romantic subplots. (Main character is effectively asexual due to trauma in the beginning of the first book; CW: rape)

Finder and Driving the Deep by Suzanne Palmer are both good sci-fi and easy reading. The last book in the series (The Scavenger Door) does introduce a love interest.

Theif's Covenant by Ari Marmell - Fast-paced YA fantasy with a wisecracking heroine. Romantic subplot exists and continues in the sequels, but it takes up very little space on the page and it's not much about being a couple.

The first two books in Pratchett's Tiffany Aching series would do, though Tiffany does get romantically involved later in the series.

Nth-ing Murderbot, of course.
posted by sibilatorix at 3:47 PM on July 30, 2022 [3 favorites]

Daniel O'Malley's "The Rook" and its sequel "Stiletto" have pretty much nil romance (once in awhile someone gets a "you're hot" gaze and that's it) and super interesting sci-fi plot about a secret British organization of superpowered people. The heroine has her memory wiped when she's trying to investigate which one of her coworkers is betraying them, but she's left herself enough instructions to be able to keep going post-mindwipe. One of my top books ever.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:53 PM on July 30, 2022 [4 favorites]

There is now a sequel out to A Psalm for the Wild-Built called A Prayer for the Crown-Shy - both are short, together I'd consider them a sturdy novel, and really mostly about the alliance and then friendship and travels of a very curious robot and a non-binary Tea Monk in the middle of career burnout. The tone is incredibly kind, climate-conscious, sociologically interesting, and it's not said out loud (so far) but Sibling Dex appears to be aromantic.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:33 PM on July 30, 2022 [3 favorites]

You might like The Library of the Dead, where a teenage girl who has a job delivering messages for ghosts solves the disappearance of several children. The sequel, Our Lady of Mysterious Ailments, is just as good. No relationship talk.
posted by corey flood at 5:03 PM on July 30, 2022 [2 favorites]

Reading Dean Koontz's latest (? at least I think it's the latest) The Big Dark Sky. Most of the way through it. While there is (very slight) discussion of prior relationships that characters in the book have had or are aware of, and one very minor discussion of a current relationship in the book, these are not really a part of the story themselves - it's closer to "how these characters happened to be in the same place to travel somewhere together" than anything else.

And so far, it's a pretty darn good read.
posted by stormyteal at 5:53 PM on July 30, 2022

Pretty sure Hild, though it’s a while since I read it.
posted by clew at 6:24 PM on July 30, 2022 [1 favorite]

The movie version of The Martian was recommended over on this thread, which reminded me that the book is perfect for your request: relentless and compelling problem-solving where the stakes are about survival, not romance.
posted by earth by april at 6:28 PM on July 30, 2022 [5 favorites]

This is not a breezy fiction novel, but you might enjoy the book Deep Survival. It is deeply engaging and the stories recounted are so vivid and wild. It is a book about what makes a survivor, in the wild, but also in life. Please do check it out.
posted by monologish at 6:47 PM on July 30, 2022

Circe is incredible, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re looking to avoid difficult relationship stuff in your stories.
posted by congen at 7:18 PM on July 30, 2022 [3 favorites]

I like the No. 1 Lady's Detective Agency series for distracting and not super challenging reading.
posted by FencingGal at 7:54 PM on July 30, 2022 [2 favorites]

Sorry to hear about your breakup, that sucks.

I just burned through the mystery Local Gone Missing by Fiona Barton, in two days. Refreshingly, there is no romantic element whatsoever, and it is a cracking good story by a very skillful author.
posted by rpfields at 7:55 PM on July 30, 2022

Mindful of Murder, by Susan Juby. Very light and enjoyable mystery. Helen Thorpe is a newly-minted butler who used to work at a meditation retreat on a remote island in British Columbia. Edna, the owner of the retreat, dies and her will stipulates that Helen must come back to the island, gather the owner’s nieces and nephews to the retreat centre and put them through their paces to see who is most suited to inherit the place.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:14 PM on July 30, 2022 [1 favorite]

How about a novel where a crow is the protagonist and struggling against a zombie apocalypse in Seattle? Hollow Kingdom is funny and creative, and it has a sequel now too, although I haven't read that yet.
posted by hippybear at 9:49 AM on July 31, 2022 [1 favorite]

A little free library find that I picked up to glance at, and then whipped right through and loved to my surprise was News of the World.
posted by gudrun at 7:00 PM on July 31, 2022

Victoria Goddard's The Hands of the Emperor. It's set in a fantasy world in which magic works, but it's about a bureaucrat who manages to greatly improve the world, among other things. No romance at all. It's a great value, too, with a very high page count per dollar.
posted by metonym at 7:22 PM on July 31, 2022

I loved Circe but yeah, there's a whole lot of romantic plot in it, so proceed with caution.

I think you mostly want thrillers in this situation. If sci-fi is on the table, The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch is a strange and absorbing time travel thriller. I've recommended Night Film by Marisha Pessl a bunch before because I think it's the perfect book when you want something propulsive and entertaining. The Pilgrim by Terry Hayes if you like espionage/spy novels. Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama (a former police reporter) is a classic murder mystery with a lot of procedure.
posted by superfluousm at 7:47 AM on August 1, 2022

Grady Hendrix’s books are very engrossing to me! The two I read and enjoyed were: The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires and The Final Girl Support Group.
posted by cruel summer at 5:33 PM on August 1, 2022

Kōtarō Isaka's Bullet Train kept me completely absorbed recently. A handful of assassins all end up on the same train, not by coincidence, and murder and mayhem ensue. I think the film adaptation is supposed to be out soon. At any rate, there's no romance, and it was so engrossing that I'd look up from reading and be surprised I wasn't actually on the train.
posted by mixedmetaphors at 7:13 PM on August 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

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