Heartbreaking books to read when you need a good ugly cry

Sometimes all you want to do is have a big cry. With the news that’s been coming in the last few weeks, we wouldn’t be surprised if you were feeling overwhelmed and a little fed up and well in need of letting the tears go. These books are major tearjerkers and designed to cleanse the soul! Scientists have actually claimed that crying can be good, especially for those of us who are feeling a little more stressed than usual as crying can release our stress hormones!

If you’re in dire need of a good ‘ol sob then why don’t you pick up one of these heart-wrenching books? You’ll be welling up from the get go so get the tissues ready!

‘Hamnet’ by Maggie O’Farrell

Even if you aren’t a mother, this fascinating and heartrending story from Maggie O’Farrell will have you weeping all over the pages.

Warwickshire in the 1580s. Agnes is a woman as feared as she is sought after for her unusual gifts. She settles with her husband in Henley street, Stratford, and has three children: a daughter and twins. One of the three children will die in 1596, aged eleven. Four years or so later, the husband writes a play called Hamlet.

Even just the beautiful breathing language of this work could bring anyone to tears, but the careful crafting of fascinating and magnetic characters means you grow to care for the people within the pages. You chest aches at their grief, mourns alongside them at the death of a loved one. A slow burn kind of novel, but the poetic and poignant storylines will have you in tears by halfway through.

‘The Mercies’ by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

After a storm has killed off all the island's men, two women in a 1600s Norwegian coastal village struggle to survive against both natural forces and the men who have been sent to rid the community of alleged witchcraft.

Finnmark, Norway, 1617. We follow twenty-year-old Maren Bergensdatter through her grief – for her family, for the old way of life, for the love she can never have – as she rails against the sinister forces disrupting the land and its ancient practices. With the menfolk wiped out, the women of the tiny Northern town of Vardø must fend for themselves.

Ursula, an outsider, arrives with her husband, Absolom Cornet, with orders to get these independent women under control. As Maren and Ursa are pushed together and drawn to one another in ways that surprise them both, the island begins to close in on them with Absalom's iron rule threatening Vardø's very existence.

The fact that this story is inspired by the real events brings a major lump to your throat, as Millwood Hargrave doesn’t shy away from the brutality and terror of the time, contrasting it with the love and sisterhood that could blossom in such conditions. A feminist story of love, evil, and obsession, set at the edge of civilization, this story will have your heart plummeting in your chest at each twist and turn.

‘The Prophets’ by Robert Jones Jr

‘The Prophets’ follows the story of Isaiah and Samuel, two slaves on a Mississippi plantation in the 1830s. They are apart, separate from the other slaves on Elizabeth plantation – known to the others as ‘Empty’ – because they are in love. When another slave, Amos, becomes suspicious of the nature of their relationship and the threat of discovery swoops closer and closer like a vulture, life at the plantation begins to stir, in an unfamiliar, drum-beating rhythm.

Proud but unsure Samuel, profound but quiet Isaiah, seething, raw and powerful Maggie – these characters don’t leave you once the book is put down. After finishing, I just wanted to be left alone for a day and a night to absorb what had just played out in Jones’ sickening but compulsive narrative. Raw and miserably powerful, this lyrical debut will be making waves for years after its initial publication.

‘The Song of Achilles’ by Madeline Miller

Achilles, "the best of all the Greeks," son of the cruel sea goddess Thetis and the legendary king Peleus, is strong, swift, and beautiful, irresistible to all who meet him. Patroclus is an awkward young prince, exiled from his homeland after an act of shocking violence. Brought together by chance, they forge an inseparable bond, despite risking the gods' wrath.

They are trained by the centaur Chiron in the arts of war and medicine, but when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, all the heroes of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause, and torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows. Little do they know that the cruel Fates will test them both as never before and demand a terrible sacrifice.

‘A Ghost in the Throat’ by Doireann Ní Ghríofa

A true original. In this stunningly unusual prose debut, Doireann Ni Ghriofa sculpts essay and autofiction to explore inner life and the deep connection felt between two writers centuries apart. In the 1700s, an Irish noblewoman, on discovering her husband has been murdered, drinks handfuls of his blood and composes an extraordinary poem. In the present day, a young mother narrowly avoids tragedy. On encountering the poem, she becomes obsessed with its parallels with her own life, and sets out to track down the rest of the story. A devastating and timeless tale about one woman freeing her voice by reaching into the past and finding another's, this book is all about female pain.

There is no fading out from painful hospital scenes, to convey the birth is occurring and suddenly a perfect baby is swaddled in the arms of a perfectly made-up mother. This text shows the breathless, heart in your mouth, dread in your belly live action birth. This is the throat swollen with tears, female in the strange animalistic tendencies that dog the body after birth, female in the deletion of our own presence as mothers.

fans will recognise the same brutal, interconnected, domesticity that hallmarks her poetry, the strange, feminine slant on seemingly everyday situations. Every word is laden with meaning, each sentence a thread pulled in a rich and unravelling tapestry. You will long to meet both Ní Ghríofa and Eibhlín after reading it and will bawl at the heart and soul bared in this book.

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