Book clinic: which books will help to heal a broken heart?

Out of love with romance? Our expert suggests novels to analyse the processes of love, regain perspective and make you laugh

Which are the best books to heal a broken heart and enable me to let go of the idea of romantic love?
Joanna, 33, animator, London

Lisa Appignanesi, writer, cultural commentator and the author of All About Love: Anatomy of an Unruly Emotion, writes:
When I was writing All About Love, my attempt to anatomise love through the various stages of life, I realised that romantic love – that idealising, obsessive, passionate love that takes you over, turns you round and lands you in a new place – was the subject of at least half of all fiction, if not more. The other half, sometimes in the same novels, unravelled its aftermath, its toxic nature. So read or reread Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, George Eliot’s Middlemarch, or Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way or almost any short story by Alice Munro. Engaging with a character who is brilliantly observed through variations on the romantic theme, even if your experience is not precisely mirrored, might well be salutary.

We used to say that the English romantic novel ended with the promise of marriage, while the French romance began with it. Marriage over, passion could unfurl – for women, too. Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels ring all the turns on romantic passion, both in and out of marriage, and more. But you might also try Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. I adore it. The writing may feel coolly ironic, but Flaubert is right in there with his heroine, standing back all the while to scrutinise romance and the processes of love. And if you want a comic take on Flaubert, with pictures, Posy Simmonds’s Gemma Bovery will give you a giggle. Laughter helps.

Moving outside the novel, try Laura Kipnis’s Against Love, a bracing, dagger-sharp polemic that will have you rolling in the aisles.

Submit your question for Book Clinic below or email


Lisa Appignanesi

The GuardianTramp

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