Earlier this year AbeBooks asked you to identify your most depressing reads and you came up with some desperately bleak books. There was nuclear fallout, the Holocaust, government oppression, poverty, mental illness and the savage nature of humanity itself, and that was just the tip of the iceberg.
The Road, a heart-breaking novel of unending post-apocalyptic horror including cannibalism and violence, easily topped the list and that was no surprise. Suckers for punishment will be able enjoy (endure) the movie version of McCarthy’s novel in November. “The Road was the most crushingly bleak book I've ever read,” wrote Tom from New York and many readers agreed with him.
Bizarrely, there are three Oprah Winfrey Book Club picks on the list – The Road, Elie Wiesel’s Holocaust novel, Night, and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye – a novel of racism, incest and cruelty. Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged has undergone a massive revival over the past 12 months with many critics relating the book’s collapsing society to the world’s current economic woes – it is also one of five books on the list published in the 1950s (along with Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four from 1949). Was the 1950s really such a depressing period for authors?
On the Beach by Nevil Shute is a true product of its time. Published in 1957, this end-of-the-world novel reflected the nuclear arms race of the period. One of the book’s many bleak themes is government-sponsored suicide in the face of radiation.
Sylvia Plath’s own suicide shortly after the publication of her semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar, adds a depressing note of realism to the appearance of this particular book on the list.
“The Road was the most crushingly bleak book I've ever read. The description of post-nuke winter, the ways humans react in their various schemes for survival, the gut-wrenching participation in a Hobbesian world where nobody will ever be comfortable again, safe again, or be able to relax or even let your guard down again. For those born into it, it will be all they know, maybe they’ll survive like Middle Ages peasants. The nightmare will be for those who knew something else. Reduced to the roles of herd-animal, scavenger, and prey, played out among the bones of a forever past, knowing you have nobody to blame but yourself, and nobody cares, and nobody is ever coming to make it better,” wrote Tom from New York.
“The Road has unremitting bleakness, McCarthy never lets up, like real horror and the end-of-times wouldn’t give you a break. Quite horrific, I threw it in the bin when I finished, I didn’t want anyone else to have to read it. Brilliant book,” wrote Mark from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK.
“A life so horrendous that we choose death instead of our hellish life. Can it happen to any of us? Will it happen to us and ours?” wrote Steve from Virginia.
“Are you kidding? There is not one ray of hope. Other than that The Road is a great book,” wrote Theodore from Texas.
THE BELL JAR
“It was a very authentic portrayal of someone who was depressed/suicidal. Unsurprisingly, as it was written by Sylvia, whom we know later ended her own life with her head in a gas oven. It is a very well written and powerful book, but boy, there aren’t many laughs! If you are already depressed, avoid this like the plague.....if you are interested to get an insight into different states of mind, it is a strong candidate,” wrote Rebecca from London, UK.
JUDE THE OBSCURE
“Remember Father Time hanging himself and the two younger children, leaving a note saying, ‘Done because we are too menny?’ Seriously, what can touch it?” wrote Carry from Vermont
“The fact that the protagonist gave up… he gave in to the despair and propaganda that Big Brother spouted. After tasting what freedom was like and having the woman he loved taken from him...he just gave up. Which makes him human I guess? What a bleak, depressing novel. I read 1984 in high school and threw it across the room when I read the last line,” wrote Jim from Ontario, Canada.
“This book breeds hate for mankind in the mind of the reader. I couldn't get past the first 100 pages before I quit reading. It was either that or despise and distrust everyone I thought I knew and loved,” wrote Patrick from London, UK.
“The subject of concentration camps and the plight of the Jews in WWII is so serialized. This numbness I feel toward human suffering is the reason I choose the book,” wrote an unnamed customer.
THE GRAPES OF WRATH
“The Grapes of Wrath was sooo depressing. Everything is grey, sad, and hardship. Nobody ever smiles, everyone is so grim. Anything fun is seen as evil or frivolous. Money is so worthless people papered their walls with it. The dustbowl is everywhere. All life withered up, dry, beaten down to the point of giving up,” wrote Sarah from Nebraska.
ON THE BEACH
“The book literally gave me nightmares about fleeing from a fallout-cloud. Soap opera stuff like love affairs, family problems etc happening in front of a nuclear-apocalyptic background gave me the creeps,” wrote Martin from Kassel, Germany
LORD OF THE FLIES
“I read it when I was 14 and idealistic about saving the world. It wasn't just Ralph that cried at the end. I sobbed at the awful doomed picture of mankind. I've never been able to read it again,” wrote Nora from Bristol, UK.
THE BLUEST EYE
“It was beautifully written, full of exquisite prose. But it just accentuated the dreadful reality described, with no way out, no solutions given, no hope,” wrote Jeremy from France.