Books have long been considered a panacea for grief.
Even the Ancient Greeks inscribed the entrance to a library as a “healing place for the soul”.
For me, it is not what they say that provides the most help, it is the sense of escape they offer; a moment of stepping away, a suspension of time, where the hurt and loss of the present cannot scrape at you so hard.
Here is a selection of some of the best books to read if you’ve just lost someone you love:
A Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
This is considered the authoritative book on bereavement, and is often given as a gift to those who have recently lost a partner.
There is no denying its worth, and what Dideon writes is hauntingly accurate – the way your brain and body part ways for some time, normality is refracted, you get lost in both anguish and heightened emotions like euphoria (weirdly enough).
Death is like glimpsing a parallel world. We get left behind. And the space in between can really feel like magic.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Personally, in the grip of extreme sadness, I turn to fantasy and science fiction.
I like losing myself in worlds so unlike our own, a resolute break from onerous reality. Plus these books tend to be on the long side so they can keep me distracted for hours at a time.
The Night Circus is glorious in detail, magical, phantasmogorical, a proper grown up fairy-tale with twists and turns and darkness and light. Like an evolution of the Harry Potter series.
Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter
If you have lost someone you loved, you are probably crying, a lot. And sometimes books can allow and amplify that expression, which is healthy even though it is painful.
This book – I use the term loosely – is part poem, part essay, part fable. It told in fragments by a trickster crow who is attracted to a young grieving family, and threatens to stay until they no longer need him. It is beautiful, so moving, and really short.
It will give you all the excuse you need to weep. It’s also just been adapted for the stage and a film is in the works.
Philippa Donovan is a book scout for several film/tv producers in LA, and is the founder of the Smart Quill consultancy for writers: www.smartquilleditorial.com.