Book clinic: what should I read to help fix a broken heart?

Q: I’m heartbroken and don’t know how I will ever trust anyone again. What can I read to fix this?
Anonymous, 24, London

A: Louise Doughty is the author of nine novels, including Apple Tree Yard, which was adapted for BBC One in 2017.

To use a variation on Tolstoy, people in love are all alike; people who are heartbroken are each heartbroken in their own particular way. The good news is, there is a wealth of literature that will show you you are not alone. The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante is mostly an account of a woman stuck in a flat after her husband has left, but there’s a line towards the end that will make you breathless with hope.

If what you need is a friend to make you laugh, then the literary equivalent is Heartburn by the incomparable Nora Ephron – Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson starred in the film version. When young myself, I was much affected by Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing, with its immortal injunction: “This above all, to refuse to be a victim.”

So far, so female: Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair is a beautiful and savage account of love and loss set during the London blitz. Ultimately, though, the real cure for heartbreak is looking beyond your own unhappiness. I would urge you to read Toni Morrison’s Beloved. The beloved in question is an infant – her mother a woman desperate to save her child from the horrors of slavery. It will convince you that there are a multiplicity of different loves out there worth experiencing, and wrongs worth righting. Hold your head high.

Louise Doughty’s most recent novel is Black Water. Her new book, Platform Seven, will be published by Faber in August. Submit your question for book clinic below or email


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