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.