It’s an unescapable burden that threatens everyone’s life, whether trapped in the shadows of the brain or a looming cloud in the distance. Heartache. Stemming from personal trauma, tragedy, break-ups and loss, it is a bleed that deserves to be discussed - with Richard beard, Max Porter and Cathy Rentzenbrink joining us at Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2017 to do just that.

Sharing the healing power of words to begin the recovery process, drawing influence from family, loss and strength, they have all found themselves turning to the process of writing and discussion to make sense of tragedy and heartache. Literature as a cathartic release has prompted many books to be written on the subject, whether self-help books or a discussion on how to make sense or tragedy. Below, our Communications Intern Laura Jamieson recommends five books that offer a different view on the human experience and recovery from heartache. each offering a different view on the human experience and recovery from such experiences. 


'H Is For Hawk' by Helen MacDonald

Winner of the Costa Book of the Year, Helen MacDonald’s H is for Hawk tells MacDonald’s story of dealing with family loss. A book on loss, mourning, and grappling with one’s grieving process, Macdonald documents her time spent training a goshawk after her father’s sudden death. 'The hawk had filled the house with wildness as a bowl of lilies fills a house with scent. It was about to begin', MacDonald writes, hawking marking the beginning of a new chapter of her life, yet still unable to escape the lingers of death. A misery memoir that discovers nature writing along MacDonald’s journey of recovery, MacDonald also turns to novelist Terence White for discussion, with his novel The Goshawk having partly inspired her love for hawks. White spent his years hawking to escape his own troubles of closeted homosexuality and sadomasochism, and whilst MacDonald refrains from running away, hawking an activity of distraction, discovery, and acceptance, their shared love of hawking gives White as much presence in the book that MacDonald’s father. 

Described by The Telegraph as ‘a diary of grief and a peek inside the troubled mind of T H White’, MacDonald’s story is that of approaching mourning and finding solace in nature, a calming account of retracing one’s steps to moments of happiness that offers a guide to readers on where they too may find comfort in times of tragedy. 

'Rabbit Hole' by David Lindsay-Abaire

Continuing the exploration of approaches to family loss, David Lindsay-Abaire’s play explores the aftermath of the loss of a child, with parents Becca and Howie falling down an emotional rabbit hole after the sudden loss of their 4-year-old boy. In a place where happiness seems an impossible way up and life is stifling, Lindsay-Abaire presents a heartfelt American drama relieved through injections of comedy. It is the negative approaches to mourning that Lindsay-Abaire illuminates on stage, with anger, denial, erasure and depression crawling into Becca and Howie’s lives, colliding with sister Izzie’s announcement of pregnancy. Documenting two parents’ journeys of falling down the spiral of grief and slowly finding their way back up with no directions in sight, Rabbit Hole offers readers a perspective on sudden loss that both inspires and guides. 

Winning the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and receiving international attention, Variety describe Rabbit Hole as ‘an intensely emotional examination of grief, laced with wit, insightfulness, compassion and searing honesty.’

'Bough Down' by Karen Green

Heartache comes in many forms, and Bough Down is a testament to author Karen Green’s experience with her husband’s suicide in 2008. Married to author David Foster Wallace, Green found herself not only burdened with the tragedy of suicide, but thrust into the public spotlight as she navigated the beginnings of the mourning process. Finding solace in words, Green started writing a collection of prose poems and collages, mapping her personal journey of grief. Her place in the public eye is a theme throughout, with Green writing, 'Strangers feel free to email: / Nobody knew you before your husband took his life. / Nobody knew me, nobody knew me. I think this may be true.'

On the nature of her husband’s death, Green battles not only death, but intent. 'His pillow is a sweat-stained map of an escape plot, also a map of love's dear abandon' she writes. Green is clear from the start – this is not a book to romanticise or poeticise tragedy. Instead, it is a map, documenting a time of change, grief, anger and questions that we all face when the only viable option we have is to move forward. Hailed as ‘a profoundly good writer’ by the Wall Street Journal, Green offers a refreshingly alternative approach to prose and poetry in regards to tragedy. An extract can be read online at BOMBmagazine.

'The Thing About Jellyfish' by Ali Benjamin

Loss invades all walks of life and has no regard for age. The Thing About Jellyfish offers an account of tragedy from a child’s perspective, protagonist Suzy Swanson a child bombarded with the death of her former best friend, Franny. Grief and confusion lands her weekly appointments with a therapist, struggling with selective mutism in response to tragedy.

Unable to accept the fact her friend and good swimmer has drowned, Suzy’s journey of loss becomes a physical one, Suzy latching on to the idea of the invisible Irukandji jellyfish being the culprit of death. Suzy journeys to Australia to seek a different ending to Franny’s journey which leads to the inevitable, heartbreaking, but vital realisation that nothing can really bring Franny back. The New York Times describes Benjamin’s work as 'For grieving kids who are struggling to come to terms with their losses, and seeking a path to peace and conciliation.'

'High Fidelity' by Nick Hornby

Offering a male perspective into heartache, bestselling author Nick Hornby presents a novel about pop music addict Rob who is left by his girlfriend. Facing both misery and relief, Rob retracts into music for comfort, seeking to fill the void left in him. Music becomes a source of therapy, with Rob asking 'What came first, the music or the misery? Did I listen to music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to music?' Recounting the five worst heartbreaks in his life, Rob finds himself on a journey to answer the questions of love and life that refuse to leave his mind.

The Telegraph describes the book as 'like listening to a great single. You know it's wonderful from the minute it goes on, and as soon as it's over, you want to hear it again'. Indeed, it is a rare, finely crafted piece of literature to speak about love and heartbreak directly to men; Hornby’s High Fidelity was a hit when published in 1995 and is a classic still relevant to men – and women – today.

'A Manual for Heartache with Richard Beard, Max Porter and Cathy Rentzenbrink' will take place on Friday 26 May, 2pm at the Adnams Spiegeltent, Chapelfield Gardens. Buy tickets now.

SAVE FOR LATER