9 Heartbreaking Book Endings We Wish We Could Re-Write

  • Marie Claire is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission on some of the items you choose to buy.
  • WARNING: This article contains spoilers…

    Atonement, Ian McEwan 

    When we polled the office for suggestions of the most gut-wrenching endings, no book came up more than McEwan’s Atonement. No sooner do Cecilia Tallis and Robbie Turner realize their deep, passionate, all-consuming love for each other than they are torn apart by lies, tragedy and war. Resulting in death and an excruciating stab in the heart of all happy ending fanatics, McEwan fails to deliver the romantic reunion we waited the whole novel to read. Sob.

    Citadel, Kate Mosse

    An epic love story set in the mist of occupied France during WW2, Citadel is exciting, dangerous and one excellent read. But the ending should really come with a warning. The central characters, Sandrine and Rauol, fall madly in love only to both die alone after being torn apart by the Nazis. Heart. Broken.

    Brokeback Mountain, E. Annie Proulx 

    In E. Annie Proulx’s short story, which later became an Academy Award-winning film, ranch hands Ennis and Jack fall for each other in rural Wyoming and begin a long-term love affair. An unaccepting culture compels them to keep their feelings secret, however, and they live apart with their suffering wives while each secretly pines for the man he truly loves. Too heartbreaking…

    The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

    Oh, Gatsby. How did he NOT get the girl?! After eventually being shot for a crime he didn’t commit, Nick Carraway realises all of Gatsby’s ‘friends’ never actually cared about him (despite his lavish gifts and unbridled generosity), and spends a depressing chapter desperately trying to round people up for his funeral. Add to this the fact that the love of Gatsby’s life eventually leaves him and you’ve got one very tragic close.

    Where the Red Fern Grows, Wilson Rawls

    ‘After the last shovel of dirt was patted in place, I sat down and let my mind drift back through the years. I thought of the old K. C. Baking Powder can, and the first time I saw my pups in the box at the depot. I thought of the fifty dollars, the nickels and dimes, and the fishermen and blackberry patches. I looked at his grave and, with tears in my eyes, I voiced these words: “You were worth it, old friend, and a thousand times over.”’ What is it about literary animal deaths that make them so much upsetting than literary human deaths? We don’t know, but we defy you not to sob at this heartbreaking ending.

    Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

    Set in late-19th century Russia high-society, aristocrat Anna Karenina enters into a life-changing and very public affair with the impossibly handsome Count Vronsky. What starts off as a passionate, heady and explosive read soon dissolves into Anna being left disgraced, shamed, and heartbroken, before eventually meeting her death on the Russian railroad. It took us a good week to recover from this terrible yet terrific masterpiece.

    Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

    The doomed triptych of Kathy, Ruth and Tommy is almost too much to bear. After years of watching her soulmate Tommy date the wrong girl, all three are revealed to be clones devised so that they can provide vital organs for ‘normals’. Ruth dies after making a completion but not before urging Kathy and Tommy to become involved romantically. As the pair begin to uncover their past, however, resignation to their fate seems the only destiny. Tommy dies, he and Kathy never get to grow old together and our hearts are shattered.

    Tess Of The D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy

    At its core, this is a novel about women and the terrible injustices heaped upon them by society, church and state. Tess, a good and pure-hearted farm hand in an imperfect and unfair world, is used and ultimately destroyed by two men. After a miserable life of sorrow and lost love, she is hung for the murder of her tormentor and her true love, Angel, marries her sister instead. If we could re-write Tess the ending she deserved, we would.

    The Road, Cormac McCarthy 

    A father and son trudge across the unforgiving terrain of post-apocalyptic Earth. Their journey is dark, disturbing and highlights an achingly beautiful bond between the pair. We prayed for a miraculous rescue of an ending, but instead drenched the pages with our tears as the father dies and the son mournfully guards his corpse.

     15 classic books you have to read at least once…

    Reading now