10 November 2011

'All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story.' - Karen Blixen

It is a truth universally acknowledged that sometimes we all crave a little bit of comfort crying. Holly Hunter as Jane Craig in Broadcast News certainly knew it.

And every avid reader knows it too. We have touched on this topic before, but this time we decided to poll the Onions about which books made them weep, or sob, or at least caused a single tear to slide down their cheek. And we were well-rewarded!

Be prepared people. Sad stuff happens - which is our way of saying
*spoiler alert*. 
You have been warned.

Herewith our list of fifteen titles to weep by:

 1) The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
There are many teary moments in the HIS DARK MATERIALS books. Lyra leaving Pan behind. Poor little Roger. The sad/sweet ending. But it was the death of Lee Scoresby and Hester that made me weep and weep. I'm weeping now just thinking about it. 'She pressed her little proud broken self against his face, as close as she could get, and then they died.' *SOB*. One of the very comforting things about having a Daemon would be the knowledge that you would not have to face your death alone. (And then, and this is not a sentence one writes every day, I felt a lot better once Iorek Byrnison has eaten Lee's dead body.)

2) Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson
Those in the House will know that I have always found it difficult to enthuse over books where the romantic protagonists are more than a few years apart in age. So who knew that a book about a girl falling in love with a man old enough to be her grandfather could touch me so deeply and make me weep copious buckets of tears over Louise's oh-so-unfair life. And weep again at her ultimate acceptance of her life and, if not happiness then contentment with it. Sob.

3 & 4) The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier & The Chestry Oak by  Kate Seredy
It's strange, because I know I cried over books, but the only two I can really remember (and that's probably because I returned to the weepy parts again and again, when I needed to weep) were when the children in THE SILVER SWORD had to leave their faithful dog on the German shore of Lake Geneva when they escaped to Switzerland and when the horse Midnight was found and an acorn planted at the end of THE CHESTRY OAK. I would say animals definitely jerked my tears more than people.

When I was a teacher I found an old class set of THE SILVER SWORD. I gave it to a group of naughty low-literacy Year 9 boys to read, thinking they would enjoy the war theme. Unfortunately, I had completely forgotten that all through the book, Jan's precious rooster is referred to as 'Jan's cock.'

5) Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

6) Pippi Goes on Board by Astrid Lindgren
I will never, ever forget reading the story of Pippi Longstocking's father. I'd opened my book the second I hopped into my mum's car for the ride home that afternoon, and when we arrived, I was too engrossed to move; the doors slammed shut around me and I sat there in the car-warmth reading and reading.

And by the time I got to That Bit, it was almost too dark to see, and I didn't just cry - I WAILED aloud in bereft solidarity through the entire scene... That peculiar sensation of genuinely devastating yet still somehow half-enjoyed tragedy has never left me.

7) Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
A friend's daughter was not just distraught but profoundly shocked when Ginger died of neglect and mistreatment in BLACK BEAUTY. There was the grief at the death of BB's friend, but also the shock of something BAD happening to a good character: this was probably the first time she had encountered this. I remember that: it does feel like a betrayal, to be led through hundreds of pages of delight, and then felled by a cruel plot twist.

8) Charlotte's Web by E. B. White
One of my fondest memories of my littlest sister was finding her completely distraught one day, over a book I had never heard of.
"What's wrong, Kathy?"
"It's the BOOOOOOK!"
"Oh dear. What happened?"
"Charlotte DIED!"
"Oh no. That's very sad. Who was Charlotte?"
"A-a-a-a  S-S-SPI-I-I-DER!!!!"
(Somewhat taken aback and at a loss for words) "A spider! Is the whole book about a spider?!"
"Yes, and Wilbur. Charlotte SAVED Wilbur!!"
(OK - thinking we might get to the human story now) "And who was Wilbur?"
"A-a-a-a P-P-P-PIG!!!!"
Kathy then collapsed completely, well beyond the reach of my meagre comforting skills.

9)Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
When I began working at a publishing house, I was introduced to TUCK EVERLASTING. Even though I am now a grown up, I can and, when necessary, do reduce myself to gasping sobs any time of the night or day by reading the last chapter. It's probably a good thing I didn't encounter this book as a child.

10) Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner
No sooner is Judy all recovered from her adventures and reunited with her huge family than she is killed by a falling tree in a stunning early lesson about the randomness and unfairness of the universe. That is all.

[I didn't cry, but it made me shocked and angry and upset because it seemed so wrong. Why couldn't it be some minor character we hadn't got to know much? Why couldn't the General just die and allow for a spell of decent mourning as a plot element? But I love the book anyway.]

11) A Patch of Blue by Elizabeth Kata
For Year 10 English, I read A PATCH OF BLUE and I wept and wept - so much so that I was recently surprised to find my dog-eared copy is not at all tear-stained, just yellowed with age and a little brittle in the bindings, but holding together nicely courtesy of its clear plastic covering and liberally applied sticky tape.

There was a film as well, and our whole year level was to be shown it as a special treat - but some of the Year 10 boys made inappropriate remarks in the opening ten minutes and the viewing was cancelled. And I wept again.

12) The Education of Little Tree by Forrest Carter

13) Rilla of Ingleside by LM Montgomery 
War books. It's always the war books - and war films - that move me to tears and beyond. I think it's the sheer WASTE of young men. It's the UNFAIRNESS. This is especially poignant in books written in the interwar period, where the hope that all those boys gave their lives for everlasting peace - that it was the war to end all wars - has not yet been proved a lie.
RILLA OF INGLESIDE was one of the first books I read that brought this home to me. The death of Walter - the most Anne-like of all Anne's children - in action at Courcelette had me prostrate on the couch for hours. As soon as I read the title of the chapter -  'Little Dog Monday Knows' - I knew too. And I almost couldn't read on. LM Montgomery had known for ages. She had been preparing us for this moment since she introduced us to Walter as a young boy in ANNE OF INGLESIDE.*
Walter was smiling in his sleep as someone who knew a charming secret. The moon was shining on his pillow through the bars of the leaded window ... casting the shadow of a clearly defined cross on the wall above his head. In long after years Anne was to remember that and wonder if it were an omen of Courcelette ... of a cross-marked grave 'somewhere in France'.

But I was young. I didn't KNOW what that meant. I'd never HEARD of Courcelette. I didn't think she could mean THIS. 

And then, of course, I bawled again when Jem comes home, and old and arthritic Dog Monday becomes, ' a young pup, gone clean mad with rejuvenating joy.' Brave, uncomplicated Jem. Faithful, loving Dog Monday. AND NO WALTER.

14) A Necklace of Raindrops by Joan Aiken
A student at the Faber Academy event on the weekend mentioned A NECKLACE OF RAINDROPS, and I screamed aloud, because I was obsessed with it as a child and used to go to the primary school library at least once a week and read it cover to cover. One time I got in trouble at school and was sent to the library as punishment and I took this book to the corner and read it while I cried... Did you read it, too?

15) The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
One word: Manchee.

Deep breath. And another. That sound you hear, dear reader; that sound is stifled sniffling. After such a list, it is most tempting to give in to the call of the comfort reads and curl up on the couches downstairs and weep our way though the afternoon. But alas, we cannot. We have WORK to do. Sigh. But if you have time to curl up away from the world, do let us know so we can at least indulge in a little vicarious comfort weeping.

I have just discovered that Anne of Ingleside was published 18 years after Rilla of Ingleside. It didn't occur to me that they weren't written in chronological order. It must have been so bittersweet for LM to be writing that golden childhood after having written the war, the pain, the death. 


A latte beckons said...

Rilla and Dog Monday - YES. The bit in Anne of Green Gables where Matthew dies. When Daddy comes home at the end of The Railway Children (though admittedly they are happy tears). Hanno the gorilla making his choice between death and captivity in Stranger At Green Knowe.

And I remember that same sense of shocked disbelief with Black Beauty too - I half-expected Ginger to come back to life, surely it had to be some kind of misunderstanding? But no.

The Alien Onions said...

Kate - Oh yes! The Railway children. So many tears in that. And Matthew - dear Matthew. Oh no, sniffling again!


Anonymous said...

Oh YES - Charlotte's Web!!
But what, no Bridge to Terabithia?
I almost never remember the fine plot details or even the names of characters in books for very long, but I do always remember the emotion of reading the book.
I read Bridge to Terabithia in Year 4, decades ago. And while I can't recall more detail than 'boy, girl, rope swing', just saying the title is still enough to give my heart a pang. - LB

Kathryn said...

I thought I was the only person in the world who sobbed for Walter! I still remember lying on the lounge when I was 9 or 10 crying and crying and crying because Walter had died. Lovely, lovely Walter. I don't think I've every really forgiven Lucy Maud for killing him.