What is the Grimmest Book?

May 16, 2008


Last night, I was sitting with a group of friends (full disclosure: watching Lost) and there was some wine. Also good cheese and a cornucopia of rice crackers–like four years’ supply of the little cheesy kind–but that’s a story for another day.

Somehow the topic of “grimmest book ever” came up. Sean asserted that the grimmest book he’d ever read was The Kite Runner. I tend to disagree, but realize that I can’t come up with a good alternative for the prize.

The first book that leaps to my mind is Blindness by Jose Saramago. It involves humans getting eaten by dogs. Squalor and rape. Et cetera. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is not exactly sweetness and light, either. But both of those books are so good that they have their own sort of redemption.


Come to think of it, I had some potent misery and quivering nights reading Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. In fact, I’m going to stop here: that was the harshest book I read in the past year or so. Oh, wait, Andres Dubus’ House of Sand and Fog. That, too. But different.



  1. El Gray says:

    Last night (after LOST, which was great) I finished off INCOGNEGRO (described as A Graphic Mystery). It’s a b&w comic book about lynchings in rural 1930s Mississippi. Both black and white folks meet violent, untimely ends at the hands of others. It’s a real party, let me tell you.

    I did not like it as much as some critics seemed to have.

  2. autumn says:

    clearly, we were talking about novels… but inarguably, the most depressing and grim reading i have ever done falls firmly in the non-fiction category.

    “Guns Germs and Steel” made my head and heart hurt. i was intrigued (thanks to sarah vowell) by the plight of the cherokee nation which prompted me to TRY and read “Trail of Tears: The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation” but it was so demoralizing i never finished.

    but, by a long stretch, the most upsetting thing i have ever read was a book called “When the Rabbit Howls” By Trudi Chase. this book had it all: the systematic terrorization of a small child, incest, beastiality, and multiple personality disorder. harsh stuff.

    i suppose if we’re looking for redemption, its realtively hard to find in real life…

  3. Preston says:

    A Thousand Splendid Suns is way grimmer than Kite Runner.

  4. I agree with “A long Way Gone”, what an unbelievable story.

    @autumn Kite Runner may have been a novel but “A Long Way Gone” certainly is not.