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Why Melancholic Literature is So. Freaking. Good.

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

While driving over to my hometown library, I wondered why I was so excited to read Bunny by Mona Awad. Considered to be “super bizarre”, the novel touches upon issues such as loneliness and the strange desire to be extremely close to your female friends – to cross that boundary of maintaining a platonic relationship but coming short of a romantic relationship. However, why did I even want to put myself purposely through something that was described as “claustrophobic” and almost painful to read? Books such as The Girls, Play it As it Lays, and My Year of Rest and Relaxation have made their rounds in the film and television industry for being similar, and it kind of makes you think; why do women LOVE heartbreaking literature so much?  

Just last summer, I read The Bell Jar due to my strange attraction to Sylvia Plath, an estranged poet and writer who had sadly passed after releasing her first and only novel. Considered a biography, Plath writes of Esther, a young woman in 1950s New York attempting to maintain a career as a “working woman”, only to soon be admitted to a mental institution following a failed suicide attempt. Clearly, the novel isn’t too jovial, however, the raw honesty of Esther was quite relatable to female readers. Traits such as her easily growing disinterest in the men she once adored, her bluntness, and finally, her ability to see humility and the actual emotions of her acquaintances, made her a relatable protagonist. This however is not why Sylvia Plath is addicting – the intensity of her poetry or writing, and general ability to capture the common sadness in every person’s day-to-day existence is exhilarating. 

Not to be general, but women are almost forced to absorb and accept that their lives are meant to be messy and confusing. Not necessarily at the hands of men, but almost from society. The strange entrapment that women are “mysterious” and withhold a reputation of being too much to handle, as shown in The Bell Jar, through the hospitalization of Esther after her suicide attempt, as they truly did not know how to deal with her mental issues. Nonetheless, women want to disappear from the harsh, cruel lens of society. 

As a girl, I’ve discovered this new allure to simplicity. The desire to just live and be admired. Not having to deal with the complexities of maintaining relationships or keeping up with friends. Want to accept your isolation and just sit and receive praise even though you already love yourself. The facade of narcissistic tendencies or fake confidence of Gen Z may have an influence on these feelings, but down in all the hearts of women, there’s this search for something that makes their lives simpler.  

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh focuses on a young woman who wants to simply have a year of hibernation, induced by a surplus of pills and drugs prescribed by an apathetic psychiatrist. The Virgin Suicides highlights the lives of five sisters who collectively choose to take their lives, told from the perspective of five neighbourly boys by Jeffrey Eugenides.  Lolita entails a disturbing, pedophilic relationship between a teenage girl and an old man, soon to be sensationalized as “romantic” and adapted into numerous films, as per its apparent shock value. 

“Obviously, Doctor,” she said, “you’ve never been a thirteen-year-old girl.”

Jeffrey Eugenides, The Virgin Suicides (1993)

These books are sold (and maybe banned) in relation to dealing with heavy issues such as mental illness, and suicide, but they highlight the female desire. The urge to pursue the deeper aspects of their personalities, but not to their fullest potential, as would result in the unlikely demise of these characters. 

The reason I am absolutely obsessed with doleful novels or poetry is not that I am immensely depressed, or I have these urges to disappear off the Earth. As a matter of fact, I think I’m quite satisfied with the state I’m in. I have a great social life, I enjoy my major, and have no particular issues with how my life is currently going. I don’t want to feel how intensely these women feel, but their ability to live out the lives that seem so terrible to society, in a way that leaves them as outcasts…doesn’t seem that horrifying. These fictional characters live lives that may seem “unreasonable” or “unfair” as they do not contribute to society, but the ability to lounge and live a life without having to account for every relationship, task, or responsibility that women are expected to conform to is quite dreamlike. 

That intense state of loving your isolation and growing acceptance towards revelling in the true emotions you’re meant to inevitably feel. Reading literature that embraces the female gaze, instead of disarming it.  

Grow to accept what you genuinely yearn for. Life will be easier that way. 

Bavneet Kandola

Queen's U '25

Hello Everyone!! My name is Bav and I am A writer for HerCampus at Queen's University! I love reading and writing, but also love film and literally anything else artistic. My hobbies include gardening, and occasionally baking :)
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