Miss Lonelyhearts - Nathanael West

As a “professional reader”, I should be able to read books and review them objectively. Leave out my personal life and ideas and look at how the book is written. Even though reviews are always biased, we should strive to make it as unbiased as possible.


This week, I didn’t succeed at this – sometimes I read a book that parallels with my life so much at the time, that the lines become blurred. Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West was one of those books that seemed to perfectly describe someone in my life this week, which made me possibly dislike the book more than is justified. This served as a fair warning, so that you know why I hated the character of Miss Lonelyhearts.

The book trails the life of a man who works as Miss Lonelyhearts in the 1930s. He works at a newspaper and answers letters from people who are desperate. This is an era for pain and suffering in New York City and the column is widely popular with these people. They believe that they can be saved if they follow the advice of Miss Lonelyhearts. He always writes general responses in his column that discuss how belief in God would save them, without much care to any specific letter or person. Just general God talk.

However, for someone who was hired to write letters that are supposed to comfort people, Miss Lonelyhearts is a pretty insensitive, rude and egotistic person. The book is written from the point of view of Miss Lonelyhearts, which usually helps the reader relate to the character. Often, the main narrator is also the character we relate to the most. In this case, I found every single other character, which were all very minor due to the short length of the story, more likeable than the narrator. Miss Lonelyhearts is depressed because he hates his job. He hates reading about people’s problems, he hates communicating with people, he hates life and should be the one writing letters to someone else.

So the story is basically him moaning about his job and life, yet not being able to quit his job. If I would summarize him, I would call him lazy and without backbone (which is why he reminded me so much of someone I know).

However, besides my clear irritation of the personality of the main character, the writing in this book is amazing. Nathanael West was a buddy of F.S. Fitzgerald and they are very similar in their way of writing. West uses original comparisons and knows how to push a story forward without making it feel rushed. The story is short, yet there seems to be a lifetime of information about Miss Lonelyhearts in it.

Furthermore, the story is original. I was waiting for the moment Miss Lonelyhearts would see the light and marry his sweetheart and find his happiness. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but Nathanael West makes the story more interesting than that and the ending took me by complete surprise – which is always a plus in my book.

Maybe West’s most important strength is that he can write a character as irritating as Miss Lonelyhearts and have people still finish the book. No one deals willingly with those people in real life, however the beauty of the writing keeps readers willing to deal with Miss Lonelyhearts.