Written By: Magdalena Arias @magdalenaav
If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent the last few months we’ve all been inside listening to Lorde’s Melodrama from top to bottom several times. Despite the fact that it was released in 2017, I personally still can’t get “Perfect Places” and “Hard Feelings/Loveless” out of my head. There’s something about Lorde’s concept album centering around a single house party that feels both utterly ever-present and nostalgic at the same time. As someone at the cusp of adulthood, I feel intrinsically connected to the feelings of mindless bliss, melancholia, and heartbreak that perpetuate Melodrama.
However, as a nineteen-year old stuck in her house because of a global pandemic, I also long for the moment I get to experience all of these feelings to their full capacity again, without the virus threat. It’s exactly why, at 2:00 am on a Saturday night during a global pandemic, I set out to find books that might make me feel like I was living through some of these experiences from the comfortability of my bed. So, after many top to bottom listens of Melodrama and a few books later, I present to you a series of recommendations of books to read that encapsulate some feeling of each of the songs on the album for me.
Melodrama opens up with “Green Light,” where Lorde talks about breaking up with someone but being unable to move on until she hits the green light and can keep going with her life. To me, A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline perfectly encapsulates this feeling of being stuck in a relationship. A Piece of the World weaves fact and fiction to create the character of Christina Olson, the subject of Andrew Wyeth’s famous painting “Christina’s World.” As the novel unfolds, we follow Christina’s life, her troubles and tribulations, and a doomed love from which she never fully recovers, all leading up to her friendship with artist Andrew Wyeth in her late life.
“Sober” finds Lorde in a relationship which she recognizes as doomed, a truth that both her and her partner try to escape and deny to themselves through alcohol use. “Sober” instantly reminded me of one of my favorite novels of all time, Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro. Like in “Sober” the protagonists of Never Let Me Go find themselves in their own version of reality, the idyllic boarding school Hailsham, where they are educated in all the arts and grow up to become model citizens. It is only when they leave Hailsham that they uncover a truth which changes their relationship between each other and the world forever.
The explosive, whirlwind relationship Lorde describes in “Homemade Dynamite,” combined with the explosive nature of the music itself brings only one book to my mind, Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. Although the novel was recently adapted to a fantastic series on Hulu, the source material is still a thrilling read, and fans of the show may find some plot differences that provide for an even more complex understanding of the story they already know and love. Little Fires Everywhere is just like “Homemade Dynamite” in the explosive nature of all the character relationships within the show, be these romantic or otherwise, telling a story of family, scandal and racial relations that remains increasingly relevant today.
“The Louvre” is perhaps the most romantic song in Melodrama. It talks about the start of a new relationship between two people, and both the music and lyrics feel both incredibly sweet and ethereal. I don’t think there’s a book that captures these types of romantic feelings better than Strange the Dreamer, by Laini Taylor. Strange the Dreamer is a story about love, war, revenge and forgiveness taking place in one of the most whimsical fantastical worlds I’ve ever read about. It’s a story of star-crossed lovers, and it features some complex and memorable characters. Not to mention, the prose is incredibly beautiful.
Throughout “Liability” Lorde delves deep into feelings of sadness, loneliness and feeling both used and like a burden to those around her. The moment I began to construct this list and I relistened to “Liability,” Michael Cunningham’s The Hours instantly popped into my head. The Hours is inspired by Virginia Woolf’s famous novel Mrs. Dalloway, and it follows the lives of three women in three different time periods, all dealing with mental health in one way or another. The three women’s storylines are connected by the book Mrs. Dalloway, and the novel as a whole explores many of the emotions Lorde describes throughout “Liability.”
“Hard Feelings/Loveless” is two songs combined. In the “Hard Feelings” part, Lorde recognizes that she and her partner are probably going to break up, but she wishes that the break up isn’t too bad. In “Loveless,” they have just broken up, and we find Lorde with feelings of anger and resentment towards the other person. These feelings of fearful expectation and then unraveling afterwards reminded me a little bit of the events that take place in the novel The Secret History by Donna Tart, which follows a group of college students studying classics at an elite New England school, and the collective decisions that eventually lead to their unraveling. Filled with both fearful expectation and anger throughout, The Secret History is the perfect read if you’re looking to submerge yourself in a tragic story of love, lies and betrayal.
“Sober II (Melodrama)”
Like the name says it, in “Sober II (Melodrama),” Lorde talks about the melodramatic highs and lows of life as a young woman. Given that the word melodrama is in the title, I thought it only fitting to include a book here that is melodramatic in some way. For this one, I picked The Shadow of the Wind (La Sombra del Viento), by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. The book is set in post-war Barcelona, and follows young Daniel Sempere, who after finding a mysterious book of which there appears to be no more copies, unlocks a story of love, murder and madness hidden deep in the folds of the European city. Filled with melodramatic elements and timeless characters, The Shadow of the Wind is an unforgettable read.
“Writer in the Dark”
“Writer in the Dark” is perhaps on the most emotional songs in Melodrama, with Lorde ruminating on the idea of loving someone despite how toxic that relationship is for her, and the need to move on from such types of relationships. This idea reminded me of Purple Hibiscus, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, which although does not deal with a toxic romantic relationship, it does deal with a toxic familial relationship. Purple Hibiscus is set in Nigeria, and it follows the young Kambili as she navigates the escalating tensions in her family, all leading up to one fateful act of desperation that will forever change her life.
A supercut is a combination of short videos that tend to have a repetitive nature or pattern. In the case of Lorde’s song, this alludes to her repetition of certain memories or events as she tries to understand why a past relationship failed. Kazuo Ishiguro, who showed up earlier in this list, makes it here again with another of my favorite books, The Remains of the Day. (Can you tell I’m obsessed with his writing?) Just like Lorde in “Supercut,” the main character of The Remains of the Day, Stevens, replays previous events in his life, searching for meaning and lost love. Incredibly engrossing and heartbreaking at the same time, The Remains of the Day asks the big questions and the small ones, all while making you root for the most unlikely of protagonists.
Using the same music as the first “Liability,” the song’s reprise shows Lorde in a more introspective manner than the song’s first installment. Through the lyrics in “Liability (Reprise),” Lorde sits from a more reflective standpoint, looking at the aftermath of a relationship’s end. Such an introspective and reflective tone reminds me of Toru and Naoko from Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood. As we follow college student Toru and his love for the emotionally complicated Naoko unravel throughout Norwegian Wood, I can almost hear “Liability (Reprise)” introspective tone coloring all of the Tokyo scenery that acts as the setting for the book.
Undoubtedly the perfect ending to an album, “Perfect Places” ties all of Melodrama together, summing up a young woman’s search for happiness, or as she puts it throughout the song, a “perfect place.” Such a search for happiness is forever present in Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, the classic story about a group of four sisters as they become young women and navigate the perils of adolescence and later young adulthood. Recently re-adapted for the big screen, Little Women is a story we all know and love, and if you’ve yet to read it, this is the ideal time to start.
I hope that these books can provide the comfort that they have given me during the last few months, and if you’re the type of person who can read with music in the background, maybe you’ll play Lorde’s Melodrama while you enjoy some of these.