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January 30, 2019

Benedict Wells' Playlist for His Novel "The End of Loneliness"

The End of Loneliness

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Benedict Wells' first novel to be translated into English, The End of Loneliness, is captivating and heartfelt.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Touching and timeless, [The End of Loneliness] is expertly and evocatively rendered, in prose both beautiful and sparse enough to cut clearly to the question at the novel’s heart: how one copes with loss that isn’t—or doesn’t have to be—permanent."

In his own words, here is Benedict Wells' Book Notes music playlist for his novel The End of Loneliness:

Paulo Conte – Via Con Me

Long before I start a book, I create an accompanying playlist with hundreds of songs, a musical compass I listen to while going for walks as I start to invent first scenes, before the actual writing begins. An old tic. As an unpublished author I got rejections for years; back then I would often even send a copy of a self-made CD together with my manuscripts to publishers, which meant double the work for them, as they had to throw out both. These days you can listen to the soundtracks to my books on my homepage (, but you can also find them on YouTube.

For The End of Loneliness, it starts with “Via Con Me” by Paolo Conte. With its buoyance, this song suits the beginning of the story well. Jules, the main character, hears it for the first time when his mother teaches him a few dance steps as a child. He will encounter the song again several times.

I Am Kloot – I Still Do

When Jules is ten years old, his parents are killed in a car accident. In an instant, his sheltered life is over. The book depicts the next three decades of his life: how Jules and his siblings end up in a boarding school; how they lose track of each other and, in some cases, turn into completely different personalities than expected; and how they try to master their lives and become parents themselves before their past catches up with them. While writing, the thought that stood in the forefront for me was that one would change a lot after an incident such as a parent’s death. But the question was: what would not change? Is there something unchanging, that would remain the same in every course life takes? And can you regain a piece of yourself, that you’ve lost, during your lifetime? For me “I Still Do” by I Am Kloot reflects the sadness that Jules often felt as a boy and as a teenager, a longing for a past from which he moves further and further away.

Nick Drake – Tow The Line

In boarding school Jules meets Alva, a girl who is the same age as him and seems lost as well. During one of their first encounters they listen to some of Jules’ mother’s LPs. Her favorite musician was Nick Drake. And even though Alva quickly becomes the most important person in Jules’ life, she always seems to keep something from him and never lets him get truly close: “And as soon as someone developed feelings for her, she quickly rejected him. As if something inside her had shattered, and anyone who got too close to her cut themselves on the shards.”

Elephant Revival – Down To The Sea

But of course, there are also carefree moments in Jules’ youth. Fitting for this is a song by Elephant Revival that starts slow but becomes rousing. I don’t know a lot about them, but they are great musicians.

Fleetwood Mac – Landslide

I can keep this one short, too: what better music to set the coming-of-age part of a book to then this anthem by Fleetwood Mac?

Maxence Cyrin – Where Is My Mind

This instrumental remake of the famous song by the Pixies touches me time and time again. I immediately see Jules in front of me as a young man: melancholy, a bit lonely, only a distant echo of his former, cheerful self. Unlike his siblings who seem to get by quite well, he still wrestles with his life. In the book, it says: “I couldn’t have expressed it clearly at the time, but in my heart I sensed I’d lost my way. The problem was that I didn’t know when and where. I didn’t even know which way it was I’d lost.”

Arcade Fire – We Don’t Deserve Love

Arcade Fire are one of my favorite bands. Their 2007 concert in Cologne during the Neon Bible tour was unforgettable. The band going into a kind of ecstasy with the audience and turning their already long, epic songs from their first two albums into endless hymns is still is one of the musical highlights of my life.

“We Don‘t Deserve Love” (2017) is a wonderful song with a melancholy, prevailing tone and a grand finale.

Elliott Smith – Between The Bars

Music plays a big role in Alva and Jules’ youth, and when they meet years later it is still important. For me “Between The Bars” mirrors the song from their first encounter at boarding school. Elliott Smith unfortunately also died much too soon. And like Nick Drake he left behind wonderful, tender and sad music.

Dave Brubeck – Take Five

Here I must stop recounting the plot because I don’t want to reveal any spoilers... But there is a slightly eccentric, older character in the book who is a big Dave Brubeck fan and claims to have met him and had a long conversation with him. I don’t know if that is true, but I wouldn’t put it past him.

Talking Heads – This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)

I love the Talking Heads, and when I was looking for a song that would suit a hopeful, euphoric phase in the novel, I quickly found one from them. It’s the moment when Jules returns to himself and recovers his voice. He even starts to write again, something he hasn’t done since he was a child: “There were things I couldn’t say; I could only write them. Because when I spoke, I thought; and when I wrote, I felt.”

Bob Dylan – Buckets of Rain

Bob Dylan has always had a big impact on my writing. Not just because he snuck his way into my first novel—Beck's Last Summer—and ended up taking over almost the whole book (while simultaneously giving my main character Robert Beck advice). But also because he has inspired me with his texts, his erratic but independent behavior and his creative boldness. Basically, he haunts all my novels, sometimes in the background, sometimes directly. In The End of Loneliness one of the characters also quotes him: “You can’t be wise and in love at the same time.”

Owen Pallett – E Is For Estranged

A sad song for a sad passage in the book. Jules, now forty, thinks: “Life is not a zero‐sum game. It owes us nothing, and things just happen the way they do. Sometimes they’re fair and everything makes sense; sometimes they’re so unfair we question everything. I pulled the mask off the face of Fate, and all I found beneath it was chance.”

The Velvet Underground – Heroin

A classic that is deployed at a crucial point in the book: You see Jules on a motorcycle and hear this song and... suddenly you see the beginning of the story in a different light.

Patty Griffin – Moon River

“Moon River” plays a big part in the book, and along with “Via Con Me,” it accompanies the characters throughout their lives. I came across this version by Patty Griffin on the superb soundtrack of a Cameron Crow film. The original of course is from Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Fiona Apple – Across The Universe

If The End of Loneliness were a film this would be the song for the closing credits. It was written by the Beatles, rather John Lennon, and what Fiona Apple has done with it is a small masterpiece. The song is slower than the original—and unforgettable. And despite all the melancholia there is also a bit of hope and change in the air.

Benedict Wells and The End of Loneliness links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review

Guardian profile of the author
New York Times profile of the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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