A month has passed since the UK Government took the drastic, but necessary step to put the country into lockdown. This is no doubt a worrying time for many. Whilst some family members are putting themselves at great risk on the front line with our incredible NHS, others have to deal with the uncertainty of furlough whilst caring for and schooling children. I would never wish to make light of the serious situation in which we find ourselves, though one small positive is that the nation seems to be reading more than ever.
The idea that lockdown represents some sort of holiday or time off from work is simply not the case. For many, this is a distressing time through which they must struggle until things, very slowly, get back on an even keel. That said, in an attempt to look for the positive, it is reassuring to see that literature is providing some solace and escapism during these strange times.
In fact, it is fair to say that the pastime of reading has enjoyed something of a shot in the arm as a result of COVID-19. Waterstones apparently reported a significant increase towards the end of March 2020 (over 400%). Book clubs have continued online, making use of platforms such as ‘Zoom’.
But what are people reading? Literary appetites vary, but there do seem to be a significant number of books relating to war or at least stories where conflict provides a significant backdrop. “Crooked Heart” by Lissa Evans was recently recommended by The Independent, an endearing and touching story set during the Blitz. I’d personally also recommend ‘The Book Thief’ by Markus Zusak. The tale of Liesel, a young girl growing up in Nazi Germany is one of the most hauntingly beautiful books I’ve ever read.
Classics such as ‘Middlemarch’ by George Elliot are mentioned more than once in a couple of reviews I have seen. I can certainly appreciate their appeal. If you feel like tackling a weighty tome such as ‘Bleak House’ by Charles Dickens or ‘Anna Karenina’ by Leo Tolstoy, now’s the time. I recommend them both. Also, if you fancy something racier but equally rich and immersive, you can’t do any better than ‘The Crimson Petal and the White.’ Michel Faber’s tale of the rise of Sugar, a prostitute in shadowy nineteenth century London is sure to have you hooked.
According to inews, dystopian novels such as Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ and George Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ have experienced a notable increase in sales. I would recommend ‘Oryx and Crake’ also by Margaret Atwood for a love story of a very different kind set in a futuristic world in the aftermath of a devastating pandemic. There are few writers of her talent, but her imagination is seldom for the faint hearted.
It made me happy to see that the Guardian gave James Herriot a mention. His simple, heart-warming, stories of the exploits and misadventures of a certain Yorkshire vet have long been a favourite of mine. The nostalgic descriptions he gives of the Dales and the characters he meets both great and small are a tonic in these difficult and uncertain times – pure comfort food for the soul!
For books of a different sort, ‘The Binding’ is a brilliantly crafted novel I recently finished. It is simply written in many ways, but draws in and bewitches the unsuspecting reader. Bridget Collins paints an enchanting, captivating and magical parallel world in a tale from long ago. Trust me, once you’ve entered, you’ll never want to leave.
As for the book I’m currently reading, I can’t tell you too much about it as I’m only part-way through. All I can say is I am now constantly looking over my shoulder to make sure the Witness is not watching me! If you fancy a chilling yarn, expertly spun, which takes you through the ghostly streets of Prague and beyond, then by all means pick up ‘Melmoth’ by Sarah Perry, if you dare!
Whatever you are reading during lockdown look after yourselves and take care.