We have more time than ever before to read. Even those of us who are still working – either from home or as key workers – have long evenings without pubs or restaurants or theatres or friends to visit. However, many book lovers online are saying they’re finding it hard to concentrate at the moment. Understandable. Though I’m writing furiously, I too find I read a few pages of my latest book and drift away. So I’ve tried to come up with a helpful list of lockdown literature; of books old and new, in a variety of genres, that are either lockdown-themed, my recent favourites, or just the pure escapism you might need.
If you want a book that’s quite literally isolation in motion, you can’t go wrong with the epic Life of Pi by Yann Martel. It’s one of my top ten all-time faves. In this fantasy adventure, Piscine Patel – or Pi – is a Tamil boy from Pondicherry. After the ship he’s travelling on sinks during a storm, he’s left stranded on a boat in the Pacific Ocean for 227 days – with only a Bengal tiger called Richard Parker for company. The book explores issues of spirituality, storytelling, and survival.
Flowers in the Attic is the pulp fiction 70s classic by Virginia Andrews. I devoured it when I was fifteen. The fantastic tagline was: Such wonderful children. Such a beautiful mother. Such a lovely house. Such endless terror! In the book, siblings Cathy, Christopher, Carrie, and Cory are hidden away in the unused attic of an old house while their mother tries to re-win the affection of her rich father, who must never know she had children. Total soap opera sass, but utterly addictive.
In many ways, Jane Eyre is a Lockdown Classic as well as a love story, and a tale of feminine strength. Jane is hired to be the governess to a young girl at the secluded Thornfield Hall, owned by the foreboding Mr Rochester. But what secret is he hiding in the attic? One of my favourite books of all time too, this is a beautiful, gothic tale of betrayal and lost love.
I think The Book Thief might be my favourite book ever. It’s up there with The World According To Garp, which is not a lockdown-themed novel, just wonderful. The Book Thief is cleverly narrated by Death as he watches us humans making a mess of life. He closely watches young Liesel in Nazi Germany during 1939. After her family are taken to a concentration camp, she falls in love with books, and steals them from wherever she can. Then, when her foster family hides a Jew in their basement, her world changes forever.
Newer Lockdown Reads
The Waiting Rooms by Eve Smith, which is out in ebook 9th May, could not have been timed better. Reading it in the current climate was scary and tense, but utterly addictive. The tagline – No Drugs, No Miracles, Just Fear – could be describing the Covid-19 crisis. If the themes are dark and topical, the writing is exquisite, so don’t avoid this if you’re scared it will be too close to home. I got to the finale with my heart in my mouth.
What Lies Between Us by John Marrs is out 15th May and has elements of Flowers in the Attic, except that in this dark and descript novel it’s a daughter, Nina, who keeps her mother, Maggie, hidden away in the attic; quite literally locking her down with a chain. Why would anyone do that? Who is the one really keeping secrets? And can I use this excuse with my own mother? You’ll have to read it to find out the answer to the first two questions.
If you want to get lost in magic, and you love spooky houses in the middle of nowhere, then Wild Spinning Girls by Carol Lovekin – which is out now – would be perfect for you. There are ghosts at the window. There is wild weather. There are lost dreams and found people. There is Cloud House, with stopped clocks and secret bureaus and all the answers. This beautiful book has all the Welsh magic you’ll find in the land’s poetry and music.
If you want to read a book that has nothing to do with any sort of lockdown and is just a blissful escape, I absolutely loved Daisy Jones and The Six recently. Everyone and the world had read it before me, and I kept seeing it everywhere. Finally, I gave in last month, and was rewarded with a hedonistic tale of rock ‘n’ roll in the late seventies. The plot follows Daisy Jones and band The Six when they join forces and become the biggest group of the decade. What. A. Ride.
The Lies We Hide by SE Lynes is a complete departure of genre for her, but she outdoes herself in this gorgeous, emotional novel about family and the strength of a mother’s love. It touched me profoundly, perhaps since I have experienced a lot of it. The intelligent and sensitive exploration of redemption, forgiveness and survival make this a truly unforgettable book. I don’t think you’ll have any trouble forgetting lockdown and social distancing when you’re reading it.
In The Day We Meet Again by Miranda Dickinson, Phoebe and Sam cross paths by chance at St Pancras station, each heading in opposite directions. There’s an instant connection. They agree to meet there again in one year. Will they turn up? What will happen in between? This beautiful book explores all the what-ifs in life; the ones we control and the ones we don’t. Romantic and warm, this is heaven if you want to escape all the Covid-19 news.
Gill Paul’s Jackie and Maria is an addictive novel set during the Kennedy era, and exploring the relationship between Maria Callas at the height of her operatic career and Jackie Kennedy as she copes with her new life in the public eye. Gill is meticulous in her historical research for novels, and always brings the characters so vividly to life. And this book is no exception. It’s an era I LOVE – the 1950s and 1960s, much of it in the US, and my heroine Marilyn gets a little walk on part too. I lived the book for days, looking forward to being transported to their luxurious yet tragic lives.
I’m a huge Louisa Treger fan and either of her books are perfect for getting lost in another world. Her newest novel, The Dragon Lady, tells the story of Ginie Courtauld, a boundary-breaking woman with an extraordinary tattoo snaking up her leg, in a time before this was common. The narrative spans enormous cultural change, and travels from the Italian Riviera to Scotland to Rhodesia. The language is gentle and the story uncoils beautifully snakelike. Treger has a way of making you feel like she’s whispering the words to you, and that you hear it alone.
I read The Last Paper Crane by Kerry Drewery at Christmas and knew it would be one of my books of 2020. Let it transport you, as it beautifully did me, to Hiroshima in 1945, just after the bomb drops. Ichiro survives the devastated landscape and is left to care for his dead friend Hiro’s five-year-old sister, Keiko. In the chaos, he loses her. The writing is just breath-taking, a mixture of poetry and prose, with gorgeous sketches scattered through as well. It’s about the power of books. About a lifetime of guilt. About love and hope. Amazing.
I hope I’ve whet your appetite for reading again. While I have you, my online launch for I Am Dust will happen on Facebook Live on 16th April from 5.30pm. I will be giving away each of the brand-new April books in the image below. So do join me then for readings, chat, Q&A, and an abundance of great reads.