As a nation, we are all looking for a little bit of escapism in these strange times. A
recent report by The Guardian found that many of us are turning to books, with
the average adult’s reading time in lockdown having almost doubled.
Where crowds of characters in film and TV often give us a visual reminder of the
times we now find ourselves in (and the things we can no longer do), books can
transport us to a whole new realm entirely, where anything – even large
gatherings! – is possible.
Here are my top 5 picks of novels that provide a little bit of escapism – whether
that’s through time, into space, or in a world that looks a lot like Earth, but
otherworldly things are possible.
Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
In the vein of Ernest Hemingway’s expatriate protagonists, James Baldwin drops
us in 1950s Paris where David has just waved goodbye to his long-term girlfriend,
Hella, who is looking to find herself on a trip to Spain. Baldwin’s second novel,
published in 1956, Giovanni’s Room has garnered widespread acclaim for its
depiction of shame and liberation in gay men. As well as this, in less than 200
pages, Baldwin balances romantic conflict and temptation with youth and identity;
it is a masterclass in lyrical and literary writing that manages to convey just as
much as it conceals.
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
“Q is for ‘question mark.’ A world that bears a question.” So says Aomame, one of
the protagonists of 1Q84, when she realises she has unwittingly entered a parallel
universe. 1Q84 is a wacky, mind-bending journey that pushes against the
boundaries of time, space, and possibility in true Murakami fashion – perhaps
daring even for him. Sometimes published as one book, sometimes split into
three, 1Q84 is a lengthy (but rewarding) odyssey where numerous narrative
strands are woven together by a master of modern fiction, in conversation with so
much that came before him.
The Martian by Andy Weir
Adapted by Ridley Scott into a critically acclaimed film back in 2015, The Martian
offers escapism in its purest form: to another world completely. Incredibly well-
researched, Weir takes us to Mars and uses tonnes of real science to really
convince us that we too are on Mars. Mark Watney’s journeys on Mars can even
be tracked on NASA photographs! Sometimes grippingly suspenseful, sometimes
more meandering, always hilarious, The Martian is a must-read for anyone into
sci-fi, or anyone looking for escapism – it’s an adventure novel that will transport them a world away.
Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
Perhaps best known for its 2000 film adaptation, Battle Royale is a masterpiece
dystopian novel published in Japan in 1999 and translated into English in 2009.
Lengthy but fast-paced, Koushun Takami’s debut novel switches between
perspectives, following a class of high school students who have been dropped in
an arena in which they must kill one another until one student remains. If you
loved The Hunger Games when you were younger and you’re looking for
something similarly thrilling, or if you’re simply into horror and looking for some a
little darker, Battle Royale is the ideal lockdown read for you.
Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
“Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the worst thing she’d ever been through.
That was before her planet was invaded.” Formatted as a series of hacked files,
Illuminae (and its sequels) took the young adult book community by storm back in 2015. On an escape ship that is being pursued by a warship, the files piece together the story of Kady and Ezra as they navigate their newly dystopian world – a world that was already a lightyear away from what we’re used to. A hilarious yet gripping book, Illuminae is the perfect novel if you’re new to sci-fi, you’re looking for something to race through, or you’re just looking for something a bit different to continuous prose.
If you’re tempted to purchase any of these books, instead of large companies,
please consider buying through a local bookseller (or using a website like Hive
that supports independent booksellers).
Words by Olivia Emily
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