Lockdown Reading: Five Novels I Loved

As Summer is slowly drawing to a close, many of us are gasping a sigh of relief as we edge closer to the end of the disastrous 2020. However, as the nights draw in, there is time to reflect on ways in which 2020 will be a defining year for many reasons. As an English Literature graduate, in the current climate my love of reading has blossomed. Once I’d finished my degree I was finally able to read the pile of books on my bedside that were NOT essential reading for my course. However, as I began writing online about the novels I had been reading, I discovered this blossoming love of books during the pandemic has been the case for long-time bibliophiles and new readers alike. Retreating to books in a time of uncertainty is obviously a comfort that lots of us have been indulging in. So, whether you’ve been a book worm since you were young or your interest has only recently been ignited, here are some books I read and loved during lockdown.

Adults by Emma Jane Unsworth

First thing’s first, Emma Jane Unsworth’s debut novel Animals is a must read and even better makes a perfect birthday present for your best friend (I can confirm me and my best friend loved it in equal measures). Just like her first novel, Adults does not disappoint. It follows Jenny, a confused 30-something, trying to navigate both her online life and real life, in our increasingly technologized world. Unsworth’s novel assesses the way these two facets of our lives can be both entirely separate and yet also perilously entwined. She addresses how unhealthy our relationship can be with our phone and the inevitable social media obsession that comes with it, especially as women. It felt extremely ironic posting a picture of the book on Instagram, I have to say.

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
Queenie gave me everything I wanted out of a summer read. Sat in my garden in the peak of the lockdown sunshine, I devoured this book in the space of a couple of days. Carty-Williams made me laugh out loud one minute and tear up the next. 2020 will be a year we remember for many reasons, however one of the most important will be the tragic murder of George Floyd in America and consequently the Black Lives Matter protests that took place all around the world. Carty-Williams addresses the movement in her novel and at the time of reading her words hit harder than ever. Queenie is fun, poignant and truly deserves its high praise.  

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Dolly Alderton (author of Everything I Know About Love and co host of The High Low podcast) recommended Less for Waterstones as a lockdown comfort read. I completely agree, for Greer’s writing is witty and smart. The novel follows failing author Arthur Less around the globe as he decides to accept every literary invitation he has received that year in order to avoid the wedding of a past lover. I really enjoyed Greer’s vivid descriptions of the different countries Less visits as he embarks on his chaotic and hilarious journey, even more so in the throws of lockdown when travel was not an option. It is an optimistic, endearing novel about love and growing older.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
This is a truly heartbreaking read. This incredible novel is based on a true story, revealing the unimaginable horror of reform schools in the Jim Crow-era South. The novel shows how one innocent mistake made by Elwood Curtis, a black boy looking forward to beginning college, is enough to land him in a juvenile reformatory – Nickel Academy. Elwood clings onto hope while at Nickel by remembering the quotes of Dr. Martin Luther King, but his friend Turner is not so hopeful. It is a beautifully written novel of cruelty, courage and the friendships that are formed by enduring awful experiences together. It has won a profusion of literary prizes and for good reason, I urge everyone to read it.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

Moshfegh’s novel dazzles a grotesque amount of privilege in a darkly humorous way. Our hugely privileged, young, pretty protagonist decides to spend a year sedated by a mix of drugs to alienate herself from the world she finds herself in – disconnected from her parents previous to their recent deaths, a best friend who relies on her for constant validation and a god awful psychologist. It’s bizarre and unlike anything I’ve read before, however, a novel about a year of hibernation was a perfect read in the height of lockdown and I thoroughly enjoyed Moshfegh’s cynical humour. I don’t necessarily think a protagonist has to be likeable for you to enjoy a novel and this rings true reading My Year of Rest and Relaxation.

Words by Livi Pearce

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