As the UK enters into its second national lockdown, Fiction Editor Millie Walton recommends some of her all-time favourite books.
Featuring Don Delillo, Maggie Nelson, Ian McEwan and Kamila Shamsie, CF has your lockdown 2.0 reading list covered.
The Body Artist by Don Delillo
The Body Artist is a beautiful, spectral little story that explores grief, self, intimacy and the inadequacies of language. Lauren Hartke, the novel’s protagonist, is a performance artist who finds herself living alone in the coastal house that she and her husband rented for a period of six months. She becomes convinced that there is someone else in the house and one day, finds a boy sitting on the bed. As with all of Delillo’s novels, intimate, mundane details are transformed into moments of intense, peculiar beauty that question the nature of reality itself.
Enduring Love by Ian McEwan
Ian McEwan’s 1997 novel, Enduring Love begins with a man falling from a hot air balloon into a field nearby where Joe Rose and his wife, Clarissa are picnicking. The accident, though tragic, provides the catalyst for a more intriguing story of delusion and paranoia that threatens to unravel Joe’s life and relationship. As the narrative unfolds, the reader is held in suspense, not knowing who or what to believe.
The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
In a Guardian review of The Argonauts, Olivia Laing labelled Maggie Nelson ‘among the sharpest and most supple thinkers of her generation.’ Nelson is a poet as well as an excellent writer of non-fiction. Her work typically blends philosophy with vivid imagery and personal memories, to create lyrical, witty and thoughtful narratives. All of her writing deserves to be read, but The Argonauts, a story of love, marriage, domestic drama, motherhood, pregnancy, birth and family-making, is amongst the best.
Keeping an Eye Open by Julian Barnes
Julian Barnes is best known for his fiction (Levels of Life is especially beautiful and heartbreaking), but he’s also an excellent art writer. Keeping an Eye Open is a collection of knowledgeable, colourful essays on some of the world’s great painters including the likes of Cézanne, Manet, Delacroix, Picasso and Freud. Peppered with personal insights and select historical detail, each piece is as engaging as the next.
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Sometimes a book manages to break-through boundaries of sensibility, upbringing and geography to unite its readership in a sense of delight and empathy. This is the case with Olive Kitteridge (and its sequel Olive, Again), Elizabeth Strout’s inventive and loveable novel. Essentially structured as a series of short stories that switch between the perspective of Olive herself and other members of the community where she lives in Maine, it’s a book filled with poignant and humorous details of life’s everyday joys and struggles.
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
Originally published in 2006, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s Half a Yellow Sun has already gained the status of a modern classic. Set in 1960s Nigeria, the novel is told through the eyes of three distinct characters: Ugwu, a poor boy from the village; Olanna who abandoned her privileged upbringing to live with a professor; and shy Englishman Richard who is infatuated with Olanna’s sister. As the story unfolds, against the backdrop of the Nigerian Civil War, their lives become increasingly intertwined.
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Madeline Miller takes Homer’s merciless warrior from The Iliad, and finds a beautiful, unexpected story of love. The novel is written from the perspective of Patroclus, who is sent as a child to live in the court of Peleus, where he quickly becomes infatuated with demi-god Achilles, who, to his, surprise returns his affections. A passionate, gripping and inevitably, tragic love affair unfolds.
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire also takes inspiration from Greek tragedy. Sophocles’s Antigone is played out in the modern world in powerful exploration of society, family and faith. Isma is studying in the US whilst her younger siblings, twins Anneka and Parvaiz are left in London. When Parvaiz leaves to work for the media arm of Isis, Isma ends up revealing his location to the police, sending Anneka into a fury. The tension continues to build, centering around the question: ‘What would you stop at to help the people you love most?’