On 1st April, our Editor-in-Chief, Rob Lownie, provided readers of The Student with his social distancing reading list. Assuming that you’ve devoured all five of his recommendations, and have been anxiously awaiting round two, I thought I’d offer a few of my own suggestions. The theme of this list is escapism, under which I will be including escapism of the ‘Well it could be worse’ variety.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy, 2006
The Road is one such novel of the ‘Well it could be worse’ kind. The story follows the apocalyptic road trip of two characters dubbed ‘the man’ and ‘the boy.’ Road trips in the apocalypse are quite unlike any road trip you’ll have taken. For one thing, you have to walk. But perhaps more pressingly, you have to avoid roaming groups of cannibalistic scavengers. On the plus side, nobody will ask you if your road trip counts as essential travel, but that’s only because law and order has long since collapsed. McCarthy’s style is cold and austere in keeping with his characters, who, in their exhaustion, use speech sparingly. Despite its numb exterior, The Road is a strangely heart-warming tale of the human capacity for hope and resilience.
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk, 1996
If you have lots of pent-up energy and one walk per day just doesn’t get it out of your system, then take inspiration from Tyler Durden and find someone to fight (metaphorically, of course). Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club follows an unnamed narrator who cannot sleep. He lives in a sort of limbo, telling the reader that, ‘When you have insomnia, you’re never really asleep, and you’re never really awake.’ His doctor refuses to give him sleeping pills, recommending instead that he attend a support group for testicular cancer, to ‘see what real suffering is like.’ An unusual prescription to say the least, but it works – that is, until Marla Singer turns up. Like the narrator she is an imposter, and, suddenly, he cannot cry nor sleep. He needs a new release, and that’s when he meets Tyler Durden and they decide, as you might have guessed, to fight. People that don’t particularly like reading, fighting or clubs, will still love this dynamic page-turner.
Dracula by Bram Stoker, 1897
So, you’re stuck inside during quarantine. Maybe you’ve had enough of your family and just wish things would go back to normal. What could be worse? Well, Jonathan Harker is stuck indoors too, barred within a secluded castle in the Carpathian Mountains. What’s more, his quarantine partner wants to drink his lifeblood. Through various written accounts, the novel follows Jonathan’s strange journey through Transylvania. He has been sent on behalf of his boss, Peter Hawkins, to oversee a real estate deal. Unfortunately, The Count seeks more from Jonathan than just his legal expertise. Count Dracula, whom Jonathan finds inexplicably repulsive, is an overtly courteous and well-mannered host – until Jonathan wishes to leave. The Count is planning a journey to England, where he intends to feed on the local population. However, he will not be left unchallenged. Dracula is written in epistolary form, producing, in the reader, a sense of powerlessness, as each monstrous occurrence is revealed in tragic hindsight.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, 1866
Crime and Punishment has a daunting ring to its name, but Dostoevsky’s psychological masterpiece is fascinating and highly readable. The novel takes place in St. Petersburg, where we are introduced to Rodion Raskolnikov, a torpid recluse with egoistic tendencies. He lives in poverty and is eventually forced to sell his last possessions to an ill-tempered old pawnbroker. In his solitude, Raskolnikov comes to the curious conclusion that by murdering and robbing the pawnbroker, he would be acting in accordance with the greater good. Nevertheless, the rationalisation and subsequent act of murder is only the beginning of his psychological torment. The novel is set against the cramped and debauched backdrop of St. Petersburg, where utopian visions and ideas of social reform stand in contrast with a fairly bleak reality.
A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin, 1996 – present
If you love Harry Potter, then you probably love telling people that the books are better than the films. When it comes to A Song of Ice and Fire, it’s hard to make this claim with such conviction. George R.R. Martin’s books are excellent, and if you want more Game of Thrones, this is where to find it. The story takes place on the mythical continents of Westeros and Essos, following characters from a range of locations and of various social ranks. There is a war taking place in Westeros; The War of The Five Kings. But as the great noble families play the game of thrones, other threats loom large. Daenerys Targaryen is the exiled daughter of the murdered ex-king of Westeros, and she intends to reclaim her birthright. Meanwhile, winter is coming in the form of an undead army that, left unchecked, will add the inhabitants of Westeros to its ranks. The books delve deeper into the World of Ice and Fire, offering clearer insights into Westerosi lore, as well as fleshing out the storylines from the show. The final two books are yet to be released, giving fans a chance to pretend that season 8 never even happened.
Image: Arria Belli via flickr