As lockdown loosens, yet with many social activities still out of bounds, are you running out of things to read? Following on from my guest post in April on facing, fleeing or forgetting the virus through fiction, I have a few more recommendations for you. The topical themes I’ve chosen this time are sleep, pandemics, healthcare and political satire. If any of these novels seem promising, clicking on the link will take you to a longer review on my blog.
If anxiety wakes us in the wee small hours, is that a good time to read about fictional insomnia and sleep disturbance? If you’re tempted, you might consider these:
Jonathan Coe’s comic novel The House of Sleep is set in a clinic and research centre for sleep disorders that was previously a student hall of residence. Although it relies on a number of coincidences to reunite the characters from the past – including Sarah who suffers from narcolepsy and Terry Hill has insomnia – it’s a cracking read.
In another supposedly funny novel – although I found Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation desperately sad – an alienated young woman thinks that she can – and actually does – solve most of her problems through spending a year in a drug-induced stupor.
Caring for babies and young children is a common cause of sleeplessness that can leave parents, especially mothers, slightly unbalanced for years. In Kyra Wilder’s debut novel Little Bandaged Days the reader follows a young mother’s unravelling through a gradual process of sleeplessness, isolation and a determination to keep up appearances learnt at her mother’s knee. Besides being beautifully written, it’s a powerful argument for scepticism about an exhausted person’s gritted-teethed “I’m fine!”
A quick mention for two novels that aren’t about sleep but contain the word in the title: In the City of Love’s Sleep by Lavinia Greenlaw is described by the publishers as “a contemporary fable about what it means to fall in love in middle age”; Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy is about the violence behind the beauty and apparent serenity of India.
Novels featuring pandemics
In my previous post on lockdown literature, the section on novels about confinement and pandemics received a general thumbs down. So why give it space again? Because, back then, I had no idea how it might feel to read about a fictional pandemic when you’re in the middle of a real one, and now I do. My verdict? If you’re feeling fairly safe – anxious, perhaps, fed up but not panicking – and the book’s well-written, you don’t need to look away.
The Strange Adventures of H by Sarah Burton is a fun story about morality with echoes of our current pandemic and of the theatricals of its 17th-century setting. Reading this, I was impressed how quickly the authorities were able to contain an outbreak of plague in London, albeit by the Draconian practice of boarding up infected homes. I was also impressed by the author’s ability to anticipate the emotional atmosphere that must have felt strange at the time of writing but is so familiar now.
Set three centuries later, The Dark Circle by Linda Grant is about nineteen-year-old twins whose lives are interrupted when they are diagnosed with tuberculosis and banished from the East End of London to an isolated sanatorium in Kent. Will the somewhat snobbish community accept the lower-class arrivals foisted on them by the burgeoning NHS? Will the twins lose their vitality to the passivity of the patient role?
Hopefully we won’t need to be hospitalised with covid19 and, if we are, we’re unlikely to be in a fit state to read. These novels might make us especially grateful not to need to confront the limitations of our healthcare systems directly and help channel our campaigns for more investment.
I haven’t reviewed Lionel Shriver’s novel, So Much for That, but its dissection of the injustice of the US healthcare system through the experiences of two families has stayed fresh in my mind since I read it ten years ago. Maybe one to save for when this is over, or read now to hone your arguments with potential Trump supporters before the November vote.
In planning this piece in my head, I recalled The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss as a more reassuring read. But this story of family life disrupted when a fifteen-year-old collapses at school and suffers a cardiac arrest, is full of anger about public services in 21st-century Britain. Despite, or because of, the heavy subject matter, it’s also very funny, with beautiful writing and engaging descriptions.
If you fancy a laugh-out-loud novel about mental health, you can’t go wrong with Binnie Kirshenbaum’s Rabbits for Food. Although I wasn’t so taken with the second-half set on a New York psychiatric ward, the first half nails the experience of depression with mordant wit.
Watching as our leaders congratulate themselves on mismanaging the crisis, with UK clown Boris Johnson appearing almost statesmanlike when set against President Trump, do we laugh or do we cry? Perhaps the most helpful thing I’ve done is to shout about my favourite read so far this year. Cleverly plotted, beautifully written (unless you object to a second-person narrative) and unashamedly political, Enter the Aardvark by Jessica Anthony is a trenchantly honest yet uplifting tale of populist politics, closet (literally in one case) homosexuality and wearing the skins of your enemy to get what you need.
I hope you’ve found something here to whet your appetite and do use the comments to add recommendations of your own. If you want advice on finding a novel on a particular theme or in a specific location, just ask. If I can’t help you, someone else probably can.
I have two more slots at the Ranch this year and plan to venture out of lockdown with posts as follows:
July 28: Reading Women in Translation (because, even if we can’t travel physically, we can connect with other cultures through a book)
September 22: Fictional therapists (because I reckon half the world will be having therapy and the other half delivering it after this)
But I’m open to suggestions, so let me know if you have other ideas.
This post comes from Rough Writer Anne Goodwin
Anne Goodwin posts about reading and writing on her blog Annecdotal, with around ten novel reviews a month. A former clinical psychologist, she’s also the author of two novels and a short story collection with small independent press Inspired Quill. Her second novel, about a man who keeps a woman locked up down in a cellar is another potential lockdown read.
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I’ve got to try Enter The Aardvark. Thanks Anne
I’d love to know what you think of it as someone who is much more into literary humour than I am.
I love the categories you chose this time! It fits the times so perfectly.
Thank you, glad you thought it worked.
I enjoy reading your recommendations… I’m more into happy escapism at the moment. Which sort of also includes not reading the newspaper…
I’ve been saving the extra Ranch links so I can more easily find them when I’ve got the inkling to be more serious.
I was away and ended up leaving the little murder mystery I finished at the hotel’s little share book shelf. Didn’t make up for the weight of the stuff I hauled back from visiting the lake beach… but that’s another story that I don’t think would have enough material to make an interesting book. Maybe the Yooperlite rocks…though. Who knew you could find rocks that had some sodalite that glows under black light?
Thanks, Jules, but I’m a little confused – does your escapism actually entail STAYING in hotels? They’ve all closed their doors here in the UK apart from a few staying open for health and social care staff who don’t want to take the virus home.
Not all of the US was hit as hard as the coasts. And the area we stayed in had just partially opened the week before we got there.
My hubby had to ‘work’, I kept him company on the drive to and fro and we shared dinner and evenings together – but we stayed in a town that I could walk around – and that I did. I was prepared to wear a mask and brought supplies for myself for breakfasts and lunch in case nothing was open and we were prepared to eat take out all week if we had too.
Only some of the restaurants were open with some distance between tables and most staff still wearing masks. My home area has been in lock down since more or less March and might be partially re-opening in the middle of June.
Interesting about the hotel we did stay in – they only would book about 1/3 of their rooms. When a guest left they wouldn’t even go into the room until after 48 hours. There was no traditional ‘maid service’ but you could put your trash out before 10am and a plastic back was provided for used towels… You would later in the day get replacement towels left by your door also in a plastic bag. So… Different areas in these large US states reacted and are still reacting differently. There isn’t one set of rules for the whole of the US. Each state, and even some of the counties in each state – those leaders are setting the current rules and guidelines. It’s all about the (possibly even skewed) numbers and politics.
Because we didn’t want to fly – we drove. And it was a long drive to our destination. Not including necessity stops it was about 12 hours. So folks are still able to rent cars… which we did. But the procedures for everything had changed. Hope that explains some of your confusion 😀
Thanks, Jules, that is enlightening, and interesting how the hotel had adapted. It’s a big question how the hospitality industry will survive if distancing continues to be needed. But I imagine the hotel was glad of your custom.
Even in our small nation there are differences between the four countries (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) rules for lockdown easing. And even within England there are regional variations in what’s advisable given infection rates, but not taken into account by the government focused on the capital.
In our area, golfers are allowed to play, but if they need to rent a cart – only one person per cart. And by the end of the week, if they have a licence an ability to comply to outdoor seating rules Restaurants will be allowed to serve sit down customers – but not inside yet. And reservations are recommended because of the limited space.
Not sure if I mentioned that I found out our local library is opening in the middle of June. Nice of them to forgo all fines during this time. They however aren’t accepting any book donations for their annual sale, and are just this week starting to collect return items to the out door collection spot. I don’t know when or if the cafe bookstore will reopen in the library.
We did read about a small local restaurant owner who took out personal loans for his location – more or less just before the closures started and he may end up loosing his shirt so to speak.
I think it will be a few years before the world recovers from this mess. But I am glad that at least we have the internet and are able to belong to communities were people can explain what is going on in their parts of the world without the bias of the news… If it were only real news reporting of the facts things might be different. But there are always some opinion and fact left out of articles that would really make a difference in perception.
People can play golf here also, and visit car showrooms – I wouldn’t have thought the latter was a priority but they do have the advantage of a lot of space.
It’s a complicated process of opening up again. I’m lucky I can watch from the sidelines and bide my time. What I am missing most is choral singing, but can’t see that being possible for a very long time. As you say, thanks for the Internet, as even choirs are giving it a go online.
Oh – yes I saw a story about a choir with a huge company together on the net – all the squares of faces from their ‘homes’ singing for some special occasion.
Buying property while having someone line up the papers on a table outside – having sellers and buyers come at different times and only once the paper work has been confirmed then the keys are left for the buyer…
Quite a bit of home delivery. That may continue for a long while. Even if there is a vaccine, I know some who don’t want to be on ‘the first trials’ as it were. Odd how a car showroom is open again, but the barber isn’t – my neighbor is beginning to look like an elf!
It wasn’t always clear who was allowed to open and who wasn’t. Some folks around here thought that the politicians favored their own companies… The hardest hit were the smaller businesses, and of course the schools.
Politicians favouring their own companies? Surely not!
You might have seen the 3500 strong choir performing the Messiah last weekend, from all over the world. I’d signed up to take part but didn’t submit a recording as I hadn’t had time to put in enough – any – practice, but I should do better when they do Mendelssohn’s Elijah in the autumn.
My hair’s also quite wild, but it’s surprised me in a good way, so I’ll be interested in what my hairdresser thinks of it when we finally meet!
It is nice to have your recommendations to go on when trying to decide what to read next. Thank you for your suggestions, Anne.
Thanks for your support, Ann. Let me know what you think of these if you ever get to read them.
I think the therapists are going to need therapy by September, Anne! It’s good to switch up reading different books. When I’m fired up, I want something like Enter the Aardvark to read. In the US it’s a good time to be reading black literature. Thanks for this great list of reads and links to your reviews.
Thanks, Charli. Therapists ought to be having therapy themselves anyway and I really feel for those who’ve had to switch to online sessions, and their clients. Hope you find some therapeutic reading.
Great post, links and summaries, Anne, have shared on Twitter. We have barely scratched the surface of the consequences on daily life, but with the tragic unemployment rates upon us, therapists, I agree, will be doing a roaring trade 🙁
Thanks, Sherri, and I agree, the consequences will take a lot of untangling, both politically and psychologically.
I just left a long comment on Charli’s flash challenge. I am so heavy ladened at the moment with both feet squarely on American and British soil. Totally agree, thanks, Anne.
Thanks, Sherri. I appreciate your long heartfelt comment. Take care.
Thanks, Anne. You take care too.
Great reminders, Anne. Thank you. There are a couple that I might get to one day. 🙂
[…] on from my guest post in April on facing, fleeing or forgetting the virus through fiction, and June’s post on sleep, pandemics, healthcare and political satire, may I offer you some recommendations of […]