Last month we introduced a new service: the Reading Doctor. Read more about Dr Louise here. And do feel free to request further prescriptions, as needed!
Prescription #7: something for times of isolation
Can you recommend some books that feature the narrative of isolation, for these locked-down days?
Solitude, whether chosen or enforced, is a familiar literary theme, in fairy tales, songs, poems and novels. Think of Rapunzel and the Lady of Shalott in their towers, the Man in the Iron Mask in his prison cell, Napoleon on his island, the first Mrs Rochester in the attic, or Guinevere’s contrite retirement to a convent. In fiction, solitude is rarely synonymous with loneliness. Rather, it is variously represented as a test of endurance and fortitude; as an act of retreat; as a means to refuge or protection; as part of a rite of passage; as an opportunity for reflection and self-examination; or as a period of punishment or penance.
Perhaps these narratives of isolation and solitude might offer new perspectives on your own bubble.
· Often called the first English novel, Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe is the fictional autobiography of a castaway, alone on an island for 28 years. A contemporary version for middle readers, The Wild Robot by Peter Brown, has a robot called Roz find herself in the same predicament.
· Also famously cast-away are the characters of William Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest, in a bubble made up of Prospero and his daughter Miranda, and his servants Caliban and Ariel.
· Henry David Thoreau’s Walden: or, Life in the Woods, documents his two years, two months and two days of a simple and solitary life spent in a cabin near Walden Pond.
· Exiled alone an island is Circe, in Madeline Miller’s wonderful novel, banished by her father to a solitary life only occasionally interrupted by visitors, including the wily Odysseus and the charming Hermes.
· The iconic New Zealand novel Man Alone, by John Mulgan, centres on the experiences of the existential loner Johnson during the great depression.
· Jesus’ period of fasting in the desert is imagined in Jim Crace’s award-winning novel, Quarantine.
· Katharine Applegate’s moving book for younger readers, The One and Only Ivan, is about a silverback gorilla in captivity.
· A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf, is a demand for both a literal and figurative space for women writers within a male literary tradition.
· Emma Donoghue’s novel Room is narrated by five-year-old boy held captive with his mother in a small room which is the only space he’s ever known; not for the faint-hearted.
· One of the most memorable figures of isolation is Miss Havisham, from Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, who lives with her adopted daughter in a decaying mansion, all clocks stopped, wearing her fading wedding dress.