Last week 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 #3: When a book is as good as a holiday
Perhaps, like me, you’ve been forced to cancel forthcoming travel, giving up plans for a holiday somewhere else for the prospect of four confined weeks within very familiar surrounds. But books, too, have the power to transport us to another time, another place, or simply make new the same time and place when conceived of from another perspective.
Some books make their settings prominent and significant, not just a picturesque backdrop to action, but imbued with metaphorical significance, a kind of character in itself which can develop, antagonise, act on characters and influence plot. When places are not simply described, but evoked, in smell, sound, sight, colour and feeling, even the most apparently ordinary of settings can become exotic. I hope these suggestions, which all use setting in such a way as to powerfully evoke somewhere else (not all of them places I’d like to visit, however), will help dissolve the confines which protect us at the moment.
·Winter in the small Worcester village of Black Swan Green, by David Mitchell, is considered the deadest village on Earth by 13-year-old Jason, though it turns out to contain all the conflicts and drama of the outside world.
·Visit North Korea via Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son, and hear the greatest North Korean love story ever told.
·The Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston transports us to bleak Newfoundland, “an impossible country stranded on the brink of the world”, as it escapes English rule in favour of Canadian.
·Travel to Instanbul, as it struggles in transition between tradition and western modernity, in The Museum of Innocence, written by Nobel prize-winning Orhan Pamuk.
·Be assaulted by the glorious, visceral energy of Naples in Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan novels, beginning with My Brilliant Friend.
·Be immersed in the overwhelming bustle and vitality of Calcutta in Shakti, by Rajorshi Chakraborti, as three young women with extraordinary powers become entangled in nationalist politics.
·Tim Winton uses the distinctive landscape of Western Australia, in Eyrie, to evoke and extend the interior and psychological landscape of his anti-hero.
·A vividly imagined Barcelona is home to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, both of which feature in Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s book cycle which began with The Shadow of the Wind.
·We’re offered a virtual tour of Hell in Inferno, as Virgil guides the poet Dante Alighieri through its circles in search of redemption.
·Just as its characters are transported from one world to the next, so is the reader of Elizabeth Knox’s epic fantasy The Absolute Book, in which the land of Faerie coexists with our own.