By Olivia Moody
With most of us self-isolating for the foreseeable future, there is no better time to hole away with a small pile of books and get caught up in the world of fiction. Whether you’re wanting a classic read or a more contemporary one, novels are the ideal distraction from the current uncertainty of the outside world.
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
Undoubtedly a classic, Pride and Prejudice is a novel that, as an English student, I am whole-heartedly ashamed to say I’ve never read. Though I have watched the BBC series that led to Colin Firth becoming synonymous with Mr. Darcy, Austen’s novel is one that, for some reason, I’ve never picked up, though the next few weeks of social distancing makes this the perfect opportunity.
Set in rural England during the nineteenth-century, Austen’s romantic novel follows the protagonist Elizabeth Bennet as she encounters, as the title suggests, the dangers that arise from making hasty judgements about others, and learns how pride can manifest into what comes across as stubbornness.
Featuring the humour typical of Austen’s other novels, Pride and Prejudice is at its centre a reluctant love story, but Austen is also able to explore the complications of family life and the significance of class and social status as her protagonist comes to recognise and amend her own faults. Through Austen’s narrative style, the reader is permitted insight into Lizzie’s thoughts and actions. It is this sense of understanding that moves the narrative forwards, in part contributing to the novel’s humorous tone.
Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends
Having garnered an abundance of attention from critics and readers alike upon the publication of her second novel Normal People, Sally Rooney’s debut, Conversations with Friends, is an ideal book to pick up over the next few weeks. It is centred around two young women, Frances and Bobbi – best friends but former lovers – as they manoeuvre the spoken-word poetry and literary scene of Dublin. The novel details the relationships, both platonic and sexual, that the girls enter with married couple Melissa and Nick.
With a writing style unlike many of her contemporaries, Rooney crafts in her narrative an element of lucidity and an all-consuming rhythm, with the interweaving of the narrator Frances’ own writing, as she attempts to form a sense of self. Rooney’s prose produces a starkly honest and personal tone. The nature of Rooney’s narrative means you are instantly drawn in, making the novel a rather quick but wholly enchanting read, the perfect diversion from the current chaos of the outside world.
E. M. Forster’s Howards End
E. M. Forster’s Howards End is a novel I’ve read many times. Published and set in pre-war England, the novel sets out to explore social conventions, gender roles, and relationships – be these romantic or platonic, accepted or controversial – amidst a time of uncertainty and anxiety at the turn of the century.
Following three families of varying financial backgrounds living in London, Howards End is centred around the concept of ‘only connect’. Forster comments in his novel on the significance of capitalist and socialist attitudes of groups in contemporary society, using the strong-willed Schlegel sisters to oppose the hard-headed patriarchal state of England endorsed by the colonising Wilcoxes. Though written over a century ago, there is still much to be taken from Howards End today, with Forster’s intricate web of connections within the novel, making his narrative an engaging and wholly worthwhile read.
These novels are of course by no means a ‘set list’ of what to read as you self-isolate. Though all are deserving of a read, they can each be used as markers of genres or periods through which a plethora of literature can be explored, which will be an ideal distraction for the weeks ahead.