One of the more pleasant surprises that I had at the advent of the UK’s coronavirus lockdown was that I found myself venturing to my bookshelf more often. With sources of entertainment limited and time in abundance, since lockdown began in March I have discovered Margaret Atwood, revisited Virginia Woolf, and become enthralled by the talents of Dan Brown. Of the novels I have recently waded through, three stand out: The Testaments by the inimitable Margaret Atwood, Jessie Burton’s delightful The Miniaturist, and Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.
With sources of entertainment limited and time in abundance…I have discovered Margaret Atwood, revisited Virginia Woolf, and become enthralled by…Dan Brown
1. The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood’s long-awaited sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, entitled The Testaments, and winner of the highly coveted 2019 Booker Prize, certainly proved itself a worthy successor to the 1985 dystopian classic. Met with substantial acclaim for Atwood from critics and readers alike, the plot, pace, and narrative of The Testaments is captivating. The story is narrated by a female triumvirate – Aunt Lydia, a character at the heart of the totalitarian regime, Daisy, a rebellious and forthright teenager living in Canada, and Agnes, a modest girl obediently coming of age in Gilead – and Atwood subtly intertwines their lives in a highly unexpected but remarkable way. Laced with tantalising secrets and cases of mistaken identity and reflecting on the ties between family, The Testaments is a more absorbing page-turner than The Handmaid’s Tale and certainly makes an engrossing addition to any summer reading list. Atwood’s highly anticipated return to Gilead is just as vivid, unsettling, and compelling as her depiction of it was the first time.
2. The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
Jessie Burton’s delightful 2014 novel, The Miniaturist, was a wholly unexpected but pleasantly surprising addition to my lockdown reading list. Set in seventeenth-century Amsterdam, the novel opens with protagonist Petronella arriving at the home of her new husband, Johannes Brandt; a distant man with a volcanic secret which threatens to engulf the unorthodox family’s reputation. Steeped in its rich Dutch context and inspired by the real Petronella Brandt’s miniature cabinet-house, Burton’s book is incredibly imaginative, magical, and unlike anything I have ever come across. Despite initial reservations of The Miniaturist, having been somewhat disenchanted by Tracy Chevalier’s similar bestselling Dutch Golden Age novel, Girl With a Pearl Earring, Jessie Burton’s deftly written text is perfectly characterised, tantalisingly paced and unravels like an arresting cinematic thriller.
3. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
Considered Dan Brown’s ‘magnum opus’ and one of the finest pieces of fiction of the 21st century, in the seventeen years since The Da Vinci Code was published, it has become an international bestseller, been turned into a Tom Hanks feature film and been responsible for elevating Brown’s books in competition with novelists like J. K. Rowling. It stands smugly alongside Harry Potter as one of the bestselling pieces of fiction in the world. The book opens with the murder of the Louvre Museum’s elderly curator and follows the famous symbologist and Harvard professor Robert Langdon, joined by French cryptographer Sophie Neveu, as they unravel a startling historical puzzle that threatens to be lost forever. Leaving a trail of breadcrumbs in the work of Leonardo da Vinci, Brown’s book is spectacularly staged and brilliantly executed. Packed with several degrees’ worth of information, The Da Vinci Code is fast-paced and captivating on every page. Although Brown’s Inferno, which depicts Dante Alighieri’s fourteenth-century imagining of Hell blended with the threat of an international viral pandemic (sounds familiar), might be a more exciting read in relation to modern times, The Da Vinci Code goes in directions you would never expect, quietly simmering with suspense, and serves as a distinct and unshakeable landmark in the timeline of modern fiction.
Image: Maximus McCabe-Abel