Is it me, or does this January feel particularly depressing? Maybe it has something to do with Trump imminently taking office, or the tube and train strikes, the fact that we all spent too much at Christmas, or possibly the approaching arctic snowpocalyspe. Either way it’s safe to say, the general mood is très Eeyore.
Things come to a head on January 16th, which is supposed to be the most depressing day of the year. This may be a gimmick dreamt up by a travel company to make us all book more holidays, but despite that, the timing makes sense. The ill-fated Monday comes just over a month after the day that people are most likely to get dumped (11th December) and about two weeks since everyone broke their new year’s resolutions. In these dire circumstances, the best option is probably to retreat into your mind palace and pretend life isn’t happening. My advice: find a comfy armchair, disappear under a blanket, dive into some of these masterful page turners, only to emerge in March when things are a bit less rubbish
Here are some books that I recommend to get you through.
Conclave, Robert Harris
The Times describes Robert Harris as the “master of the intelligent thriller”. It’s a testament to his expert plot crafting that he is able to turn the subject of his latest work – the selection process for a new pope – into such an addictive page turner. The author’s body of work has been a study in power and its corrupting influences, and Conclave is no different. Set in 2017, the Pope is dead, and we are transported into the heart of Vatican where 118 sequestered cardinals will decide who is to become the most powerful spiritual leader on earth. Corruption and intrigue abound, and a masterful twist at the end will leave you guessing until the final dramatic pages.
The Paris Wife, Paula McLain
Run away with Ernest Hemingway and his first wife Hadley Richardson to the glamour and romance of ’20s Paris. Loosely based on a true story, Hadley is a home girl who has all but given up on finding love when she is seduced by Hemingway in Chicago. McLain tells their story as the Hemingways make the move to Europe and meet (and drink copious amounts with) the literary greats Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound and F. Scott Fitzgerald. This is a passionate romance that charts the first great love of a young Ernest as he struggles to find his voice as a writer. Told through the eyes of Hadley, she becomes an unlikely hero, fighting to retain her own identity whilst attached to a flawed rising star.
The Secret History, Donna Tartt
Donna Tartt’s novels are weighty tomes, but her habit of publishing once a decade means that she by no means sacrifices quality over quantity. Her debut novel, published in 1992, is a confession of complicity in a murder by Richard, a classics student at an expensive New England college. On financial aid and neglected by his parents back in California, Richard is a lost soul who neither fits in where he came from or where he finds himself in a select group of students taught by a maverick tutor. Tartt loves a lost young male protagonist – it’s a theme that recurs in her latest novel The Goldfinch. But, crucially for January, The Secret History is far less depressing than her latest work about an orphaned boy whose life is plagued with guilt. Instead, this novel is stuffed with complex characters and fills you with a sense of impending doom that will have you racing towards the final chapter.
Whatever Happened to the Corbetts, Nevil Shute
Nevil Shute was once one of the most popular British writers of the 20th Century, but has since become less well known. An engineer by trade, he wrote 24 novels under his pen name to avoid any reputational damage to his career. Whatever Happened to the Corbetts is particularly amazing because it predicts what would happen at the outbreak of the Second World War, despite being published before war broke out. The novel follows the Corbett family in Southampton, as air raids begin, war is declared, and peace time society starts to unravel. It may not sound like a laugh a minute (and granted the female characters are sometimes annoyingly subservient), but is still a great read with insight into an earlier Britain, told in rich prose.
Orient, Christopher Bollen
On the tip of Long Island lies Orient, a sleepy village where families go back for generations. Paul Benchley, a successful New York architect, returns there to his family home with a stranger in tow. That stranger is Mills, a foster care kid in search of a fresh start. But all is not as it seems in Orient, and soon after Mills’ arrival things start to go badly wrong. Phillip Meyers describes Bollen’s second novel as ‘The Great Gatsby meets Donna Tartt. Suspenseful, wonderfully atmospheric, that rare treat that is both page-turner and a book you’ll want to savour’, which sums it up perfectly for me. It’s a moody murder mystery that is great fun to read.
Which books are you reading to get you through the January blues? Tweet me @Hannah_Mays