It’s one of those questions that invites precisely the free play of the imagination it at once forecloses on... No mere text could substitute for the truncation of the human umwelt implicit in self-isolation: one would become the nameless, speciesless protagonist of Kafka’s The Burrow, scuttling here and there in a prison of one’s own paranoia: the symbolic and the corporeal twisting together inside you with all the awful torsion of RNA in a replicating Coronavirus virion…
All of which is by way of saying: PG Wodehouse.
I saw a couple of episodes of the TV dramatisation of Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End, and thought I must read the book. But then I was always put off by the length – over 800 pages. Well now I’d have time.
I’d go for Henry James’s The Ambassadors even though I would, in all probability, once again get bogged down by the endless sentences, give up after a hundred pages, and spend the rest of the fortnight wishing desperately that I’d had the foresight to choose something I might actually enjoy.
Simon Sebag Montefiore
Living in sublime isolation, I would start Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age, which I hear is funny and lyrical and clever.
The situation calls for a classic: there’s nothing more richly compelling than Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks, with its glorious cast of characters, matchless evocation of a time and a place and, above all, the grand sweep of a rich family heading to its doom. One of those long novels you just don’t want to end.
Wordsworth’s Prelude, of which I read the first two books at school but have never finished. Wordsworth writes like no one else of the consolations of reclusiveness – how even remembrance of Nature can ‘impregnate and elevate the mind’.
I have tended to avoid long novels over the past few years, I think out of a kind of acquisitive spirit: why spend a fortnight reading one novel, when in that time I could have added half a dozen to the slate? This is a deplorable attitude, and one cured by reading Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light.
The obvious course is to read A Place of Greater Safety, the last remaining Mantel book which I have not read, but I recently confessed publicly to not having yet finished Middlemarch, to the audible horror of the audience, so that might come first, or I’ll end up in the stocks.
Which books would you bring with you into quarantine? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.