Mercedes-Georgia Mayes | Literary Review Editor
It is no secret that lockdown has provided many with the time and freedom to read again but, after many months, bookshelves may start to run dry. Here are a few picks to keep you powering through as restrictions ease.
To begin, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara was released in 2015 to widely positive reviews, being shortlisted for no less than the Man Booker Prize in that year among other awards. The story follows four college friends as they enter adulthood, detailing their difficult navigation through their relationships, their work, and their personal demons. It is emotional, honest, and absorbing, incorporating a range of narrative views to reveal different facets of the characters and bluntly addressing mental health, addiction, and abuse. This is not a novel for the faint of heart but, for those who can get through it, it is without doubt a worthwhile endeavour, and will leave you heartbroken when it inevitably draws to a close.
Next, published in 2014, Human Acts by Han Kang unflinchingly delves into the events of the Gwangju uprising in May of 1980 and showcases its impact on society into the modern day. Even without a deeper contextual understanding this novel beautifully expresses the pain of a generation robbed of their right to protest through force, as well as the heartache of those left to live on without loved ones in the wake of the tragedy. It explores the issue through seven perspectives in its chapters, from those who died during the uprising to those living with the repercussions in the present day. It chronicles those who lost children, those who experienced the events, and those seeking to piece it together afterwards. All this, and all told through Han Kang’s now somewhat signature blend of poetic prose hitting just as potently in translation. It is a short, sharp look into a history that some may not be familiar with and is extremely powerful.
Finally, Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters. This historical peek into LGBT society during the Victorian era was published in 1998 and adapted for television by the BBC in 2002. It traces the entrance of a young woman called Nan into lesbian society after she falls in love with a male impersonator. The story is a bildungsroman, showcasing the ways in which Nan must adapt to being part of a substrate of society that was faced with opprobrium from every direction. She experiences wonderous highs, and tragic lows as she is turned out or taken in across different classes. It displays historical fiction at its best, with under-represented groups being brought to the fore in a setting where they would have been largely hidden.
In all, these three reads were the highlight of my quarantine, offering a look into social issues that was at once humbling and inciting, defeating and inspiring. During a time when it was difficult not to feel closed off from humanity, they brought humanity to me.