Sausage and mash, Bert and Ernie, winter & books; they just go together. Nothing’s better than curling up with a real page-turner in the middle of winter, so here are some of my hand-picked favourites to get your nose dug into. From Great Expectation’s beautifully bizarre living-ghost-bride Miss Havisham, to the awesome, misty figure of Kafka’s castle. You won’t be going near that telly.
A book which simply has to be read in the darkest days of winter, The Castle, written in 1922, is perhaps the most poignant and revealing novel of Kafka’s career. The story follows K, a land surveyor, who is sent to a snow-bound castle by an unknown source, for an unknown purpose. K fails to find reason and companionship in this hollow vein of life, allowing for a narrative as steeped in darkness, shadows and biting cold as the village which lies below the castle. Kafka is genius in his emotive portrayals of this misty castle and K’s struggling solitude – like the cruelest cold, this one is bound to get under your skin.
…hard-faced toil and also the glimmering light of their resilience.
Quite possibly my favourite book of all time, first published in 1818 Frankenstein is the ultimate tale of grief, remorse and loneliness. A young academic named Victor Frankenstein creates a monster out of dead body parts and then abandons him, but though he may be ugly, the monster is alive and ready to react. Shelley throws us into the monster’s slashing revenge, tumbling through the idyllic Genevan countryside where love and grace were once so bountiful. Shelley masterfully captures the monster’s unfathomable and absolute loneliness, leaving the reader to question who the villain really is.
Published in 1918, Cather’s novel brilliantly portrays the hard-faced toil of the immigrant farmers who inhabit the American Great Plains and also the glimmering light of their resilience. The novel follows prairie boy, Jim Burden and Ántonia, the daughter of a Bohemian family, through the trials of a Nebraskan winter; from glittering beginnings to a deadly climax, through to a clinging denouement. Nature’s burdens prove to be a beast as Jim falls ill, as do Ántonia’s parents, but the value of this novel is not so much in Cather‘s portrayal of their plight as it is in the beauty of the human spirit that is laced within. Death and desolateness may come but eventually so will the spring, and with it new life.
Invest in a night-light before picking this one up.
If you’re still holding on to the last bits of Christmas as I am, then a dose of Dickens is just what the doctor ordered. You may have caught the BBC’s beautiful Christmas adaption with Gillian Anderson as the youngest actress to ever play the enduring Miss Havisham, but the book itself, first published in 1860, is really a feast. The novel starts with an extraordinary event on Christmas Day that, as with every action in this book, results in a fateful reaction sometime down the line. Dickens follows the young orphaned Pip, from this event in his impoverished beginnings to his frivolous adolescence as a London gentleman. A tale of status, love, revenge, friendship, loneliness, fate and death with a lot of deus ex machina, Great Expectations is one of Dickens’s finest works.
This super-spooky novel from 1983 has been adapted for theatre on the West End since 1989 and has been made into a film starring Daniel Radcliffe to be released in February of this year, but to reach the darkest depths of this story, read the original. The novel follows young lawyer Arthur Kipps as he travels to the small town of Crythin Gifford to settle the legal affairs of recently deceased Alice Drablow, the former owner of eerie Eel Marsh House. He spots a soulless-looking figure cloaked in black at the funeral, to whom all the children are transfixed; and then a haunting series of unexplained events persue. What is this woman’s tie to the children and to this house? What made her heart so black and her vengeance so merciless? The townspeople reveal nothing so Kipps must fatefully discover her secrets for himself. Invest in a night-light before picking this one up.