So, you're doing the responsible thing and staying indoors for three to twelve weeks. Great! Reading-wise, maybe you're taking the opportunity to catch up on books you haven't had the chance to read, or branch out into those literary novels that you always felt you should get through - or maybe now's the perfect time to read through your favourite thousand-page series (hello, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings). But if you were looking for something more ... appropriate, I've compiled the top ten books that, in my opinion, encapsulate being isolated. I'm not talking about the human condition either: these are books about people cloistered, confined, trapped. If you're feeling claustrophobic already, these might make you appreciate that hour of exercise even more (or make you feel even more hemmed in, who's to tell?)
The Count of Monte Cristo
A literary classic and quintessential tale of intricate revenge, Dumas' story follows Edmond Dontes, who, on the day of his wedding to beautiful fiancee Mercedes, is arrested and imprisoned without trial for treason. Locked in solitary confinement within the grim walls of the Cheateau D'If, Edmond is almost driven insane - until he makes contact with a similarly incarcerated priest. Trapped within the prison for fourteen years, Edmond's over-riding thoughts are of revenge against those who betrayed him.
The Yellow Wallpaper
Charlotte Perkins Gilman
This is a good place to start, as it's a short story, available for free online due to its age, and also hits a double whammy of being one of those should read texts. The narrator and her husband have retired to a country mansion after suffering "temporary nervous depression"after the birth of their baby, where the woman is instructed to rest and recuperate. Despite the size of the house, she is confined to the upper nursery with bars on the window and a bed bolted to the ground, with only the yellow wallpaper on the walls to distract her. There are a couple of different interpretations of the meaning behind the story, so it has scope for some interesting theories to go through afterwards.
The Pianist seems particularly poignant today with its ever-shrinking boundaries: even before the Polish Jews were confined to the minuscule ghetto, they were restricted in how much money they could own, where they could shop, how they could behave. When entire families were sent to a single room in a house, the space each individual could inhabit grew smaller and smaller - hiding in cupboards and lavatories from the Gestapo, herded into train stations, crammed into chattel trains - until they were literally extinguished. This memoir has been made into an award-winning film, but nothing compares to this first-hand account of the man who survived in the shell of a city.
The Diary of a Young Girl
Possibly the most famous document to emerge from the Second World War, The Diary of a Young Girl is the musings of Dutch Jew Anne Frank, who, with her family and other refugees, hid from the Nazis during the Occupation. Anne and seven other people hid for over two years in the annexe behind a moveable bookcase. It's a raw account that focuses on the personal rather than the historical: how she got on with her family, the hopes and dreams for the future she put on hold to hide.
This short novel manages to tackle gender relations, class wars, family, sexuality -- all that good stuff -- in the sixties. A reserved bank clerk wins the lottery and, naturally, buys a sweet, secluded cottage, and, perhaps a little more unexpected, tracks down a girl he has admired from afar, kidnaps her, and holds her captive in the basement until she falls in love with him. It's a contentious book - several serial killers have cited it as inspiration in their crimes, and one, Christopher Wilder, had the book on him when he was killed by police. There are so few other characters that actually appear during the plot that it heightens the sense of being completely alone - for both characters.
A few months alone with your family in a sprawling hotel - what could possibly go wrong? Take it as a story of ghosts and insanity lurking beneath the surface, or take it as a warning for what happens when families are forced into spending time together.
Hey, at least we have TV and [a max of 3 per customer] beer.
Flowers in the Attic
With film adaptions in 1987 and 2014, Flowers in the Attic has proven an enduring tale of all kinds of love -- family, lustful, money -- and what happens when those coincide. The Dollenganger family seem to be perfect, with four beautiful blonde children, a stunning mother, and a handsome father: but when the father is killed in a car accident, the house and the possessions are repossessed, and they are forced to return to the mother's family home. But the grandparents aren't happy to have them back, and the children are consigned to the attic until their mother can win her parents round. But as the time grows longer, daughter Cathy becomes disillusioned with their mother while brother Chris staunchly defends her corner. Better the devil you know?
Another Stephen King classic, this one trimming the cast of characters down even further to just two. When writer Paul Sheldon's car overturns in a storm, he's fortunate enough to be picked up by a nurse -- who just happens to be his number one fan. Annie Wilkes tends to Paul's wounds and keeps him well topped up with painkillers; the storm has knocked out the phone lines, but he's being well taken care of. Until his number one fan reads the unpublished manuscript in his briefcase and doesn't like it. Until she reads the latest installment of her favourite series to find it hasn't gone the way she wants it. Until her pet author isn't as amenable to her whims as she'd like him to be.
Five teenagers go into an abandoned bunker - how many come out? In hiding from their parents and a school trip, the students find themselves locked underground at the mercy of one boy who may be a prankster or something more sinister. What will they have to do to be let out and when - and supplies are already thin. I've reviewed this before, if you'd like some more information.
Year of Wonders
This one is perhaps the most appropriate book to read when we're self-isolating for the good of everyone else. It's based on a true story: in 1666, when plague hit the village of Eyam, the residents chose to self-isolate to prevent the spread of the disease. Told from the point of view of Anna Frith, a housemaid who suffers her own tragedies before and during the plague, we see how the village locks itself down to its own detriment but to save others. For the most part, the villagers care for each other and keep their distance, but madness is as infectious as plague, and there are other dangers that will tear the village apart.
Maybe you'd rather be reading something of wide open spaces and new lands while you're stuck inside, but if you like to link your situation with something similar (even if all of these on the list are a hundred times worse than our barely-there lockdown) then these are the perfect books.
Did I miss your favourite quarantine novel? Add a comment letting me know!