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Review book club: reads for shelf isolation

As weeks of isolation lie ahead of us, now is the time to embark on a journey through the pages of your favourite books. Starting this week, with an exclusive piece by award-winning novelist Joanna Briscoe, Review is asking you, our readers, to send in suggestions of bookshelf staples in which you find comfort, excitement and escapism. We’ll publish your thoughts and suggestions in our new Review book club

03 April, 2020 — By Joanna Briscoe

Award-winning novelist Joanna Briscoe

THERE are so many wonderful novels in the world that deciding what to read next can be overwhelming. I often fantasise about only being able to re-read, and I indulge in a delicious mental meander through favourite works, from childhood up.

So in this time of lockdown, now is the chance.

I will start with: Beloved by Toni Morrison. I re-read this, along with Tess of the d’Urbervilles, every few years anyway, and here’s another opportunity. The story of a mother who kills her own child rather than have her taken into slavery, this is the most profound, moving, powerful novel I have ever read. I always think that no words do it justice, and I count it as my favourite novel: poetic, political, and unspeakably brilliant. There are layers and layers of new meaning that emerge every time it’s read. Beloved won the Pulitzer; Morrison later won the Nobel prize for Literature. Justice done.

Next I intend to have another read of Hamlet by William Shakespeare. My daughter is studying this for A-level, I last read it while studying it myself, and there are woeful holes in my knowledge. I think that with this and Beloved, the themes of loss and haunting are both pertinent. Our world as we knew it has changed, and will change more dramatically as the virus continues.

I’ve also just read and reviewed Maggie O’Farrell’s wonderful Hamnet, about Shakespeare’s son and family, and about the connection between his death and the play. All of this sends me scurrying back to Shakespeare’s most famous work.

And finally, for some hilarious light relief, I’m choosing Riders by Jilly Cooper! This came out in 1985 and was a huge bestseller. What a romp – filthy, funny, and noticeably well written for a bonkbuster of its time, though some of the sexual politics need overlooking.

My local novelist friend Kate Saunders said of it: “Within its genre, a work of towering genius.” I agree.

The story of an amusing cad, Rupert Campbell-Black, and a group of promiscuous show-jumping stars, it races along.

There are also gorgeous descriptions of the Cotswolds countryside, where we’d all probably like to be right now.

Joanna Briscoe’s latest novel, The Seduction, is published by Bloomsbury on June 11.

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