Warm wishes and Happy December to you all, dear readers! First off, I feel I should apologise for my lengthy silence: between taking on Christmas retail work, job-hunting for the New Year, the occasional commission and squeezing in the occasional hint of a social life, I’m afraid my personal writing has suffered over the past couple of months. However, I have one or two new blog ideas stored up for the coming months and, if you can find it in your hearts to forgive my laziness in updating, I hope to bring you more quirky and interesting (fingers crossed!) literary insights.
In the meantime, I’ve decided to break my silence and follow on from my autumn post with a reading list for the long winter nights. If it seems a little biased in favour of any particular genre, I’m always open to suggestions for new books, new authors, new additions to my already groaning bookcase.
So draw your cosiest blanket about your shoulders, light a few scented candles, get the Christmas tree lights glowing and prepare to snuggle down with some heart-warming and/or bone-chilling page-turners.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
I’ll admit, I’ve never been much of a circus fan (what with my clown phobia and anti-animal cruelty views and all that), but if a spectacle like the Cirque des Rêves existed, I’d be a dedicated rêveur. With a gripping plot, well-rounded characters and a dream-like setting, not to mention rave reviews from Goodreads, Barnes and Noble and Waterstones, Erin Morgenstern’s magical tale of a circus like no other will send a chill of excitement through your bones, warm you to your core… and give you insane cravings for popcorn and mulled cider. Set in Victorian England, The Night Circus follows the lives of Celia Bowen and Marco Alisdair, two gifted children raised by powerful magicians to compete against each other in an enchanting battle of magical wit and creativity, with a nocturnal circus as their battleground. Complete with contortionist, fortune teller and kittens – yes, kittens – the two illusionists have the perfect stage to dazzle their followers, a red-scarved collective known as the rêveurs, without giving away their terrible secret. All in all, The Night Circus is a terrific and twisting tale that is perfect for reading while the rain patters down the windows outside and the fire crackles merrily inside.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
I’m sure this novel is a classic childhood favourite for many people, but in my view there’s a certain advantage to re-reading children’s books as an adult; you can pick up on hints and jokes that may have passed you by in your younger days. And what better book to return to in winter than one which features an enchanted winter and good old Father Christmas? When little Lucy stumbles into a magical realm in the back of an old wardrobe, she and her three older siblings find themselves caught up in their very own storybook adventure: as the Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve, they are destined defeat the evil White Witch, aided by the great lion Aslan, and restore Narnia to its former glory. As if the story itself is not engrossing enough, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is dotted with endearing supporting characters, including Mr Tumnus the Faun and the Beaver family, and paves the way for one of the most beloved literary series of all time (not that I’m biased because C.S. Lewis and I are both Northern Irish, or anything). If winter gets you all nostalgic like it does with me, The Chronicles of Narnia is the perfect choice of evening reading.
Credit: Walt Disney Pictures
Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
Turning now to something a little darker (just in case the book’s title wasn’t a dead giveaway), I can highly and heartily recommend this masterpiece brought to you by the author of the hit thriller-turned-blockbuster Gone Girl. From the age of seven, protagonist Libby Day has lived in the certainty that her older brother Ben was behind the satanic murder of their mother and sisters at the struggling family’s farmhouse on a harsh winter night many years ago. When, however, she meets an unusual group of crime enthusiasts known as the Kill Club, questions are raised that shakes Libby’s conviction and contradicts the testimony she made as a traumatised child. As she sinks further and further back into the gruesome shadows of her past, with the narrative jumping between the present day and the hours leading up to the horrific massacre seen from Ben’s perspective, you are guaranteed to find it increasingly difficult to put this book down in our growing need to unravel the mystery. Better still, you’re likely to find yourself surprised by the ending. Seriously, if you thought Gone Girl was intense, you will be blown away by Dark Places, and most likely by her other novel Sharp Objects. Without doubt, Flynn has a masterful talent for suspense, character development and exploring the darkest recesses of the human mind. Not my wisest choice of bedtime reading, in hindsight, but addictive and satisfying all the same. Best enjoyed in a well-lit room after making sure all your doors and windows are locked.
Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman
There are so many works by this wonderful wordsmith that I could recommend for wintertime reading (Coraline, Neverwhere, The Ocean at the End of the Lane), and I’ve even surprised myself a little by choosing this one given that I read it in the middle of summer while on a trip to Finland, the Land of the Midnight Sun, but this collection of short stories and prose poems are great for reading while curled up in bed on a snowy evening. A magnificent showcase of Gaiman's wild, weird imagination, Fragile Things offers a novella-length sequel to American Gods, a tale about a mythical bird sought for consumption by an eccentric gourmet club, campfire narratives spun by the months of the year and a novel take on that classic adolescent dilemma: How to Talk to Girls at Parties. Ghost stories, fairy stories, detective stories, all can be found in this collection and all can transport you to places as far away from the January rain as you could possibly imagine without even requiring you to move from the comforting refuge of your duvet.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Come on, did you honestly believe I’d leave this one off a winter list? Even if you know this story from cover to cover (well, this or the Muppets version, both are wonderful), it’s a classic that’s always worth revisiting. Perhaps one of the best-known ghost stories/cautionary tales to come out of the Victorian era, we follow the emotional journey towards redemption taken by the miserly protagonist Scrooge. After being visited by the tormented spirit of his late business partner, Jacob Marley, Scrooge is shown the Christmases of his past and present, and what those of the future will look like unless he changes his ways. Upon acknowledging the error of his ways and promising to turn over a new leaf, the forgiveness and acceptance shown to our unlikely hero by his family and that of his employee Bob Cratchett, sends a message of hope and goodwill to the reader and provides a strong reminder of the less commercial, more traditional values of the festive season.
The Three Scrooges: Michael Caine, Oliver Simms and Patrick Stewart. Credit: mirror.co.uk
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Be warned, this one is a tear-jerker. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT read the ending in public! This story centres around Ruth, Kath and Tommy, three children brought up in an exclusive environment and nurtured for one single purpose: giving up their organs for medical transplants. With no parents, no career prospects outside of becoming carers for their fellow donors, and no place in wider society, our three protagonists form strong bonds between themselves, starting at the boarding school in which they grow up and continuing into their time spent lodging at an isolated farmhouse with other donors. All of the novel's events are told from the perspective of Kath, who is now in her late twenties and has been serving as a carer for several years since leaving school. As she reflects on the ups and downs of her relationships with both Ruth and Tommy, we are taken back to rainy schoolyard afternoons and frosty countryside mornings which, paired with Ishiguro's sublime storytelling style, makes this book an ideal winter read.
I hope you can find something new and interesting to explore in these humble suggestions. Please feel free to make recommendations of your own, and... well, I would advise you to brace yourselves because Winter Is Coming, but I live in Ireland and it's always winter here.