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November Bookshelf: nail-biters to chill and festive fiction to warm

Book recommendations for this winter season.

By Thea Powell, Second Year English Literature

As autumn transforms into winter, rain into frost and bonfires into tinsel, this November bookshelf offers you a variety of texts, a selection ranging from autumnal texts ringing with that dark academia aesthetic perfect for the forthcoming season, to the more overtly Christmassy novels, for those in desperate need of that uplifting festive feeling after this long and arduous year. There is, hopefully, a story for all.

Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier
Recently voted the nation’s favourite book of the last 225 years, du Maurier’s tale of secrecy, jealousy, and a thunderbolt ending combines psychological insight with the glamorously gothic setting of the Manderley estate – a brilliant choice for a late-night winter read.

As gripping as it is chilling, this psychological thriller follows the story of an unnamed and vulnerable young woman as she narrates her experience of being swept off her feet by a wealthy widower. Only after arriving at her new husband’s monumental country estate at Manderley, however, does she realise the difficulties she will face in her new marriage as she discovers how her new home and new husband continue to be haunted by his late wife, Rebecca.

Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie
With its aesthetically frosty setting, the novel begins when the Orient Express is stopped by heavy snowfall and Christie’s well-known detective, Hercule Poirot, discovers that a passenger has been murdered. With his archetypal detective genius, Poirot comes to the conclusion that the murderer must be one of the remaining passengers – the question is: who?

Though any work of Christie would be brilliant for anyone in need of a classic whodunit, this story is undoubtedly a nail-biter like no other.

Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
Imperial Russia, fervent passion, marital deceit, lots of snow. Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina follows the story of an aristocratic Russian woman, who – despite being married to a prominent politician – embarks upon an intense love affair with a charming young officer named Count Vronsky.

The consistently Baltic weather serves as the perfect metaphor for the cold and unforgiving nature of St Petersburg’s aristocratic society and is just one of the reasons why some consider this the greatest work of literature ever written.

If in need of motivation to tackle this monumental read: there’s a noticeably railway-themed similarity between this and the previous recommendation – read to find out.

Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
Set in New England during the American Civil War, Alcott’s Little Women tells of the March family, and has remained consistently popular since its publication in 1868.  Whilst the father serves as a chaplain in the War, a mother takes care of her four daughters: Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy. Though this bildungsroman-style novel charts the development of the sisters, it is primarily a story about family, with themes guaranteed to warm you when the temperature outside is dropping.

The use of Christmas as an exposition and end to Part One, with the March girls mourning for a Christmas without their father and later hoping for his return, makes Little Women a more relevant read this winter than ever: Alcott touches upon the pain of spending Christmas without certain loved ones, but gives hope that this will not always be the case – a comforting thought in the age of corona, isn’t it?

A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
And finally, for those looking to fight against their inner Scrooge leading up to a Christmas of socially-distanced dinners and freshly sanitised crackers, the perfect and unapologetically Christmas-themed reading takes the form of this Dickens classic.

Even better than its film adaptation featuring the muppets, this novella follows the story of serial miser Ebenezer Scrooge as he is visited by the ghost of his former business partner and three ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, respectively warning him of the repercussions of cruelty and immersing him in Christmas-spirit.

It might certainly seem a simple, easy read, and yet it is an embodiment of those elements of Christmas which, considering the year we’ve all had, we need more than ever: kindness, generosity, and most crucially, the importance of our beloved friends and family.

What have you been reading this month?

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