So you’re in quarantine. You’re bunkering down for the indefinite future – which means you’ll need a long and inspiring reading list to hand.
A list of books which will whisk you away to foreign lands, even if you haven’t moved from your sofa all day; which is exactly what we’ve curated for you.
Dive in, get reading and enjoy the journey. (And why not tell us what you think on Instagram, too?)
Normal People by Sally Rooney
Escape to: Small-town Ireland
In one line: A coming-of-age story set in Ireland
Normal People took the literary world by storm upon its publication in 2018, and for good reason. Sally Rooney evocatively captures what it’s like to grow up in a small town in Ireland, as she charts the shifting relationship between Marianne and Connor. The two protagonists leave school to go to the same university in Dublin, where their unlikely relationship takes new forms. It feels fresh and contemporary, while tapping into classic themes of love and identity.
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
Escape to: Naples, 1950s
In one line: A tale of friendship between two women over the decades
This is a story of two girls growing up on the outskirts of Naples in post-war Italy. Elena and Lila come to trust and rely on each other, as they navigate the challenges of adolescence and adulthood. Elena Ferrante depicts not only a tale of friendship, but a portrait of Naples and Italy at a time of huge transformation.
Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman
Escape to: Northern Italy, 1980s
In one line A love story between a teenager and his father’s doctoral assistant
You’ve probably seen the film, but the book is so much better. This is pure escapism, as Andre Aciman takes us back in time to a long, slow summer in the 1980s. It’s about the sexual awakening of 17-year-old Elio, who falls for a handsome older scholar staying at his family home. The atmosphere Aciman creates is so heady and enveloping that the first chapter will have you forgetting all about quarantine in no time. Corona-what?
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
Escape to: Tuscany, 1940s
In one line: A wartime drama unfolding between four traumatised characters
Another story set in Northern Italy, this time we’re going back to the end of the Second World War. In his most famous novel, Michael Ondaatje weaves a sensuous universe centred in a bombed-out Tuscan villa, revolving around four shell-shocked characters. The book takes its title from a character called the English Patient, who revisits his memories of love in a time before the war, as he is looked after by loyal nurse Hana.
Hot Milk by Deborah Levy
Escape to: Almeria, Southern Spain
In one line A dreamlike thriller about a young woman’s relationship with her mother
Hot Milk is a strange book filled with symbolism and dreamlike images, yet manages to be compulsively readable and thrilling at the same time. It’s about a young woman, Sofia, who moves to the Almerian desert with her mother to find a cure for her mother’s paralysis. The narrative unfolds in Sofia’s mind, as she makes sense of her surroundings (and sexuality) through strange symbols. The stifling heat of the desert is palpable, as tensions simmer above the surface. Whether you like it or not, I guarantee you’ll be hooked.
Circe by Madeleine Miller
Escape to: Ancient Greece
In one line: A feminist reworking of Greek mythology
From the very first line, Circe will transport you to the sun-soaked islands of Ancient Greece. Circe is a minor deity in the Greek pantheon, the witch from Homer’s Odyssey who turns men into pigs. Here, Madeleine Miller charts her backstory, giving life to this often-overlooked character in a deft feminist reworking. The writing is elegant and rich, with a gripping plot that will keep you hooked.
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Escape to: Ancient Greece
In one line: The love story between Achilles and Patroclus during the Trojan War
Another one from Madeline Miller, this time turning the lens on Achilles. It’s the story of his friendship and blossoming relationship with Patroclus, a prince who is every bit as awkward as Achilles is heroic, as they enter the years of war in Troy. It unfolds like a Hollywood action movie, rounded off with Miller’s characteristic lyrical prose – the perfect escapist read.
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
Escape to: Amsterdam, 1680s
In one line: A thriller about a miniaturist whose disturbing creations mirror real-life events
Travel back in time to Amsterdam in the 1600s, a world in which Jessie Burton’s protagonist Nella is ready to begin life as a merchant’s wife. Her wedding gift is a doll’s house-style replica of her new home, which is filled with the tiny creations of an enigmatic miniaturist. The doll’s house starts mimicking real-life events, as disturbing things happen around her.
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Escape to: Iceland, 1829
In one line: A condemned murderer lives out her final months, as the true story starts to emerge
Uncover the desolate landscape of 1800s Iceland, as we follow the final months of Agnes Magnusdottir, condemned to death for the murder of her lover. She awaits her execution on the farm of a district officer and his family, which is where she forms a friendship of sorts with a young priest. Over the months, Agnes’ story begins to emerge, and the family begin to realise that all isn’t what it seems.
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
Escape to: Kerala, 1960s
In one line: A story of twins Rahel and Estha growing up in a time of political instability
Arundhati Roy’s Booker-winning novel will transport you to India’s tropical south, where two twins are growing up against a backdrop of political turmoil. When their cousin from England comes to visit, the twins experience a change to their usual way of life, as secrets begin to emerge. Populated with a memorable host of characters, Roy evokes family life in 1969 Kerala with lyrical prose and intricate plotting.
We That Are Young by Preti Taneja
Escape to: Northern India, early 2000s
In one line: A contemporary reworking of King Lear, set in modern India
This gripping thriller will plunge you into Northern India’s darkest corners, from the glamorous bustle of New Delhi to the slums of Kashmir. It follows the three daughters of millionaire tycoon Devraj – Gargi, Radha and Sita – as a brutal power struggle ensues for the ownership of the Company. It’s a gritty family tale of social injustice and violence that conjures the spirit of Shakespeare’s tragedy, whilst remaining contemporary and original.
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Escape to: The Pacific Ocean
In one line An adventure story about a boy and a tiger lost at sea
This novel begins in India and ends in Canada, navigating the vast Pacific Sea in between. It’s the story of a boy and a tiger who are the only survivors of a shipwreck, stranded together on a lifeboat as they drift through the wild open sea. A classic adventure story charting the poignant relationship between boy and beast as they endure against the elements.
Tangerine by Christine Mangan
Escape to: Morocco, 1950s
In one line: A Hitchcockian thriller about an unsettling relationship between two women
Set in 1950s Tangier, this pacy thriller sketches out a tale of obsession and menace between two old university friends, Alice and Lucy. As Alice struggles to acclimatise to her new life in Morocco, her old friend mysteriously shows up and helps ease her out of the house. However, Alice soon starts feeling oppressed by Lucy, as we discover there are more twists and turns to the narrative than we first thought. Mangan has been compared to both Hitchcock and Highsmith in her depiction of psychological tension.
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Escape to: Nigeria, 1960s
In one line: A story of three intersecting lives during the Nigerian Civil War
Adichie’s epic novel takes us back to the Nigerian Civil War, into the intersecting lives of three characters: Ugwu, a houseboy to a university professor; Olanna, the professor’s mistress; and Richard, an Englishman drawn to Olanna’s twin sister. So begins a tale charting the final years of colonialism in Nigeria, and the ways race, class and love affect the lives of the characters.
Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
Escape to: Ancient Africa
In one line: The first novel in a fantasy trilogy about the hunt for a missing boy
Loved Game of Thrones? This new epic from Marlon James has been touted as an African GOT, weaving rich mythological traditions with pacy fantasy plotting. It follows the tale of Tracker, a hunter hired to find a lost boy. He joins a larger group of hunters all searching for the child, each of them hiding their own secrets. Soon, Tracker begins to ask himself why they’re searching for the boy at all. It’s one of the most exciting new fantasy books of the year.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Escape to: The USA
In one line: A fantastical road trip through the soul of America
Another great fantasy book to lose yourself in is Neil Gaiman’s epic road trip saga. It begins with Shadow’s release from prison, as he meets the mysterious Mr Wednesday who claims to be an ancient god. The two embark on a journey into the soul of America, encountering a host of forgotten gods and powerful forces along the way. Brimming with magic and americana in equal measure, you can’t help but feel whisked along the dusty highway with Shadow and Mr Wednesday.
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
Escape to: New Zealand, 1800s
In one line A gold-mining mystery shaped by enigmatic forces
Wind back the clock to the gold rush days of the 1800s, when New Zealand beckoned those who sought to find their fortunes. So begins Catton’s mysterious tale, as twelve men convene to discuss a series of strange events including a missing fortune, a prostitute’s attempted suicide and the disappearance of wealthy man. It’s dense and tightly plotted, and a hugely enjoyable read. If you’re into horoscopes, you’ll love this.
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
Escape to: Tokyo, 1960s
In one line: A nostalgic coming-of-age love story
When he hears his favourite Beatles song, Toru is transported twenty years back to his youth; to an age when he left home to study in Tokyo, and the world of casual relationships and loss that he discovered. This was the book that catapulted Murakami to international fame; it’s sweet, tender and full of nostalgia for a lost time. Known for his surreal and strange stories, Norwegian Wood is by far his most accessible work of fiction.
Labyrinth by Kate Mosse
Escape to: Carcassonne, South of France
In one line: A historical time-slip thriller set in the 1200s and 2000s
Pining for the South of France? Discover Carcassonne from your sofa. Weaving between 1209 and 2005, this thriller follows two women in different centuries in the Languedoc region, each uncovering mysterious symbols that point to a secret hidden in a labyrinth (clue: it’s got something to do with the Holy Grail). If you love Dan Brown’s books and you’re looking for some historical escapism, this is the book for you.
An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro
Escape to: Japan, 1948
In one line: A retired artist confronts demons of the past in the aftermath of WWII
Famous artist Masuji Ono spends his retirement tending his garden and spending time with his family. Despite this seeming tranquillity, memories from the Second World War come back to haunt him. As Japan comes to terms with its defeat, the artist reflects on his personal history, how his choices made him both a hero and a coward. It’s a nuanced portrait of a nation dealing with its demons in the aftermath of WWII.
The Lonely City by Olivia Laing
Explore: Modern-day New York
In one line: Olivia Laing explores urban loneliness through the works of NY’s most famous artists
When Olivia Laing moved to New York, she felt consumed by feelings of loneliness and urban alienation. In this intelligent and poignant memoir, she finds solace in the city’s artists, looking at the ways loneliness shapes the works of Andy Warhol, Edward Hopper and David Wojnarawicz, among others. From the superficial glamour of Warhol’s circles to the devastating AIDS crisis, Laing takes on an affecting journey through New York down the ages.
Stasiland by Anna Funder
Explore: East Germany, Soviet era
In one line: Anna Funder uncovers the details of ordinary lives under Soviet rule
This is a history book, but not as you know it. Anna Funder brings Soviet stories to life in her engaging and personable style, interwoven with candid references to her own life. The result is an intelligent, accessible and original account of East Germans’ lives behind the Berlin Wall.
The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan
Explore: The old trading route between China and Europe
In one line: A historical journey along the crossroads of civilisation
Immerse yourself in an epic world history along the Silk Roads, which provided vital routes between east and west. Trade and commerce blossomed along these roads through Central Asia, but it was also a melting pot of ideas. Dive into this monumental story across different lands and cultures, and you’ll feel a million miles away from home.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Explore: Iran, 1980s
In one line: A coming-of-age memoir set in revolutionary Iran
Marjane Satrapi’s celebrated memoir takes the form of a graphic novel, in which she takes us on a funny and heartbreaking personal journey against the backdrop of the Islamic Revolution. Growing up in Tehran, the young Satrapi attempts to make sense of the bewildering changes unfolding around her, before she escapes to Vienna. Her black-and-white illustrations will enchant you with their gentle humour and poignancy.
A Cook’s Tour by Anthony Bourdain
Explore: The world in food
In one line: Anthony Bourdain dives into the cuisines of the world, from Cambodia to Spain
In his trademark irreverent style, the late Anthony Bourdain takes us from Saigon to San Sebastian in search of culinary riches. What ensues is an adventure involving Russian gangsters, medieval pig slaughters and pilgrimages in equal measure – with a still-beating cobra heart being consumed, too. Yearning for the outdoors? Let Bourdain’s adventures breathe life into your living room.