Top tips: Literature for the lockdown

Maddaddam by Margaret Atwood

This is the third book of a trilogy set in a near-future dystopian society, where humanity is pretty much wiped out by a man-made virus (which, thankfully, only partly echoes our own situation!). Maddaddam is set within the human and non-human community that evolves after this apocalyptic event.

What's interesting is the way in which people are having to work out new ways of being human in this context. It also dares to imagine what life might be like after the end of capitalism. It's a great trilogy, but each book stands on its own because they're not chronological and take different perspectives on the same events. Atwood is also, of course, rather a popular writer these days in the wake of the serialisation of The Handmaid's Tale.

Dr Mandy Bloomfield: Associate Professor, Modern and Contemporary Literature

 

For Love of Things Invisible by Vahni Capildeo

Vahni’s response to Covid-19 demonstrates the incredible swiftness with which poets and poetry can express topical concerns. 

This is poetry at its most public-facing, helping to inspire and heal.

Anthony Caleshu, Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing

 

The Fall of Rome by WH Auden

Written in 1940, at the end of a decade Auden described as 'low and dishonest’, it seems extraordinarily prescient in its reference to a 'flu-infected city'.

He casts a cold and disillusioned eye on a decadent and materialistic culture framed by a natural world that is both transcendentally beautiful and indifferent to human suffering and folly. 

The poem is both cerebral and intensely, strangely lyrical and other-worldly: the perfect response for our current moment.

Dr Rachel Christofides, Associate Professor of English

<p>W H Auden</p>
W H Auden
<p>A close-up image of a man reading from an open book</p>
<p>Margaret Atwood</p>
Margaret Atwood

The Death of Grass by John Christopher

A virus identified in China threatens to wipe out all forms of grass, including grain. While the virus initially results in violence and famine across Asiatic countries, it soon reaches Britain where it causes unprecedented food shortages due to high rates of importation (around 50% in the 1950s). People are instructed to stay at home while strict travel bans on nonessential journeys are put in place. Defying these instructions, The Death of Grass follows the story of John Custance as he leads a small group from London to the refuge of his brother’s potato farm in Cumbria. Along the way, a decent into barbarism and moral chaos ensues.

Ray Davenport, studying for a PhD on eco-dystopian fiction

 

Music and Silence by Rose Tremain

If there was a book I could read again for the first time it would be this. Set in 17th century Denmark, it tells stories of the Danish Court, from the King to his musician, from the Queen to her companion, remembering connections within Europe that are often lost in narrower national retellings. 

The novel’s beauty lies in its elegance, its seemingly effortless rendering of intimate detail against the broad brushstrokes of a political past.

Dr Kathryn Gray, Associate Professor (Reader) in Early American Literature

 

Scarp by Nick Papadimitrou

Our journeys through our usual places are now vastly altered and this reminds me of Nick Papadimitrou’s Scarp, a 2012 novel that follows a series of walks through urban and rural locations in a ‘search for London’s outer limits’. Papadimitrou’s search, however, is a bewildering and fun mix of voices and stories that make up the places he moves through, forcing us to dwell and consider the histories and futures of the places we think we know.

Nemesis by Phillip Roth

This is a terrifying read right now. Set during a polio outbreak in 1940s America, Roth explores the paranoia, fear and guilt that follow in the wake of a disease, and his story has extra resonance for those continuing to work during the current crisis. Tragic, but a valuable insight into what’s happening around us. 

Sam Kemp, Doctoral Teaching Assistant

<p>

New book on Nobel prize winner Doris Lessing published. Collection of essays co-edited by David Sergeant, originating in an international conference held in Plymouth in 2014

<br></p>
Doris Lessing
<p>Daniel Defoe</p>
Daniel Defoe
<p>Marlon James</p>
Marlon James

Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

A semi-fictional, semi-fantastical, tragi-comic and bizarrely autobiographical story of coming-of-age amongst some of the edgier sections of 1980s Brisbane society might seem like an escape from the realities of a lockdown world. But it might also be a reminder that confinement can come in all shapes and sizes, as can the things that can make it endurable. And it will probably make you less envious of life Down Under, which may be for the best at the minute.

Professor Dafydd Moore, Professor of Eighteenth-Century Literature and Deputy Vice-Chancellor International and Planning

 

The Memoirs of a Survivor by Doris Lessing

This novel from 1974 depicts a contemporary society that is breaking apart and turning into something else. 

Lessing brilliantly communicates the strangeness of living through radical societal change: for instance the way it happens fast and slow, and at different speeds for different people; its unreality, even as it is real; the way it relates and doesn't to an individual's inner life.

Dr David Sergeant, Associate Professor in Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Literature

 

The Broken Earth trilogy by N. K. Jemisin

I have recently been re-reading this trilogy, the first book of which – The Fifth Season – will feature on my new module on Science Fiction, Fantasy and Politics, beginning next spring. It hovers somewhere on the murky borders between sci-fi and fantasy, and incorporates many of the much-loved tropes of both modes. But it also engages with many important real-life issues, most particularly issues of gender, race and environmental crisis. That aside, it's a great story, brilliantly written, and impossible to put down once you start.

Angela K. Smith, Professor of Modern Literature

 

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

I'm currently re-reading A Brief History of Seven Killings, which features on my Black Atlantic Literature module. 

It’s a breathless and no-holds-barred historical novel about 1970s Jamaica and the attempted assassination of Bob Marley, as told through a cacophony of conflicting voices ranging from CIA Agents to politicians and gang members. 

It’s also got me listening to the early Wailers record Catch A Fire on repeat. So there’s a music recommendation too!

Dr Arun Sood, Lecturer in English

 

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

I've gone back to right there at the start of the novel. Not many of us will be shipwrecked on a tropical island, with plenty of food to grow or catch, but Robinson shows that it’s the frame of mind you bring to the situation that changes it. 

How do we know how to value what we enjoy until it’s taken away? Gratitude is the golden key. 

He’s good company when you’re stuck in your cave for the rainy season, and need to contrive some ingenious stuff to help you get by.

Dr Min Wild, Lecturer in English

 

Study English and creative writing

The English and creative writing department at Plymouth encompasses experts on the Restoration, 18th, 19th and 20th century literature, contemporary poetry and fiction, American literature with research interests lying in literature and the environment and transatlantic literature, amongst others. 

The teaching staff are published writers and poets in their own right and support future aspiring and emerging writers through their teaching, publishing initiatives such as Periplum Poetry.

Find out more about the English and creative writing department

English and creative writing research

The research interests of the English and creative writing department at Plymouth range from the early modern period to the present and cover a diverse set of approaches and priorities based primarily in imagination, judgement and representation. 

We are particularly interested in developing interdisciplinary projects across a range of themes and topics, including: the transnational and the transatlantic, environmental literatures, poetry and poetics, and scientific discourses. 

Through our world-leading and internationally recognised research, we are making significant interventions in local, national and international cultural and creative industries.