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Love in the time of Covid-19


An announcement said copies of Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror & the Light, the much-anticipated concluding novel in her trilogy after Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies, was being sold for £9.99 (retail price £25). In the books section, I discovered all copies had gone (Photo: Peter Summers/Getty Images).
An announcement said copies of Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror & the Light, the much-anticipated concluding novel in her trilogy after Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies, was being sold for £9.99 (retail price £25). In the books section, I discovered all copies had gone (Photo: Peter Summers/Getty Images).

By Amit Roy

IN MY local branch of Sainsbury’s, the shelves have been stripped bare – and not just of food, toilet rolls, pasta and rice – but something else, which, in a curious way, indicates all is not lost.

An announcement said copies of Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror & the Light, the much-anticipated concluding novel in her trilogy after Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies, was being sold for £9.99 (retail price £25). In the books section, I discovered all copies had gone.

The question of what to read during a prolonged period of self-isolation was the subject of a discussion last week on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme between the presenter Mishal Husain and her guest, Kamila Shamsie, whose last novel was Home Fires.

Asked for her recommendations, Shamsie, who has started a Twitter discussion on her “Covid-19 reading list”, picked Cold Comfort Farm, a 1932 comic novel by Stella Gibbons.

She also said that Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera and One Hundred Years of Solitude had come up, along with books by Toni Morrison, PG Wodehouse and Albert Camus. The writer Lisa Appignanesi had suggested audio versions of such books as James Joyce’s Ulysses.

To prevented limbs from atrophying, Shamsie thought it would be a good idea to wrestle with (literally) heavy books – “maybe picking up (Vikram Seth’s) A Suitable Boy in one hand and Hilary Mantel in the other”.

“I just read Maaza Mengiste’s The Shadow King – I will put that out there,” she said. “Everyone should be clearing out their nearest independent bookshop as well as the spaghetti aisles.”

When I turned to Keith Vaz, former Leicester East Labour MP turned radio presenter, for his reading list, his response was: “I would watch the entire season of [hit TV show] The West Wing on Netflix.”

My novelist friend in Cheshire, Reshma Ruia, said: “There are so many books I can suggest: Amnesty by Aravind Adiga; Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara; The Heart Sick Diaspora and Other Stories by Elaine Chiew; Grand Union by Zadie Smith, and, of course, my poetry collection, A Dinner Party in the Home Counties.” As for me, I would relish the old favourites, notably the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Currently, I am engrossed in Sarosh Zaiwalla’s Honour Bound: Adventures of an Indian Lawyer in the English Courts.