Over this last year, I’ve felt fiction’s power to transport us more acutely than ever. After endless days looking at the same views from the same windows, books have given me a peek outside of lockdown, into new and old worlds, where the casual brush of a stranger’s shoulder in a crowd is nothing to remark upon. I’ve travelled far and wide without leaving my house, and have never felt more grateful for the gift of fiction.
I have always adored the English countryside – there’s something about the fresh, green smell of tangled hedgerows that allows me to breathe a little deeper. It was a lovely surprise to discover the valleys of Gloucestershire painted so beautifully in Rosie Walsh’s smart, pacey novel, The Man Who Didn’t Call. Walsh describes the landscape sparingly, but with real love and familiarity. There’s so much I admire about this book, and these quiet background notes are probably not what you’ll remember about it (after all, there’s that twist!). But they do add a beautiful depth to the novel.
And, of course, fiction can transport us in time as well as place. Louise Hare’s debut, This Lovely City, is as bright and warm as its cover; it whisks us to the jazz clubs of London just after the Blitz. This is one of those books that leaves you with a sense, a feeling – Hare’s writing is truly atmospheric.
For those looking to soak themselves in the sunshine, Emily Henry’s new novel, You and Me on Vacation, has a palpable warmth – and not just because of the incredible chemistry between the two lead characters. We follow Alex and Poppy through years of holidays together, but it’s their stay in the sticky, tense heat of a rip-off apartment in Palm Springs that you’ll remember after closing the pages of the book. The use of the weather to reflect emotion in fiction can be a bit cliché: I tend to think about it as something we talked about in English lessons at school, rather than a device I often find in the fiction I read. But there is a scene in You and Me on Vacation on the balcony of this Palm Springs apartment – when the rain finally, finally comes – that shows just how powerful a tool it can be in a skilled writer’s hands.
As a novelist, I am lucky enough to have another option when I want an escape: I can write one. In my new novel, The Road Trip, I took myself to the sun-soaked vineyards of Provence, to a castle in rural Scotland; I sped down motorways and wove my way along country lanes. It is my hope that readers will feel the same spark of wanderlust I felt as I wrote the novel.
The Road Trip by Beth O’Leary is out now.
Sign up to our MAILING LIST now for a roundup of the latest fashion, beauty, interiors and entertaining news from THE GLOSS MAGAZINE’s daily dispatches.