There is nothing as comforting as strolling through streets and avenues, golden sunshine warming our skin. As the burst of colours that are budding tulips and daffodils herald the return of Spring, we rejoice. No more coming home from work in the dark. No more thick scarves and padded coats. No more slipping on sludge and ice. As animals awaken and fresh rain falls, the very air seems suffused with possibility.
These days, that silent wonder at a re-awakening world is doubly precious.
In honour of that sense of rejuvenation, here are eight books to help lift your spirits this year. Enjoy!
The Wind in the Willows
Kenneth Grahame’s heartwarming story about friendship, love and wanderlust is as relevant today as it was in 1908.
The antics of blustering Toad, loyal Rat, curious Mole and grumpy but wise Badger cannot help but kindle a smile on one’s face even on a gloomy day. Famous for being a story about ‘messing about on boats’, the reader is thrown into a natural idyll where riverbank picnics and playful romps around the countryside are lovingly rendered as the joys to be had in a simple life. From the first chapter onwards, Mole’s half-hearted spring cleaning, his utter delight in seeing a fresh and green world after the gloom of his winter sleep and his excitement at the prospect of his very first boat ride render this feel-good tale a worthy start to seasonal reading.
Similar Reads: Three Men in a Boat (Grahame’s source material!) by Jerome K.Jerome delights with similarly ill-planned boating expeditions, the novel being an ode to the troubles only the most tight-knit circle of friends can get themselves into. (Hint: Three Women and a Boat by Anne Youngson is a modern day rendition of the story for those of you looking for a new spin on an old story.)
Keeping with the theme of fantasy, Gaiman’s enchanting fairy tale whisks us off to the little hamlet of Wall.
Set in the midst of tranquil fields and meadows, the story of how young Tristran Thorn ventures into Faerie to catch a falling star (a lovely reference to John Donne!) for the woman he loves is one not to miss. For those of us keen on exploring the eerie colours and ravishing scents of a world in bloom not quite our own, this magical fable promises an adventure not soon forgot. Rollicking with weird witches, treacherous ghosts and comical hairy men, it’s no wonder this bestseller won the Mythopoetic Award in 1999. Even the story of its conception is fantastical: Gaiman saw a shooting star at an awards party and immediately whisked off Charles Vess, his would be illustrator, to talk over what would become Stardust. And we could not be more thankful…
Similar Reads: The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse in The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke is a short story set in the world of Wall, written by another master of the literary fantasy genre. Clarke’s seminal work, Jonathan Strange and Mr.Norrell, which won both the 2005 Mythopoeic and World Fantasy Award is the ultimate English faerie story published ‘in the last sixty years’ as Gaiman himself would have it known and well worth a read.
For readers curious about the origins of the pre-Tolkien era of English fantasy, Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirlees and The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany are the classics to turn to.
The Secret Garden
The children’s classic that is still widely read today, 10-year-old Mary Lennox’s story of re-discovering life after the death of her entire family due to a Cholera epidemic seems strangely poignant today.
Like few other stories, Frances Hodgon Burnett’s tale illustrates the theme of resurrection that embodies Spring. Alone in a mansion with a hundred doors and a distant uncle she never sees, Mary escapes her personal lockdown by discovering a walled off, overgrown garden as well as by meeting two unexpected friends. Witnessing her spiritual growth, we too are inspired to wish ‘that spring was here now’, keen on enjoying the season as it approaches.
Similar Reads: Anne of Green Gables by L.M.Montgomery gives us another view into a child’s escape into lush nature. The titular protagonist’s independence and utter ‘strangeness’ makes for a good laugh, as Anne channels a young Elizabeth Bennett-if she had the guts to break a slate on Darcy’s head after he insulted her at that first, infamous Netherfield ball!
North and South
Star-crossed lovers always make for a good Spring tale or two.
But rather than putting the spotlight on Pride and Prejudice, I’ve chosen Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South. A dear friend of mine aptly summarises the book as ‘the socialist version of P&P’ which hits it rather well. Chock full of the rolling landscapes of Helstone as well as the dusty factories of Milton, Margaret Hale and Mr.Thornton are the visual embodiments of Spring and Autumn falling in love with each other. With a plot that shines with romantic misunderstandings akin to Austen’s oeuvre, North and South is notable for accurately depicting the poverty and suffering of the labouring class in the Victorian Age.For readers caught up in spring nostalgia, this story is the perfect antidote as we reminisce with Margaret on what makes her blooming home in the rectory of Helstone so special.
Similar Reads: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is the obvious choice with its sparkling balls and long country walks but I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith is just as poignantly funny and charming as the 17-year-old narrator gives us a glimpse of what it means to live in genteel poverty and fall in love for the first time.
Under The Greenwood Tree
No listicle about spring books would be complete without mentioning Thomas Hardy.
The 19th century novelist is famous for elevating the rural in his timeless tales of (ill-fated) love while his nature poetry is often characterised as sublime. Hardy’s pantheon of novels features moving descriptions of landscape and scenery but it is in his early work The Greenwood Tree that spring makes itself at home.
Focusing on the Mellstock choir, this quaint and picaresque tale has all the humour that would be subsumed in the tragic grandeur of the novelist’s later books. Starting in December and ending with a spring wedding, the ironic tale on the nature of tradition and courtship is full of the music of the wind and the voice of the forest.
Similar Reads: In tone, only Silas Marner by George Eliot fits the bill. Another romantic fairy tale by a writer similarly renowned for her realistic writing, the story of how the weaver of Raveloe learns to trust humanity again is rejuvenation at its best.
If there was such a thing as the Great British Novel, this would be it.
Eliot’s masterpiece, termed by Virginia Woolf as ‘the only novel written for grown-ups’ is a heavy slog for readers used to rapid pacing and plotting. My English teacher used to laugh at my complaint that I couldn’t get through the pages because ‘nothing happened’.
When, years later, I finally finished the story, I was humbled. Nothing happens and everything happens.
A story of interiority about a young woman denied greatness in life due to her sex and her rediscovery of that self-same life in a love most unsuitable, Middlemarch goes beyond romance. Where Pride and Prejudice ends with a happy marriage, Eliot shows us what happens after. A powerfully moving exposition on the nature of human frailty, this story shows us how we, the readers, prove heroic just by living through another day. As a fresh start to the season, no message could be more fitting.
Similar Reads: This is a tough one as Middlemarch is one of a kind but for readers in search of a heroine not only beautiful but singularly intelligent as well as far ahead of her time, Isabel Archer in Henry James’s masterpiece The Portrait of A Lady is a good fit. For a more recent twist on an unconventional Victorian Romance, try Sarah Perry’s An Essex Serpent. Should the philosophic kindness of Eliot’s narratorial voice be what you are after, Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being offers all the brilliant reflections on both the comic and tragic in human existence that render Eliot exceptional.
The Garden of Evening Mists
The second novel of Malaysian novelist Tan Twan Eng is one of the more recent books to embody the spirit of Spring.
The story of a former judge who apprentices herself to a Japanese gardener in order to build an ornamental garden for her dead sister is a great non-Western outlook on the fallout occasioned by WWII. Beyond the lush descriptions of greenery, this novel has one of the most memorable explanations in fiction about the transience of life:
“That point in time just as the last leaf is about to drop, as the remaining petal is about to fall; that moment captures everything beautiful and sorrowful about life. Mono no aware, the Japanese call it.”
It’s unsurprising that a work of such force won both the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2012 and the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction in 2013.
Similar Reads: For a fusion of the epic and the intimate, Music of the Ghosts by Vaddey Ratner and The Ten Thousand Things by John Spurling are your best bet. For readers entranced by the scope of Eng’s multicultural world, David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is a treat that’s hard to beat.
In conclusion, a title that harks back to the original intention of this article makes sense.
Touted as a ‘dazzling hymn to hope’, Ali Smith’s offering is a story that clearly depicts the state of our world. It is not sparing in darkness, in crises or in pain but manages to set the resilience and rebirth of the natural world against all catastrophe, with certain characters coming to revive the narrative through their lively spirit-like a fresh wind blowing over green grass. For people wanting to experience what a real life miracle could look like, Spring is a great choice.
Similar Reads: As Smith has written Spring as a seasonal quartet, reading Winter, Autumn and Summer can get you close to the storytelling magic you crave.