IsolationSix NYRB Classics
This collection thrums with reflections on solitude, the threat of disaster, and our relationship to nature—but it’s not all quiet realism. Beloved by Gabriel García Márquez, Jorge Luis Borges, and Octavio Paz, Alfred Bioy Casares’s lost-island mystery The Invention of Morel is a mind-bending masterpiece of science fiction that must be read to be believed. A lyrical, philosophical island adventure of another sort, Henri Bosco’s Malicroix is a tale of a man at odds with nature in an eerie quest to lay claim to the house his great-uncle bequeathed to him.
Set in 1939, Julien Gracq’s Balcony in the Forest follows a French lieutenant stationed deep in a bunker in the Ardennes as he and his men await, with increasing skepticism, the approach of the Second World War. The days are dreamy, full of verdant languor and romance—but we, at least, know they’re numbered. A fellow monumental work of WWII literature, Vasily Grossman’s Stalingrad has been called a Soviet-era War and Peace alongside its sequel Life and Fate. From the battlefield to the barren, bombed-out streets of Stalingrad, Grossman illuminates the uncertainty and isolation of wartime. And at 1,000-plus pages, it’s a read perfect for extra time at home.
If you’re looking for a silver lining to self-isolation, look no further than Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time to Keep Silence. Fermor is best known for A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, his memoirs of traveling Europe by foot; here, he explores the continent’s great monasteries—peaceful, cloistered enclaves that serve as another reminder of the restorative possibilities of seclusion. Tom Birkin, the World War I veteran who serves as the hero of J. L. Carr’s luminous A Month in the Country, likewise finds meaning spending a summer restoring a medieval mural at a remote Yorkshire church. Haunted by memories of the war and his failed marriage, he experiences his own sort of renewal as he uncovers a mysterious painting from behind layers of whitewash. You might just see your solitude anew.