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What to read? Every year when we step into the colder months – desperately waiting to get snow as soon as we feel it’s winter – I think of books that might be fitting to read during this time of year. You could certainly follow the latest publications, however, going back to old works can be equally engaging whether they’re contemporary novels or classics. I thought I would share some of my suggestions for the winter that might be works you’ve already read, but not in a long time, or be books that you haven’t thought of picking up.

Madame Bovary (1856) by Gustav Flaubert

This 19th century French classic is a good read for anyone interested in a realistic depiction of a young woman trying to escape the emptiness of small-town life – while engaging in morally questionable actions. The main character, Emma Bovary, has become a classic figure in literature who as readers we might both feel for and hate: feel for her well-read personality and a want for more after marrying a dull man, but dislike for how she chooses to escape her tedious life in the country by jeopardizing her family with her other relations. The novel was, in fact, attacked for its obscenity and the trial that ensued guaranteed a larger readership for the novel. It’s beautifully written: just like how the sharp winter weather stirs up our senses, Flaubert vividly describes the environment, and gradually presents how Emma’s mind broadens through reading, but also how real life disappoints her. Bovary can be quite grim – I sometimes found myself uncomfortable reading Emma’s thoughts – but the novel has its intense moments and might make us think about its complex protagonist, whether it’s pleasant or not; it’s a learning experience in judgement.

Murder On the Orient Express (1934) by Agatha Christie

One of the most thrilling classics ever written, Christie’s Orient Express starts, fittingly for the season, in freezingly cold conditions and takes the reader on a stirring train ride. The famous Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, is accompanied by a diverse, intricately described group of travelers. His journey starts in the Middle East; he begins from Syria and when in Istanbul, boards the Orient Express to London and characteristically takes good notice of all the other passengers. The train comes to a halt because of heavy snowfall and during the night, an American passenger named Ratchett is murdered. Described as giving an unpleasant and distrustful impression – Poirot basically says that he just doesn’t like Ratchett’s vibe – Ratchett is found dead in his room, and fears of a murderer on board begins Poirot’s investigation. After you’ve read this novel, you’ll understand why it’s one of the best and most thrilling detective stories in literature. I so wish that I would’ve forgotten the plot by now. A delicious detective drama because of Christie’s skill in detail, but also brutal as the case unravels.

The Bloody Chamber (1979) by Angela Carter

Why not read a collection of ten bizarre and graphic fairy tales that are inspired by western European fables this winter. Carter was an incredibly imaginative author, and this book shows how she combined gothic fiction and the European fairy tale to create new stories – not retellings or “versions” of the classics. (These are, for example, “Little Red Riding Hood” and Beauty and the Beast, but there’s variety.) She did this by drawing out what was hidden in the traditional tales which were the sexual and violent aspects and depicts these through a vividly fantastic style as well as magical realism – presenting the supernatural and magical phenomena in an otherwise real-world setting. These short stories are also truly original in the sense that Carter challenges how the woman is represented in the fairy tale and gothic fiction: in some of her hybrids of these styles, the female protagonists are strong and sexually liberated individuals who disrupt the “damsel-in-distress” trope. A little warning: Carter is highly descriptive, and these stories are quite graphic in their depictions of violence and sexuality. However, her language is also vividly, sometimes bizarrely, sensual and builds rich images in her imaginative tales of wonder and terror.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead (2009, in English 2018) by Olga Tokarczuk

An “existential thriller,” Drive Your Plow absorbs the reader into the pensive mind of an ageing Polish woman, Janina Duszejko, who lives in a remote Polish village, situated in Kłodzko, near the border of the Czech Republic. The strange beginning of the novel immediately describes a cold ominous winter night on which Mrs. Duszejko is told that her neighbor, a hunter, is dead. The translation luckily gives the English reader a mesmerizing novel, and Mrs. Duszejko is a brilliantly unconventional character, solitary who has a deep love for nature and animals, which keeps the reader intrigued: as bizarre as she sometimes is – for example, in taking her time to reveal more of herself at sudden moments – Duszejko also captivates with her reflections, particularly her own, original “Theories.” As the events progress, other more prominent men, also hunters, of the village are found dead, and Mrs. Duszejko creates her own peculiar theory – that animals are starting to take revenge on the humans in the hunting community she lives in. Drive Your Plow becomes an extraordinary crime story, especially as it’s narrated by a woman in her sixties who doesn’t appear rational when reporting dead animals to the police and providing evidence of the animals’ revenge.

An English major in University of Helsinki who adores culture's most valuable and beautiful subjects like literature and art.
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