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10 best uplifting books to read during lockdown

Need a boost? Allow these heart-warming novels to provide some much-needed escapism

Emma Lee-Potter
Friday 22 May 2020 15:15 BST
To help navigate these difficult times, get stuck into one of these feel-good favourites
To help navigate these difficult times, get stuck into one of these feel-good favourites (iStock/The Independent)

Many people are using the current lockdown situation to curl up on the sofa at home, or in gardens while it’s sunny, and lose themselves in fiction.

Online book sales have rapidly increased. Waterstones reported a 400 per cent rise at the end of March, as readers discover they have more time on their hands to finally get through their “to read” list. And book clubs have metamorphosed into online reading groups, with readers discussing novels on Zoom instead of face-to-face.

But while publishers around the world have reported a surge in sales of titles like Albert Camus’s The Plague and Stephen King’s post-apocalyptic The Stand, many of us are choosing to immerse ourselves in feel-good, comforting fiction that reminds us of happier times.

We’ve selected some of the most uplifting novels, from the story of a grandmother and granddaughter who come up with a crazy plan to swap lives to the tale of a young amputee who sets herself five challenges to achieve in life – from braving public transport again to learning to dance.

Our choices were judged on their originality, readability and how they reminded us that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

Some of the books aren’t upbeat all the way through, but reading them definitely helped lift our spirits.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

‘The Authenticity Project’ by Clare Pooley, published by Bantam Press


Clare Pooley’s debut novel is the story of six strangers who are each living a lie. Flamboyant elderly artist Julian feels lonely and invisible to the outside world, so he decides to write the truth about his life in a notebook and leaves it in a cafe for others to read. It’s picked up by successful lawyer turned cafe-owner Monica, who writes about her longing for a baby. Before long, the book has found its way across the world and brought a motley group of people together. A heartening story about the importance of truth and friendship, with characters that spring to life on the page.

  1. £12 from Amazon
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‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ by Amor Towels, published by Windmill Books


Amor Towles’s first novel, Rules of Civility, was named as one of the best books of 2011 by the Wall Street Journal. A Gentleman in Moscow, his second book, was published in 2016 and has sold more than a million copies.

It’s the story of count Alexander Rostov, who in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution is judged to be an unrepentant aristocrat. He’s stripped of his wealth and sentenced to house arrest in a tiny attic room while Russia undergoes decades of tumultuous upheaval. Towles’s book is a delight, with a beguiling central character and lively descriptions of life in Russia over a period of 30 years.

  1. £7 from Amazon
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‘The Switch’ by Beth OLeary, published by Quercus


Eileen is fed up of being 79 and stuck in a tiny Yorkshire village while her granddaughter, 20-something Leena, is tired of her London life. When Leena messes up a work presentation and is ordered to take a two-month sabbatical, the duo decide to swap places. Eileen moves to a hip Shoreditch flatshare, complete with unfriendly neighbours, online dating and coagulated milk in the fridge, and Leena heads north to Hamleigh-in-Harksdale, where she has to contend with gossiping locals and tricky family dynamics. Beth O’Leary’s first novel, The Flatshare, has sold more than 125,000 copies so far and her second is an uplifting read in troubled times.

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‘Rivals’ by Jilly Cooper, published by Corgi


Jilly Cooper fans are divided about which of her many novels reign supreme. For some it’s Riders, set in the world of international showjumping, while others adore Wicked!, her tale of two rival schools. We’re a fan of Rivals, first published in 1988, which lifts the lid on the cut-throat world of TV. It also sees the return of unscrupulous showjumper Rupert Campbell-Black, who’s newly divorced from his wife and keen to pursue the saintly Taggie, the daughter of TV megastar Declan O’Hara. If you’re looking for a compelling read with rivals competing for a TV franchise, snappy one-liners, affectionate descriptions of the Cotswold countryside and lots of sex, this is the novel for you. As one critic put it: “Rivals is as comforting as eating chocolate in the bath.”

  1. £9 from Amazon
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‘Five Steps to Happy’ by Ella Dove, published by Trapeze


Journalist Ella Dove became an amputee in 2016 after a running accident. This experience inspired her first novel, Five Steps to Happy. When struggling actress Heidi has a life-changing accident in her early thirties she ends up in an amputee rehabilitation unit, unable to walk and fearful about the new world she’s been thrust into. But gradually, thanks to a fellow patient and her grandson, Heidi realises that her life isn’t over – it’s just different. She hits on the idea of making a list of five things she’s determined to do, including summoning up the confidence to tackle public transport, especially escalators, wearing skinny jeans again and learning to dance. A feel-good read that reminds us all that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

  1. £7 from Amazon
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‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ by Mark Haddon, published by Vintage


Mark Haddon’s murder-mystery novel about a 15-year-old boy who has Asperger’s Syndrome is a classic. Christopher Boone knows a lot about maths but very little about human beings. He loves lists, patterns and the truth, but hates the colours yellow and brown and being touched. At the start of the book he has never gone further than the end of the road but when he finds a neighbour’s dog murdered, he sets out on a terrifying journey that turns his world upside down. Poignant, funny and thought-provoking, this outstanding novel became an award-winning West End play and was named the Whitbread Book of the Year in 2003. Joan Bakewell, who chaired the judging panel, said of Haddon: “He manages, without patronising the boy’s voice, to reveal the child as a tender and thoughtful person and we see, through the boy, the chaos of the adult world around him.”

  1. £5 from Amazon
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The verdict: Uplifting novels

There’s nothing like a heart-warming, escapist novel to keep your mind off the coronavirus crisis. Choosing fiction is a matter of personal taste, but for its elegant writing and portrayal of a family facing uncertain times The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard is our top choice. If you’re looking for books to make you laugh, What Ho!: The Best of Wodehouse and Reasons to be Cheerful by Nina Stibbe are the perfect antidote to the news.

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