Here’s Some Literary Prozac To Cheer Up This Horrendous Month

Say 'screw you' to the January blues by diving into some spirit-lifting literature... Photographs by Trey Wright


by Phoebe Frangoul |
Published on

When I'm worried or sad, stressed or annoyed, whether it’s trivial stuff that's bothering me or the big, bad things in life, I reach for a trusty novel. Finding a totally absorbing book is an amazing way to switch off your brain, whether it’s for a few minutes while your face is shoved in someone's armpit on the tube, or for a few hours on a Sunday afternoon*. Books can transport you to different times and places, offering glamour, adventure and escapism or comfort and wisdom. Also, unlike magazines, they don't make you want to buy loads of stuff – helpful in the post-Christmas overdraft Armageddon. So here are my literary prescriptions to get you through the bleakest month...

Nancy Mitford: The Pursuit of Love


Nancy was one of the (in)famous Mitford sisters who counted a Nazi, a communist and a Duchess among their number. Her books are wickedly funny as well and smart with life lessons disguised in spoonfuls of sugar. The Pursuit of Love brought her fame and fortune which she spent on Dior dresses. A lightly fictionalised account of her own eccentric, aristocratic family, it follows the romantic adventures of Linda Radlett from the English countryside to London, a refugee camp in Spain and glittering Paris. Scandalous, funny and occasionally heartbreaking, this is the ultimate example of chick lit with spirit and soul.

Jilly Cooper, Riders


Forget Fifty Shades, give us Jilly Cooper's good old fashioned rumpy-pumpy any day. Riders is the original and the best bonkbuster and whether it’s your first time (fnarr) or you're a Jilly disciple, it's a sheer joy. The sex scenes are raunchy, sweaty and sometimes downright hilarious – one al fresco session features a lolzy encounter with a patch of stinging nettles. Reading it as a 'grown-up' (rather than guilty illicit speed-reading on Guide camp), you can appreciate how Jilly's skill as a writer lies in her realism – she writes fearlessly about periods and diets – a refreshing change to the coy, sanitised state of modern 'sexy books.' And Rupert Campbell-Black is the sexiest scoundrel in fiction, bar none.

Agatha Christie: One, Two, Buckle My Shoe


All Agatha Christies are fantastic blues-banishers, but this one is particularly good thanks to its ridiculously complicated plot (I’ve read it countless times and still can’t keep up with all the twists and turns) and the gruesome details. It’s as if Agatha’s reaching out from the page saying “Hey, at least you’re not a badly decomposing body that’s been stuffed in a trunk, right? Look on the bright side!” One, Two, Buckle My Shoe features the death of a dentist, global financiers and Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts – all in a day’s work for Hercule Poirot, who, as always, brings the murderer to justice. Most satisfying, unlike real life.

Alicia Drake: The Beautiful Fall


If fashion is your thing, plunge into the fabulous, decadent world of 1970s Paris when Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld ruled the city with their respective glossy posses.* The Beautiful Fall* tells the fascinating stories of these two titanic designers, from their roots as small town boys through their rise to the top of the fashion tree. Packed with gorgeous photographs and wicked anecdotes about Yves, Karl and their coterie of glamorous girls and boys (Betty Catroux, Loulou de la Falaise, Jerry Hall and chums), this is the ultimate fashion fairytale to while away a bleak Saturday afternoon.

Miss Read: Village Diary


The books in Miss Read’s Village School series are all snort-out-loud funny and wonderfully comforting. Told from the point of view of a village school headmistress (who makes being a spinster look cool rather than a fate worse than death), they depict life in a typical rural community and all the glories of the English countryside. If you live in the city surrounded by concrete and pigeons, these books are a breath of smog-free air. Miss Read doesn’t shy away from the dark side of village life – poverty, violence and loneliness all feature – but good usually triumphs and the eternal cycle of the seasons is a useful reminder that whatever trouble you’re dealing with, time will pass and you’ll be fine.

Jane Austen, Persuasion


I will always be grateful to Jane Austen for writing Persuasion – her last, and most moving novel. The story of Anne Elliot, a sympathetic heroine if ever there was one, is set against the background of Georgian society in Bath, upon which Austen unleashes the full force of her satirical pen. Unlike the slightly chocolate-boxy film and TV adaptations of her books, Jane Austen’s sharp, ironic writing reveals the constraints that bound young women in her time – how suffocating life could be if you had brains and passion. Persuasion gives hope to geeky girls everywhere that they’re right to stay true to themselves, they shouldn’t change for any man, and ultimately they’ll find one worthy of them (but even if they don’t they’ll still be fine). SOB.

**Dodie Smith, I Capture The Castle **


If ever a writer managed to make having no money look chic, it’s Dodie Smith with her much-loved novel, I Capture the Castle. This coming-of-age story is told from the point of view of Cassandra Mortmain, a teenage girl living with her eccentric family in genteel poverty in a crumbling castle in the countryside. Cassandra is a bookworm with literary aspirations – in other words, a girl after our own hearts. There are lots of literary and pop-culture references and romantic complications, which makes it feel a little like an English, 1930’s version of Gilmore Girls – in other words, absolutely brilliant.

Nora Ephron, The Most Of Nora Ephron


Think of Nora Ephron like the ultimate wise auntie – able to dispense advice about whatever crisis you’re experiencing with wit and warmth. The Most Of Nora Ephron is a collection of the legendary screenwriter and journalist’s essays, dealing with topics from feminism and politics to love, sex, death and divorce. Nora Ephron had a genius for turning even the most humiliating, painful experience into dark, wickedly funny writing – blog posts, books, plays and films like When Harry Met Sally... Without her we would not have Lena Dunham and Caitlin Moran so consider this book both history lesson and celebration of the brilliance of women’s writing.

*clearly I mean Saturday night because January is all about being broke, sober and sad amiright?

**Like this? Then you might also be interested in: **

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How To Write A Book While Still Working Five Days A Week

Books To Panic Read Before The Films Come Out

Follow Phoebe On Twitter: @Pheobefrangoul

Photographs: Trey Wright

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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