Often times, books have a way of transporting us. Sometimes, it is to an alternative world where the characters or plot resemble nothing in your life. Other times, they can lead you right back to a specific moment in your past, making you yearn sentimentally for that former time or place.
Sometimes, it is the nostalgia faced by the characters within the story itself that has the means to make you feel empathetic and wistful, right alongside them.
We’ve rounded up our five nostalgic picks for when you’re feeling like a little escape from the present.
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
“What lingered after them was not life, which always overcomes natural death, but the most trivial of mundane facts: a clock ticking on a wall, a room dim at noon, and the outrageousness of a human being thinking only of herself.”
Author Jeffrey Eugenides debut novel, The Virgin Suicides, is the eerily nostalgic story of the lives of the five entrancing Lisbon sisters, told through the memories of the neighbourhood boys who worshipped them.
Following the suicide of the youngest sister, the Lisbon parents keep a close watch on the remaining daughters, isolating and alienating them from the community, all while creating a further air of mystery surrounding the girls. With limited contact, the boys study the Lisbon girls from afar with an infatuated curiousity, only to experience the deep tragedy of their eventual suicides.
The boys’ recounting of the Lisbon girls is hauntingly beautiful, steeped with a sentimentality and longing of young love and lust lost with the deaths of the five sisters.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
A classic of twentieth century literature, The Great Gatsby, is a story largely focused on the charismatic and equally enigmatic Jay Gatsby and his obsession with Daisy Buchanan. Gatsby fell in love with a young Daisy after a chance meeting in the years earlier. It seems Gatsby, ever the dreamer, cannot be fulfilled unless he can return to the time that he shared with Daisy upon their first meeting and the subsequent feelings that ensued. “‘Can’t repeat the past?’ cries Gatsby. ‘Why of course you can!’”
Each character in the novel experiences moments of deep nostalgia, but they are especially prevalent with Gatsby, with his disillusioned image of old love. Fitzgerald’s language is vivid and lively, all the while weaving the heart-wrenching wistfulness and tragic tale between Gatsby and his beloved Daisy.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
“We both felt deep down some tug, some old wish to believe again in something that was once close to our hearts.”
Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students and friends who grew up together at an exclusive and seemingly perfect boarding school in the English countryside. Their purpose in life, and in their particular upbringing within the school, was revealed to them as they matured and moved to an off-campus residential complex where they began to have contact with the outside world.
The novel is narrated by Kathy, now an adult and a carer who looks after donors – fellow students whose purpose in their shortened lives is to provide organs to others. In adulthood, Kathy spends the majority of her time not looking forward to the future, but reminiscing about her childhood, her memories gaining a deepened importance only in hindsight.
While the prose is simple, Ishiguro spins an engrossing and revealing story, a dystopian fiction piece that heavily relies on Kathy’s memories to bring back a hazy wistfulness and an escape from the present reality.
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
“Death really did not matter to him but life did, and therefore the sensation he felt when they gave their decision was not a feeling of fear but of nostalgia.”
Gabriel García Márquez’s most famous novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, is the dreamy tale of seven generations of the Buendía family in the isolated town of Macondo. With the story spanning more than a century over the course the book, Márquez delves into the characters, their lives, and their memories.
Many of the novel’s characters acknowledge the heavy weight of their nostalgia, and to some, their remembrance of the past encourages them to shut out the present. Living through constant longing for better days since passed considerably affects the present, as the characters are unable to move toward an ever changing present.
The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger
“The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody’d move… Nobody’d be different. The only thing that would be different would be you.”
Another classic novel on the list, this time of teenage angst, focusing on a native New Yorker teen, Holden Caulfield. Holden vehemently rebels against maturity, as he fears the necessary changes of growing up, often fearing that it will ruin his individuality as a person, along with his morals. With that, he is often reflecting on and obsessing over the past.
Holden’s visits to the Natural History museum served as a symbol to his nostalgia, because despite the inevitable changes in his life, he could visit the museum and it was always the static and stagnant. With his attempts to thwart his inevitable maturity, the museum embodied the memories of his childhood, a frozen image and secure place that he could always go back to. Filled with profound yet subtle metaphors, perhaps Catcher In The Rye will make you yearn for your own youth.