The best comfort books to escape into

The Books I Picked & Why

Far from the Madding Crowd

By Thomas Hardy

Book cover of Far from the Madding Crowd

Why this book?

Comfort books for me are those you can dive into when you need to take time out from the world. I could have chosen almost any of Thomas Hardy’s books for this purpose but I love Far From the Madding Crowd with its strong, determined, but flawed, protagonist, Bathsheba Everdene. The men who court her are also finely drawn characters, each ridden by their own devils, but the one who wins her is the one who definitely deserves to triumph. Hardy uses the Wessex landscape to provide an idyllic backdrop to his dark story of love and betrayal with its many twists and turns. I remain in awe of Hardy’s skill in building plot and character while exploring timeless themes.  

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Cold Comfort Farm

By Stella Gibbons

Book cover of Cold Comfort Farm

Why this book?

We are all guilty of taking ourselves too seriously sometimes and Cold Comfort Farm never fails to make me smile. Flora Poste is an unusual and engaging heroine who finds herself in rather desperate personal circumstances but who rises to the occasion magnificently. It is in her nature to straighten out and tidy up messy situations which she does with a breezy, unflappable assurance, seeing straight into the hearts of Cold Comfort Farm’s very mixed and conflicted inhabitants. The book always conveys to me a sense of great optimism and the author’s light touch is wholly admirable. We all need a bit more of Flora Poste in us.

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Pride and Prejudice

By Jane Austen

Book cover of Pride and Prejudice

Why this book?

I also could have chosen any of Jane Austen’s works; I’ve read all of them more times than I can count, and always wished there had been more. Everything that can be said of this remarkable woman’s writing has been said, and when the world needs shutting out for a while they are for me the ultimate comfort books. Pride and Prejudice is such a simple plot but is populated by a range of compelling and believable characters so perfectly drawn that the book will remain near to the top of the nation’s favorites, as it is mine. Elizabeth Bennet is a young woman of her times but her spirit is timeless.  

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Mothering Sunday: A Romance

By Graham Swift

Book cover of Mothering Sunday: A Romance

Why this book?

Sometimes you just need a slow-paced and exquisitely written book to disappear into and admire, and Mothering Sunday is one of those for me. Every word has been carefully chosen, every moment perfectly honed to its purpose, and the dawning realization of where the story is heading is packed full of the anguish and deep sorrow of its time (immediately post WW1). It is a beautiful book and a sad book, but it is not without hope and conveys perfectly to me a sense of acceptance and the need for resilience.

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Frenchman's Creek

By Daphne du Maurier

Book cover of Frenchman's Creek

Why this book?

I grew up reading Daphne du Maurier’s books and loving them. Rebecca is, of course, her triumph but I started with Jamaica Inn and Frenchman’s Creek. Frenchman’s Creek has to be the perfect escape book. Who, after all, would not wish to be Dona St Columb and make such a courageous bolt for freedom onto the high seas, with a handsome pirate beside her and the wind whipping through her hair? It is much more than an improbable romance, of course, as du Maurier was expressing in this rollicking tale a need we all feel from time to time to break all the rules, taste freedom, and the tang of saltwater on our lips. We might not all manage it as superbly as Dona, but we all can dream.  

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