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Mike Gayle Recommends 5 Great Books to Read If You're Feeling Lonely

Posted on 29th January 2021 by Waterstones

In his latest book All the Lonely People, the bestselling author Mike Gayle offers gentle and humorous observations on ageing, race and the bonds of friendship and family through the moving story of a Bromley-dwelling widower. In this exclusive piece, Gayle talks about his novel and recommends five great reads that explore being on your own from different perspectives.

‘All the lonely people,’ mused Paul McCartney on Eleanor Rigby, ‘where do they all come from?’ I’m sure we’ve all experienced periods in our own lives when we’ve felt lonely. Perhaps when we’ve moved to a new town, or started a new job or at the end of a relationship. For most of us that sense of loneliness and isolation is mercifully short-lived. I wanted to explore some of the issues and situations which lead to people becoming chronically lonely for a very long time. How can it be that people who once had full lives can end up so alone? And what, if anything, can we do about the problem of loneliness when the rise of technology seems increasingly to be pushing us further away from each other? All The Lonely People, the story of Hubert Bird, an 84-year-old Jamaican widower living in Bromley, is my attempt to explore some of these questions.

When we first meet Hubert, aside from his cat, Puss, he has no one at all to talk to and days go by without him seeing a single soul. How did his life end up this way? How did he come to be so isolated? In the book we find out the answer to this question through flashbacks, beginning with Hubert’s arrival in England from Jamaica in 1957 as a fresh-faced young man and following his journey across the next six decades - years full of hardship and struggle, but also fun, love and laughter too. As well as charting Hubert’s journey I also wanted to consider what, if anything, can be done about the wider issue of loneliness too. For Hubert it’s his daughter’s imminent return from Australia and an encounter with his new next-door neighbour which pushe him to re-engage with a world he has long since turned his back on. I wanted to show that while it might be difficult to get back out into the world, it’s not impossible, and with the right support, love and encouragement it’s never too late to turn one’s life around. Ultimately All The Lonely People is a hopeful book, about love, life, and what happens when we open ourselves up to the possibility of a brighter day.

How to Be Alone by Sara Maitland

Maitland’s wonderful book is the perfect starting place for those wanting to reframe ideas about loneliness and solitude. Short and sweet, it’s the sort of book you can read in a single afternoon and will want to return to often.

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Exploring how attitudes towards being alone have changed throughout history and offering a powerful antidote to the fear of loneliness, Maitland’s beautifully argued work offers new approaches to solitude.
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Unreliable Memoirs by Clive James 

Not necessarily about loneliness per se but James’ memoir is hands down one of the funniest most life affirming books in existence and worth reading if only for the story about go-karts.

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Guaranteed to generate guffaws, the great Clive James’s first volume of what became a five-part memoir begins in Australia in 1939 and concludes as he embarks on his broadcasting career in London.
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Solitude by Anthony Storr 

In this wonderful book acclaimed psychiatrist Dr Anthony Storr explores the psychological value of spending time alone, reminding us that just as all who wander might not be lost perhaps all who are alone might not be lonely.

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Exploring the relationship between solitary reflection and creativity, Storr’s bestselling book is an inspiring meditation on finding contentment and calm in your own company.
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Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte 

Not just a set text for English A level students but the perfect novel to get lost in. Full of love, obsession, brooding and romance.

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Detailing Cathy and Heathcliff’s self-destructive relationship amidst the wild, feral atmosphere of the Yorkshire moors, Emily Bronte’s sole published novel evokes the violence of doomed romance like no other work of literature.
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Naïve. Super by Erlend Loe 

A little bit Salingeresque, perhaps best described as the novel equivalent of a shambling late eighties indie band, Naïve. Super is about a 25-year-old university drop-out looking for the meaning of life and in spite, or perhaps because of this, is the perfect comfort read.

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Fiendishly funny and deeply moving, Loe’s tale about a list-writing, dewy-eyed university drop-out who lands at his brother’s flat in New York is a pitch-perfect portrait of the beauty and pain of youth.
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