Book clinic: Can you recommend utopian novels for these dystopian times?

We recommend novels that reveal the kindness of strangers and leave you with a sense of hope

Q: Can you recommend any good utopian novels for these dystopian times?
Rene Hofmann, 54, Switzerland

Author and Observer book critic Hannah Beckerman writes:

I hear you, Rene. If ever there were a time we needed literature to remind us that humanity can be replete with goodness, this is it.

The obvious place to start would be to return to the classics: Plato’s Republic or Thomas More’s Utopia. But I’d suggest it would be more helpful to take a look at some contemporary novels that remind us, in these often bleak political times, that there is still kindness, compassion and optimism in the world.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there has been a trend in recent years for novels that celebrate the best of humanity. Rachel Joyce’s 2012 novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, tells the story of one man’s journey and the community he creates along the way. It’s a beautifully written, feelgood book, which was longlisted for the Booker prize and became an international bestseller.

In a similar vein, take a look at The Trouble With Goats and Sheep, written by Joanna Cannon, a former psychiatrist with a keen eye for the nuances of human relationships, and Gail Honeyman’s smash hit Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, both novels dealing with the kindness of relative strangers, and the discovery of community in unexpected places.

Children’s books are always a good reminder that there is much to be hopeful about: a quick reread of Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach, The BFG or Matilda will soon cure even the most despairing reader of any lingering pessimism.

And if you feel the need to travel out of this world altogether (and who, quite frankly, could blame you), you could try Iain M Banks’s Culture series: not everyone in Banks’s interstellar world lives a utopian life, but enough characters do to leave you with a sense of hope that it might just be possible in our world too.

Submit your question below or email


Hannah Beckerman

The GuardianTramp

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