Book clinic: what contemporary literary fiction is uplifting?

From tales of older people achieving extraordinary things to a redemptive quest, our expert picks titles that offer hope

Q: Is there any modern literary fiction that isn’t completely depressing? I read quite a bit but I end up picking up depressing book after depressing book and sometimes life calls for something a bit more uplifting.
Anonymous biologist, 23, Seattle, Washington, US

A: Alex Preston, author and critic, writes:
It’s perhaps a response to the ghastliness of the political climate, the fractures and fragmentation that surround us, but there’s currently a real boom in exactly the kind of book you’re looking for. It seems we no longer want to trudge through misery memoirs or dark Gone Girl-ish thrillers. We want books that are beacons, that tell us we’re not alone and offer hope. The movement now known as “up lit” – uplifting literature – can be traced back to a couple of surprise bestsellers a few years back: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce and The Hundred-Year-Old Man… by Jonas Jonasson, both stories about older people achieving extraordinary things, both treading carefully the line between strong emotion and sentimentality. Joyce’s novel is the better of the two and would be a good place to start.

Gail Honeyman is the current queen of up lit – her Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is a joyful tale of loneliness and eccentricity, love and friendship. See also Matt Haig’s gorgeous How to Stop Time, Jean Kwok’s wonderful Girl in Translation, and AL Kennedy’s Le Petit Prince-inspired The Little Snake.

I’ll leave you, though, with George Saunders, whose novel Lincoln in the Bardo may take as its subject a tragedy – the death of the president’s son – but don’t let that fool you. This is a heart-repairing book of wisdom, forgiveness and compassion.

Submit your question for Book Clinic below or email


Alex Preston

The GuardianTramp

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