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Books

Top 5 books about lonely lives

Andrew Mulligan, author of Train Man, considers literary character left alone.

The Accidental Tourist

by Anne Tyler

A man goes slowly mad as trusted relationships run out of steam. The beauty of the novel is that we realise he’s disintegrating; he doesn’t.

Under the Volcano

by Malcolm Lowry

Reading this is like climbing a volcano. It’s not easy, and I tried and failed several times. One you’re in, though – you’re in. There is no book on alcoholism like it: you approach the crater, and look right down into the inferno.

Carrie’s War

by Nina Bawden

A 1970s children’s chestnut. Carrie is an evacuee, sent to a tiny village in Wales. Her war is not about bombs and the Home Guard: it’s the conflict of terminally isolated, troubled adults who have made a hell for themselves. It’s a glorious, wise book.

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The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

by John Boyne

Another seminal, so-called children’s book. Young Bruno is moving to Poland in 1939. His dad’s got a fabulous new job, running a Nazi death-camp – and Bruno has no idea what’s going on. It’s about children reaching through their isolation, in a context of chilling, rising horror.

A House for Mr Biswas

by VS Naipaul

Apparently Naipaul came to hate his masterpiece and most accessible book, Dickensian in its sweep. The setting is Trinidad; we follow a family man who’s simply trying to build a house for his family. His constant failures allow us into a world of rivalry, pettiness and stifling tradition. Failure, however, is the launch pad to triumph. I read it every year.

Andrew Mulligan’s Train Man is out now (Chatto & Windus, £12.99)

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