From novels that explore the passing of time to festive Dickensian tales, these are your favourite books to return to in the colder, darker months


Publication date and time: Published

‘Winter’, Ali Smith writes, within her Booker Prize-nominated Seasonal Quartet, is ‘an exercise in remembering how to still yourself then how to come pliantly back to life again’. Notoriously the toughest of seasons, it’s during this time of ‘stillness’ when many of us return to the familiar, to guide us through the coldest months. 

When we asked our readers to recommend their favourite books to read throughout winter (if you, like us, reside in the Northern Hemisphere), they shared this sentiment. Their chosen books inspire reflection and renewal; they are stories of memory and time, all of which invite a well-needed pause. These are novels to return to year after year.

So here we present your favourite wintry reads from the Booker Library, a selection which will offer comfort and companionship during the long, dark nights that the season brings.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years, and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe oppose him. Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell. Son of a brutal blacksmith, Cromwell is a political genius, a briber, a bully and a charmer. He has broken all the rules of a rigid society in his rise to power, and is prepared to break some more. The winner of the Booker Prize 2009 peels back history to explore the rich intersection of individual psychology and wider politics in Tudor England.

What our readers said: ‘This whole series seems to be set in perpetual winter. Despite the content, it’s a very cosy, engrossing series. Mantel so effectively brings you into her world that reading these feels like an all-around escape into 16th century England.’

Hayleigh, Substack

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

It is 1985, in an Irish town. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, Bill Furlong, a coal and timber merchant, faces his busiest season. As he does the rounds, he feels the past rising up to meet him – and encounters the complicit silences of a small community controlled by the Church. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2022, Claire Keegan’s tender tale of hope and quiet heroism is both a celebration of compassion and a stern rebuke of the sins committed in the name of religion.

What our readers said: ‘Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan has become my annual holiday read. The beautifully constructed story of a man who struggles to do the right thing in the face of community opposition is a warm portrait of love and family and being human.’

lokroma2, Substack

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

10 minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World by Elif Shafak

For Leila, each minute after her death brings a sensuous memory. Each memory, too, recalls the friends she made at each key moment in her life – friends who are now desperately trying to find her. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2019, this is an intensely beautiful and haunting novel from Elif Shafak about the wonder of life, the mystery of death and the strange space in between. 

What our readers said: ‘Elif Shafak’s 10 minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World is a favourite winter warmer. The devotion of friends warms the heart and inspires the reader to deepen and appreciate our own friendships.’

Liz Taylor, Substack

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World

The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch

Charles Arrowby, leading light of England’s theatrical set, retires from glittering London to an isolated home by the sea. He plans to write a memoir about his great love affair, but his plans fail, and his memoir evolves into a riveting chronicle of strange events and unexpected visitors – some real, some spectral – that disrupt his world and shake his oversized ego to its very core. This was one of 26 novels Murdoch wrote throughout her glittering career, and it won the Booker Prize in 1978

What our readers said: ‘Murdoch’s novel is about ageing and memory, and the past, something we also are returned to, as the year ends.’

Jean Fernandez, Substack

The Sea, The Sea, by Iris Murdoch

Drive Your Plow Over The Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones

In a remote village in south-west Poland, an eccentric woman in her 60s describes the events surrounding the disappearance of her two dogs. When members of a local hunting club are subsequently found murdered, she becomes involved in the investigation. Olga Tokarczuk’s subversive, entertaining neo-noir is both gripping and thought-provoking, and anything but a conventional crime novel. It was shortlisted for the International Booker Prize in 2019, just one year after she won with her novel Flights

What our readers said: ‘Our book club in Warsaw is made up of women from all over the world. We are reading Olga Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead. Every member is enjoying the book in her native language. Beautifully written, and mostly taking place during Poland’s very cold winter.’

Carole Reiss, Substack

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead

Possession by A. S. Byatt

In A. S. Byatt’s winner of the 1990 Booker Prize, Maud Bailey is a scholar researching the life and work of her distant relative, a 19th-century poet named Christabel LaMotte. Roland Mitchell is looking into a moment in the life of another Victorian poet, the celebrated Randolph Henry Ash. Together, they uncover a dark secret: though apparently happily married, Ash conducted a torrid affair with LaMotte. As Maud and Roland dig deeper, they too find themselves falling in love. 

What our readers said: ‘A luscious tour de force that satisfies me every time. It’s beautifully written, the characters are memorable, the layered past-and-present story never fails to move me, and I find something new in it every time.’

Ellen D. Murphy, Substack

Possession by AS Byatt

The Birthday Party by Laurent Mauvignier, translated by Daniel Levin Becker

Buried deep in rural France, little remains of the isolated hamlet of the Three Lone Girls, save a few houses. Then inexplicable events start to disrupt the hamlet’s quiet existence: anonymous, menacing letters, an unfamiliar car rolling up the driveway. And as night falls, strangers stalk the houses, unleashing a nightmarish chain of events. Longlisted for the International Booker Prize 2023.

What our readers said: ‘While the story unfolds, you will feel like a strong winter current is passing through your brain, chilling you to the bone and making you think.’

Endri, Substack

The Birthday Party by Laurent Mauvignier

The Bone People by Keri Hulme

One New Zealand night, artist in exile Kerewin’s solitude is disrupted by a visitor – a speechless, mercurial boy named Simon, who tries to steal from her and then repays her with his most precious possession. As Kerewin succumbs to Simon’s feral charms, she also falls under the spell of his Maori foster father Joe, who rescued the boy from a shipwreck and now treats him with an unsettling mixture of tenderness and brutality. Keri Hulme’s 1985 Booker Prize-winning novel is a story of love and violence that reckons with the clash between Māori and European cultures. 

What our readers said: ‘My Christmas pudding burnt while I was engrossed in The Bone People.’

Lorna, Substack

The Bone People by Keri Hulme

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

A quintessential ghost story where things go bump in the night from within the crumbling Hundreds Hall. Within the fading grandeur of their estate, the Ayres family seem to be haunted by a malevolent presence. Waters escalates tension as we unravel the sinister secrets of the house and the family. Like many great ghost stories, much of The Little Stranger’s terror is psychological rather than physical, and it’s this suffocating sense of disquiet that consumes the family from within, where the novel thrives. It was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2009.

What our readers said: ‘The perfect novel for winter evenings.’

Moira Waugh, Substack

The Little Stranger

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

At the end of his three decades of service at Darlington Hall, Stevens embarks on a country drive, during which he looks back over his career to reassure himself that he has served humanity by serving ‘a great gentleman.’ But lurking in his memory are doubts about the true nature of Lord Darlington’s ‘greatness’ – and graver doubts about his own faith in the man he has served. Kazuo Ishiguro’s moving portrait of the perfect English butler, his loyalty and his fading, insular world in post-war England won the Booker Prize in 1989

What our readers said: ‘I’ve read it three or four times and each time it gives me more to think about. Ageing, fascism, love, regret, class. I could go on. It’s my all-time favourite novel.’

Claire, Substack

The Remains of the Day

The Sea by John Banville

Led back to Ballyless by a dream, Max Morden returns to the coastal town where he spent a holiday in his youth. The Grace family appeared as if from another world. Drawn to the twins, Chloe and Myles, Max soon found himself entangled in their lives, which were as seductive as they were unsettling. What ensued haunts him for the rest of his years and shapes everything that is to follow. John Banville’s haunting and evocative novel won the Booker Prize in 2005

What our readers said: ‘Sumptuous prose, wonderful imagery and such bittersweetness.’

Philip Hymas, Substack

The Sea by John Banville

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

A lawyer’s letter throws one man’s whole life into question when his past finally catches up with him. Barnes’ powerful exploration of the subjectivity of memory is intricately pieced together, while written with the pin-sharp concision of a writer at the top of his game. The Sense of an Ending was Barnes’ fourth nomination for the Booker, which won the 2011 Booker Prize. 

What our readers said: ‘It explores the dance among memories, time, and creative recollections.’

Oluseyi Akinyode, Substack

The Sense of an Ending

The Public Image by Muriel Spark

A rising movie star begins to believe in her own meticulously manufactured public image in Muriel Spark’s cautionary tale of fame and identity. Up-and-coming star Annabel Christopher carefully cultivates her public image. But she then makes the fatal mistake of actually believing in it. This crucial error and her embittered husband, a spectacularly unsuccessful actor, catch up with her, and her final act is only the first shocking climax. Further surprises await in Spark’s 1969 Booker Prize-shortlisted novel. 

What our readers said: ‘Because smiling is warming.’

Louis, Substack

The Public Image by Muriel Spark

Milkman by Anna Burns

In this unnamed city, to be interesting is dangerous. Middle sister is busy attempting to keep her mother from discovering her maybe-boyfriend and to keep everyone in the dark about her encounter with Milkman. But when first brother-in-law sniffs out her struggle, and rumours start to swell, middle sister becomes ‘interesting’. The last thing she ever wanted to be. To be interesting is to be noticed and to be noticed is dangerous. Anna Burns 2018 Booker Prize winner is the story of inaction with enormous consequences.

What our readers said:Milkman by Anna Burns, with special reference to learning to see the sky. As good as a great sunset.’

Ben Phillips, Substack


Some of our readers’ answers have been edited or abridged for clarity. 

Milkman by Anna Burns