Themes of Isolation in our collection

Emilie was on placement with us in the spring and has just finished writing her dissertation for her MSc in Information and Library Studies at Strathclyde on the language used in “Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion” documents in the UK library profession. 

In this post she shares how several books borrowed from GWL’s lending library cover the theme of isolation. Today she feels less isolated by deep friendships, near and far, and through reading the books in the mystery bundle she recently picked up from GWL! (find out more about our mystery bundles and “Select and Collect” service here)


At the beginning of lockdown, I’d borrowed several books from GWL and have a few notes of the different varieties of isolation those books all seemed to describe, some of which I can relate to and some of which I really cannot, but still they helped me feel a little less alone: 

Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith

Living alone with an abusive uncle

Forced to wear gloves

Strict routines

Confined spaces: prisons, the psychiatric hospital

“I will do anything, now, to bring an end to our long wait.” (pg 297)


Marge Piercy’s Vida:

Hiding “underground”


Code names

Long phone calls

Time zones and time differences 

“For an instant in a blur of fatigue Vida was scared, a hot finger on her heart, thinking “you people” meant fugitives.” (pg 170) 


Toni Morrisons’ Paradise

Desert expanse

Empty house

Solitary town


Safety in exclusion

“They grin and yip but look at no one.” (pg 157) 


Zadie Smith’s NW:

Alone with your own mind and your decisions

“I am the sole author.” (pg 186)

Lonely in a large city

“She had been asked to pass the entirety of herself through a hole that would accept only part.” (pg 186) 


Jean Rhys’ Quartet:

Alone in a new city 

Alone in a new country


Limited connections 

Stressful dependency 

“They walked home along the street…empty, silent, and enchanted in the darkness.” (pg 69) 


I also began to notice with shock how quickly my subconscious was normalizing practices that had become relative norms in my life rather recently (face masks, staying in smaller groups, maintaining a 2 metres distance, etc.) by projecting them onto the films and television I watched. It’s rare you can almost immediately visualize such a historic and cultural shift. Why are those two characters hugging?! They are leaving the house without masks?! This created a tension in me of feeling both less lonely by being more personally involved in the media I watched, looking out for themes I could relate to and judging how they are approaching the pandemic, to also feeling even more isolated in my own experience of the pandemic confirmed by the fact that no one in the show or film was following any guidelines at all nor was the pandemic a major disruption in their life. 


One Comment

  • Posted 30th September, 2020 at 9:08 pm | Permalink
    Angela McG

    I understand the feeling of panic, and some disapproval also, when watching TV and seeing people not social distancing for example. I think that seeing so many people on TV not doing that makes it harder for everybody because there are no models of what to do and how to behave, which is hard enough to do anyway. I think that’s called cognitive dissonance, but for me, it’s a physical difficulty as well – how far is 2 metres? How does it feel? Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings.

Post a Comment

Your email is kept private. Required fields are marked *


You may use some HTML tags and attributes.