The tree is down. The kids are due back at school. Outside, it’s bleak and grey. These are the weeks when super-rich celebrities migrate to the Caribbean to be pictured cavorting against a sun-drenched, palm-fringed backdrop of turquoise sea and vanilla sugar sand.

And what of the rest of us? To what do we have to look forward in Dry January? Turnips being in season? A tax bill, perhaps?

Assuming a flight to Barbados is not forthcoming, I would advise sitting this month out.

Hunker down, curl up and indulge in some armchair escapism.

The best novel I have read recently is Normal People by Sally Rooney. I am by no means alone in thinking this: the young author’s second novel was Waterstones’ Book of the Year and the star turn of most end-of-2018 literary round-ups.

The coming-of-age love story of Irish teenagers Marianne and Connell is a deft, thoughtful study of social class and of contemporary sexual mores. It starts in 2011, during Connell and Marianne’s final years at school, where both are star pupils, but he is popular and she a bullied social misfit.


Outside school, the two are in one another’s orbit: Connell’s single mother, Lorraine, is Marianne’s wealthy, widowed mum’s cleaner.

At Trinity College Dublin, Marianne moves with social ease, while Connell struggles socially.

I read it like a moony teenager, itching to be with its vulnerable, fallible characters every second I was duty-bound to be elsewhere.

Charles Dickens wrote two great coming-of-age novels in Great Expectations and his most autobiographical, David Copperfield, in which the first-person narrator hero becomes an author.

Another big read, which has Dickensian sweep, characterisation and humour, is John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies. Like Rooney’s novel, it showcases Dublin. It revisits the life of adoptee Cyril Avery every seven years, striving to be not just his coming-of-age story, but that of modern Ireland.

Take yourself on an epic trip this month, with none of the guilt over air miles.

-Patricia Nicol for Daily Mail