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This is where you will find stunning books from literary masters past and present. Literary fiction doesn’t just mean good or valued, as brilliant writing can be found in any genre. These are serious stories with high artistic qualities that strike at the heart of what it is to be human.
Beautiful, brutal and raw - I cannot praise Michael Crummey’s The Innocents highly enough. Set in an inhospitable isolated area of the Newfoundland coast in the nineteenth-century, it’s a remarkable Garden of Eden, Babes in the Wood masterwork in which we witness age-old nature-nurture conflicts ebb and flow as we observe two siblings living on the edge, in every sense. Through their poignant passages to adulthood we see humanity at its most elemental, and we’re compelled to consider what it means to become a human adult Siblings Evered and Ada have survived the loss of their mother and baby sister Martha, though Ada still hears and speaks to Martha. Now their father has died and there’s no one but them to remove his body from their home. No one but each other to ensure they survive. Equipped with very limited knowledge of the world, and facing perilous poverty, the siblings fish and cure their catch, as their father used to, but the catches come either in unmanageable excess, or not at all. They are never far from the ravages of starvation, or wild storms. As time passes, Ada and Evered derive secret knowledge from their bodies, as well as from infrequent interactions with outsiders. Once a year, men come to collect the sibling’s paltry cured fish, dropping off scant supplies as payment. Then there are chance visits from seamen surprised to find them living alone in this precarious way. The siblings assimilate new knowledge from these unexpected visitors – knowledge of brewing, hunting, history and human relationships - who in turn leave indelible marks on Ada and Evered, leaving them changed to the extent that “each in their own way was beginning to doubt their pairing was requisite to what they might want from life.” Inspired by a story the author found in local archives, this is an incredibly haunting novel – the language powerfully pure, the story uniquely thought-provoking.
From the detailed domestic scenes dappled with loss, love, hardship and hanging on, to sweeping waves of war, the rare power of Maaza Mengiste’s The Shadow King creeps up on you, catches you unaware, becomes compulsive in the manner of complex classics of the ancient world. It’s 1935 in Ethiopia and newly-orphaned Hirut is employed as a maid by an officer in Emperor Hailie Selassie’s army. In her previous life, Hirut’s father taught her to use a gun: “This, he says, you do not touch unless you are prepared. Prepared for what, she asks. He slips the bullet back into his pocket. Prepared to be something you are not.” And this is what Hirut is prepared for when Ethiopia is invaded by Mussolini’s vengeful army. Not content to merely care for the wounded, she devises a plan and rouses women to rise up and fight. As they shift from being housewives, to nurses, to warriors, their stories are haunting, harrowing and stirring, and this novel confirms Mengiste’s status as a writer blessed with lyrical bravery and unique vision. Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.
Our August 2020 Book Club Recommendation. Click here to see our Reading Group Questions. Glorious! A novel of such startling sincerity, clarity and eloquence it feels as though the narrator herself is stamped onto every page. A Room Made of Leaves is inspired by letters and documents on entrepreneur and pioneer John Macarthur and his wife Elizabeth. They left England in 1788 for New South Wales in Australia when he was posted as Lieutenant to the penal colony of Sydney Town. This is Kate Grenville’s first novel in a decade, she is the author of the 2006 Man Booker shortlisted novel The Secret River. Elizabeth narrates, headstrong and wilful she nonetheless finds she is folding herself smaller and smaller in order to not be observed. Each chapter may be short but they are full of suppressed emotion, candour, and are as compelling as can be. The chapter headings, if all joined together, would create a story in themselves. As each word, as each sentence and chapter flowers, the inner being of Elizabeth opened to allow me to see, and also feel her emotions. The cover is gorgeous and the understanding of the title when it came, made the beauty resonate all the more. Australia is obviously much loved, and I in turn loved reading between the lines of history. Unique and spirited, A Room Made of Leaves truly is a beautiful novel, it also deservedly joins our LoveReading Star Books.
An eye-opening novel that feels like a blistering, witty, understanding-of-self travel diary, and an insight into 19 year old Erin’s soul. Erin travels around the top of the globe to Alaska, as she wants to burst the image of the rugged male explorer. I saw the synopsis for The Word For Woman is Wilderness and just had to read it as I’ve been to Alaska, and read various books set there, including Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer, based on the true story of a traveler who died while trying to live off the land. Erin has read the same books, feels the same pull by the wilderness, and she has been written so beautifully by Abi Andrews that she slipped into a state of reality in my mind. I adored travelling with Erin, she took me to familiar and sometimes entirely unexpected places. It took me a little while to settle in and feel the words, the pace, the tone. I was surprised by her observations, so pithy, so huge, so spot on, it feels at times as though her thoughts have been bottled, shaken, and then explode out of her. The Word for Woman is Wilderness is a beautifully surprising, clever, startling novel and I adored it.
So incredibly entertaining, this is a novel I can read again and again. Discover adventure, betrayal, revenge and love between the pages of a drama filled belter of a read. Yes, I love this book, and it is one of my favourite classic reads.
October 2017 Book of the Month | Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017. From the imagination of the peerless Ali Smith comes a shape-shifting series, wide-ranging in timescale and light-footed through histories, and a story about ageing and time and love and stories themselves. Here comes Autumn. On being Longlisted for the Man Booker prize Ali Smith said; "A lovely surprise – I'm very very chuffed – but especially to be on this longlist, in such bloody good company". You can read an interview with her on the Man Booker website here.
Winter? Bleak. Frosty wind, earth as iron, water as stone, so the old song goes. The shortest days, the longest nights. The trees are bare and shivering. The summer's leaves? Dead litter. The world shrinks; the sap sinks. But winter makes things visible. And if there's ice, there'll be fire. In Ali Smith's Winter, lifeforce matches up to the toughest of the seasons.
An idyllic family are shattered by a phone call that reveals a terrible crime, committed years before. Alice Hoffman once again has hit gold with a story that will leave you feeling a plethora of emotions as you watch a family fall apart and the effects it has on all those around them. As always Hoffman captures the mood and atmosphere brilliantly, transporting you right in to this small sleepy town and it’s newfound problems. Highly recommended.
Set in the deep American south between the wars, this is the classic tale of Celie, a young poor black girl. Raped repeatedly by her father, she loses two children and then is married off to a man who treats her no better than a slave. She is separated from her sister Nettie and dreams of becoming like the glamorous Shug Avery, a singer and rebellious black woman who has taken charge of her own destiny. Gradually Celie discovers the support of women that enables her to leave the past behind and begin a new life. Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.
So beautifully written, the chills prowl with unexpected menace to climb inside your thoughts, to lurk and provoke. Richard and Juliette’s son Ewan died at the age of 5, Juliette, convinced that her son is still in the house turns to a group of occultists, while Richard searches for the remains of a hangman’s oak tree opposite their home Starve Acre. Andrew Michael Hurley doesn’t waste a single word, each forms a web to create a picture as he captures the essence of a thought or thing. As the story grows, as the oak planted itself in my minds eye, the unsettling force of grief came to settle over everything. I sank into this tale and couldn’t leave, reading from the deep, dark and incredibly soulful first page through to the startling last in one heady afternoon. Folklore gathers in the background, grief preys on the unsuspecting, and a compelling story unfolds. Highly recommended, I have chosen Starve Acre as one of my picks of the month, and a LoveReading Star Book.
This is considered one of her best novels and does deserve such praise. A wonderfully descriptive book, it is the attention to detail that makes this such an absorbing read, you can picture every line on each character’s face, each subtle movement that they make. Another book of love, longing and loss beautifully told.
Winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction 2002. Terrorists highjack a gathering in a small Latin American country hoping to hold hostage the President, however he had decided to stay home and so the terrorists find themselves with a group of foreign hostages as their bargaining tool. This is not a book about violence and terrorism though this is a book about a group of people thrown together in extraordinary circumstances and the relationships that develop. A Powerful, emotional, treasure of a book. A "Piece of Passion" from the publisher... Ann Patchett's novel is set in an unnamed South American country and is based on the 1996 Japanese embassy hostage crisis in Lima, Peru. Widely praised as one of the best books of 2001, Bel Canto went on to win the Orange Prize and become a bestseller – and rightly so. Patchett skilfully uses the dramatic events and a superb cast of characters to build a beautifully written novel, bursting with unexpected relationships and a wonderful sense of humour throughout.
The unnamed narrator of this remarkable novel is a vulnerable, bookish eighteen-year-old who lives in a close-knit community beset by sectarian violence. Harassed by an older man she calls Milkman, she’s compelled to keep her encounter with this sinister figure a deeply buried secret. She’s isolated, silenced, and must remain silent, and it’s this that cuttingly resonates with the #MeToo movement, and also with the situation of many teenage girls whose early experiences of womanhood all too often involve fear, shame and secrecy. Many reviews of this novel speak of its “challenging” nature, its “difficult” experimentalism, but whether a reader finds it to be “difficult” very much depends as to how one engages with the narrator. It took a little while to fall in step with her rhythm, but I found her stream-of-consciousness voice compelling and richly rewarding. Sharp on the psychology of small communities and the repercussions of inaction, and quirkily comic to boot, this is an exhaustively exceptional novel.
Longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2019 1973. Swallow's Farmhouse in deep, rural Norfolk is home to Your People, a commune of free-thinkers and poets seeking a better way. But beneath the veneer of a nurturing, alternative lifestyle, an atmosphere of jealousy and threat is pushing utopia towards the brink of its inevitable collapse. Raising herself amidst the chaos is a twelve-year-old survivor, desperately preoccupied with her transition into womanhood. With her mute sister, beloved dog and the re-defining force of her emerging appetites, she marches resolutely towards her future, venturing - with hilarious and horrifying results - through the minefield of an adult world built on hypocrisy and misplaced ideals.
February 2011 Guest Editor Carmen Reid on Anne Tyler... This wonderful American writer gets everything so right about people. She understands just what makes us tick and she observes it all so carefully. She also has a deep and lovely sense of humour. The Accidental Tourist is the perfect novel if you ask me. There’s heartbreaking sadness all the way through as irritatingly uptight, perfectionist Macon tries to come to terms with the death of his son. But then this quirky, loving dog-trainer girl, Muriel Pritchett, is just desperate to get through to him and bring him back to life. It’s so funny, so terribly sad and so true. Just genius. There’s even a Jack Russell.