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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.
Step into another world, just on the edge of existence, a fairy tale if you will, but somehow sharper, more vivid, and quite startling as it draws on folklore and oh so human qualities and reactions. On a remote island called Neverness exists a village, we hear the story of the villagers, separate, together, living with and alongside a spellbinding natural world. The author Zoe Gilbert was the winner of the 2014 Costa Short Story Award and this is her debut novel. Each chapter is a story in its own right, yet each leads to the next and the next to make one complete tale. This is a book that tested, pushed and pulled me, as it speared my attention and hurled it aloft. I felt, really felt so many emotions, from deep aching sadness, to bounding wonder, through to discovering warm love in unexpected places. Zoe Gilbert has created a place apart, simple, wild, and stunningly beautifully yet be warned, it has a ferocious bite. If you look, really focus straight ahead, then take your thoughts to the corner of your eye and feel there, just behind you, you may just see a glimpse of Neverness. Or you could settle down, and allow Zoe Gilbert to guide you into a breathtaking world. Folk is one of my picks of the month and I have fallen rather deeply in love with it!
Longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2019 When your mother considers another country home, it's hard to know where you belong. When the people you live among can't pronounce your name, it's hard to know exactly who you are. And when your body no longer feels like your own, it's hard to understand your place in the world. This is a novel of growing up between cultures, of finding your space within them and of learning to live in a traumatized body. Our stubborn archivist tells her story through history, through family conversations, through the eyes of her mother, her grandmother and her aunt and slowly she begins to emerge into the world, defining her own sense of identity.
Winner of the Man Booker Prize 2002. Pi’s family is moving their zoo when the boat sinks and 16-year old Pi is left afloat in a lifeboat with four animals that includes a tiger. Up to that point the book is slow to get into but persevere for this unique work is stunning. It’s brutal, hopeful, humorous, philosophical, almost implausible and yet strangely believable. A tale that will remain with you for a very long time and deserves another read. Comparison: Mark Haddon (The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night-Time), Audrey Niffenegger (The Time Traveler’s Wife), Aravind Adiga (The White Tiger). The Life of Pi is now a major motion picture from Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee and opens in the UK on 20 December 2012.
If you know Vanity Fair then the name Becky Sharp will immediately conjure images of a ruthless, immoral, and selfish social climber, and one of literatures most fascinating characters. At the time she was one of the first female leads and for her to be so ambitious and manipulative, well! Thackeray wrote a novel with flawed characters, cutting social commentary, along with the reality of being human and existing in a not so perfect world.
March 2011 Guest Editor Robert Goddard on The Woman in White... There’s just such a lot to enjoy and admire in this ground-breaking work of mystery and suspense. It was one of my inspirations for trying my hand at novel-writing in the first place. When The Woman in White was published in 1860, it was an instant success. No-one else had ever dared to cram quite so much intrigue into a plot, not least because it’s an extremely difficult thing to do. But Collins brushes the difficulty aside, throws in memorable characters and carries the whole thing off with the aplomb of the master he was. Genius! __________________________________________ Turn mobile detective with the hidden object puzzler. Developed by Freeze Tag Inc. Woman in White has been adapted from Wilkie Collins’ 19th century novel and is available to download now from the App Store, priced £0.69 for iPhone®/iPod® touch and £1.99 for iPad® HD. Just click the button below.
A formally innovative work of modernist fiction, Virginia Woolf's The Waves is edited with an introduction by Kate Flint in Penguin Modern Classics. More than any of Virginia Woolf's other novels, The Waves conveys the full complexity and richness of human experience. Tracing the lives of a group of friends, The Waves follows their development from childhood to youth and middle age. While social events, individual achievements and disappointments form its narrative, the novel is most remarkable for the rich poetic language that expresses the inner life of its characters: their aspirations, their triumphs and regrets, their awareness of unity and isolation. Separately and together, they query the relationship of past to present, and the meaning of life itself. Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) is regarded as a major 20th century author and essayist, a key figure in literary history as a feminist and modernist, and the centre of 'The Bloomsbury Group'. This informal collective of artists and writers, which included Lytton Strachey and Roger Fry, exerted a powerful influence over early twentieth-century British culture. Between 1925 and 1931 Virginia Woolf produced what are now regarded as her finest masterpieces, from Mrs Dalloway (1925) to the poetic and highly experimental novel The Waves (1931). She also maintained an astonishing output of literary criticism, short fiction, journalism and biography, including the playfully subversive Orlando (1928) and A Room of One's Own (1929) a passionate feminist essay. If you enjoyed The Waves, you might like Woolf's Mrs Dalloway, also available in Penguin Classics. 'A book of great beauty and a prose poem of genius' Stephen Spender 'Full of sensuous touches ... the sounds of her words can be velvet on the page' Maggie Gee, Daily Telegraph
One of One of Will Self's favourite books. On a June morning in 1923, Clarissa Dalloway is preparing for a party and remembering her past. Elsewhere in London, Septimus Smith is suffering from shell-shock and on the brink of madness. Their days interweave and their lives converge as the party reaches its glittering climax.
I first saw the musical, then read the book, and let me just put this out there, Les Miserables is long, and even with a relatively simple plot, not a particularly easy read. Having said that, I am glad that I read it, but am going to whisper this... I prefer the musical (and now I’m ducking).
LONGLISTED FOR THE WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR FICTION 2019 The moving, powerful and urgent English-language debut from one of the brightest young stars in world literature Suppose you and Pa were gone, and we were lost. What would happen then? A family in New York packs the car and sets out on a road trip. A mother, a father, a boy and a girl, they head south west, to the Apacheria, the regions of the US which used to be Mexico. They drive for hours through desert and mountains. They stop at diners when they're hungry and sleep in motels when it gets dark. The little girl tells surreal knock knock jokes and makes them all laugh. The little boy educates them all and corrects them when they're wrong. The mother and the father are barely speaking to each other. Meanwhile, thousands of children are journeying north, travelling to the US border from Central America and Mexico. A grandmother or aunt has packed a backpack for them, putting in a bible, one toy, some clean underwear. They have been met by a coyote: a man who speaks to them roughly and frightens them. They cross a river on rubber tubing and walk for days, saving whatever food and water they can. Then they climb to the top of a train and travel precariously in the open container on top. Not all of them will make it to the border. In a breath-taking feat of literary virtuosity, Lost Children Archive intertwines these two journeys to create a masterful novel full of echoes and reflections - a moving, powerful, urgent story about what it is to be human in an inhuman world.
20th Anniversary Edition When Griet’s father, a notable tile-maker, is blinded she goes to work for artist Vermeer to support her destitute family. She’s an outsider from the start, a poor Protestant in a well-to-do Catholic household who’s regarded with suspicion by her fellow staff, especially when she alone is entrusted to venture into the master’s studio. Soon enough Griet experiences the magic of artistic creation, of seeing colour anew, of seeing everything anew. But, as her passion for art is aroused so too is an ache of guilt as she grows ever distant from her family. Then there’s the attention and lusts of the handsome butcher’s son who seeks her hand in marriage, and the lascivious approaches of her master’s wealthy patron. The intrigue and tension of the Vermeer household, and the ebb and flow of life in a 17th century Dutch market town are described in painterly detail through Griet’s keenly observant eyes as a swelling scandal spills to the outside world from within the duplicitous household. At once a compelling page-turner and a tour de force of tension and coming-of-age turmoil, this novel remains a must-read for historical fiction fans some twenty years after publication.
SHORTLISTED FOR THE COSTA NOVEL AWARD Rome, 1955 The artists are gathering together for a photograph. In one of Rome's historic villas, a party glitters with socialites and patrons. Bear Bavinsky, creator of vast, masculine, meaty canvases, is their god. He is at the centre of the picture. His wife, Natalie, edges out of the shot. From the side of the room watches little Pinch - their son. At five years old he loves Bear almost as much as he fears him. After Bear abandons their family, Pinch will still worship him, while Natalie faces her own wars with the art world. Trying to live up to his father's name - one of the twentieth century's fiercest and most controversial painters - Pinch never quite succeeds. Yet by the end of a career of twists and compromises, he enacts an unexpected rebellion that will leave forever his mark upon the Bear Bavinsky legacy. What makes an artist? In The Italian Teacher, Tom Rachman displays a nuanced understanding of art and its demons. Moreover, in Pinch he achieves a portrait of vulnerability and frustrated talent that - with his signature humour and humanity -- challenges the very idea of greatness.