We’re all told we should read more, whether it be from parents or the news broadcasters threatening future generations of illiterates if we don’t. There are literally millions of published novels out there ready to be devoured. But that takes a lot of sifting through.
So here are my favourite five, just to get you started.
Stephen King’s The Shining
Expectation: Jack Nicholson runs around a hotel attempting to kill his wife and child with an axe.
What it’s actually about: Whilst the packaging of most Stephen King’s novels look as though they have emerged from the bargain bin, The Shining is one of King’s most notable works, which was transformed into the 1980 Stanley Kubrick movie adaptation starring Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall (also known as Olive Oil from Popeye).
Although there are memorable scenes in the film, such as Danny’s encounters with ‘The Twins’, the movie adaptation is hugely different from King’s novel. We learn more about Jack’s past in the book, and how his alcoholism may have been inherited from his father. The book has a distinct moral voice regarding the power that addictions have and how this can translate from childhood trauma.
Also, that weird scene at the end with the guys in the dog costumes makes a lot more sense.
Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway
Expectations: Woman of upper-class society totters around London, musing over the simple tasks of her privileged life.
What it’s actually about: Set shortly after World War I, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway deals with the after-shock on London through Septimus’s Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Its focus on mental illness and the concept of identity have resulted in Mrs Dalloway being one of Woolf’s most celebrated novels, with The Times touting it as one of the 100 best English-language novels of all time.
Whilst it may seem as though it is primarily about Clarissa Dalloway wandering freely through London’s streets as she organises a dinner party, it does raise important questions about existentialism and what it is to be human. It also has one of the most famous opening lines in literature:
‘Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.’
Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita
What it’s actually about: I wouldn’t recommend reading this one on a bus. Whilst it is a fantastic novel, fellow passengers who only know a vague outline of the plot may assume you’re a bit pervy. Keep this one for private; although that’s a bit weird, too.
Vladimir Nabokov introduces us to Humbert Humbert, a master of the English language, who uses his poetic tongue to persuade twelve year old Dolores to become sexually involved with him.
Also a member of The Times 100 best English-language novels, Nabokov’s Lolita offers an insight into the mind of a paedophile and, through its clever use of language, using word play and sarcasm, is surprisingly comical, despite its primary subject matter being of a serious nature.
Not only was the manuscript turned down by a string of highly respected publishers, it was also banned for two years after it was first published. Banned books are always worth reading.
Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird
Expectations: Girl dressed in dungarees with a questionable interest in birdwatching.
What it’s actually about: Harper Lee’s modern classic was a success from its very first publication. Set in America’s Deep South, To Kill a Mockingbird deals with a wide range of social prejudices, but is most known for its exploration of racial issues.
If it is a classic but easy-to-read novel you are looking for, then this is it. Written from the perspective of six year old Jean Louise Finch, primarily known as Scout, Lee’s narrative is highly skillfull in its childlike manner, yet holds the ability to revisit the complexities of being a child whilst an adult world is unfolding around them.
The novel, along with racial equality and rape, deals with the acceptance of those who may appear to be ‘other’. It is a coming-of-age tale, in which the children learn how to live in a world that may be different from the warmth of their family homes.
To Kill a Mockingbird was Lee’s only novel until it’s sequel, Go Set a Watchman, was released in July 2015, in which we learn of how Scout has grown into womanhood. Read this and that!
Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre
Expectations: A woman named Jane finds a job in a fancy house teaching a French girl.
What it’s actually about: Jane Eyre is the novel’s title. Charlotte Brontë was the author. Do not confuse the two lest booklovers everywhere spontaneously combust into a ball of fire.
Gothic, bildungsroman (coming-of-age) and romantic fiction are all categories of literature of which Jane Eyre comes under. We first meet Jane as a meek and mild orphan at Gateshead Hall under the care of her aunt. But before long, Jane discovers her voice and uses it to convey social criticisms of the first half of the 19th century.
Yes, the novel is old, but it isn’t long before Jane experiences some next-level shenanigans worthy of The Jeremy Kyle Show.
No. 1 rule: Always ask what’s in their attic before moving in.
What do you think? What novels surprised you? Have your say in the comments section below.