Our extended time in self-isolation can feel scary and daunting. However, it is important to keep the mind busy. What better time to go through our top ten picks for must-read novels? Now is a great time to get back into reading. Not only is reading a great way to keep the brain active, it can also be great escapism from the stress of the news.
Must-Read Novels - Our Top Picks
Without further ado, let's dive into some must-read novels.
The Help, Kathryn Sockett
The Help explores the lives of several women living in Jackson, Mississippi in 1962. A poignant and beautifully written novel, it confronts the harsh reality of post-Jim-Crow America. Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelan is an aspiring young writer who endeavours to write about the black experience. She does this through the voices of houseworkers Aibileen and Minny.
The first of our must-read novels is strikingly beautiful, as Aibileen grapples between the love she has for the white children she cares for and the knowledge that they will likely grow up to be much like their mothers: racist and cold to anyone from a lower socioeconomic background. The Help is a brutally honest depiction of the African American condition during times of segregation.
The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes
Julian Barnes' novella The Sense of an Ending follows the protagonist Tony confronting his past after his old friend's mother leaves him money in her will. Barnes exposes the fragility of memory and how time can be manipulated to create a more appealing view of oneself.
Tony works hard to piece together fragments of his past with only himself to help. His obsession with knowing how things truly were highlights our own fears that nothing is quite how it seems.
Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is a powerful depiction split into 3 parts of life: before, during and after British colonialism in Africa. Perfectly titled, Things Fall Apart follows Okonkwo, a tribe leader, and his battle to keep the integrity of his tribe intact.
As white missionaries move into his land, Okonkwo faces an existential crisis. His sense of meaning begins to crumble as more and more of his people turn to Christianity. The novel offers a profound insight into the minds of those who lost more than just territory and land during British colonisation – those who lost a sense of self, community, and understanding of the world.
Passing, Nella Larsen
Passing follows Irene Redfield – a sophisticated woman of African American descent – who discovers a letter from an old acquaintance. Her old friend Clare explains that she has spent her years ‘passing’ – a phrase referring to when an African American person would ‘pass’ as white. Irene has a similar complexion to Clare and is confronted with the life she could have led. However, cracks soon begin to appear, as the fear of getting caught, particularly by her racist husband, starts to overwhelm Clare.
Clare seeks out the relationship with Irene so much that Irene begins to question how happy Clare truly is. Clare fears having children in case their skin is too dark when they are born, giving her away. Passing is a striking novel set during the Harlem Renaissance, shining a light on a country still fractured by racism.
When God Was a Rabbit, Sarah Winman
Sarah Winman is an effortlessly good writer as she documents the life of Eleanor Maud as a child and then as an adult. Eleanor’s life is full of huge highs and crushing lows and the reader follows her through every moment. It is indicative of most childhoods and we grow up with her through the story.
Winman is able to transition seamlessly through different ages. There is a nostalgic feel to the novel and the author pulls at your heartstrings at almost every turn.
American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis
This is one of the most groundbreaking novels of the 20th Century. Set during the Wall Street boom, the novel follows Patrick Bateman. Bateman is a successful broker who is obsessed with material goods. He even spends some time obsessing over business cards and how they compared to his colleagues. Bateman defines himself by his perception of wealth and is a metaphor for American consumerism.
Many film buffs will recognise the name 'Bateman'. It is an extended version of Norman Bates, the killer in the Alfred Hitchcock movie Psycho. This novel is an homage to the film. American Psycho is an intense but fantastic read.
A Visit from The Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan
The next of our must-read novels is interesting, particularly for its distinctive narrative style. Some critics define the novel as a collection of short stories. It follows a group of people who have a chapter each and Egan intertwines the stories effortlessly.
A Visit from the Goon Squad is a fantastic exploration of modern life and how we ebb and flow into one another’s lives. The characters not only differ in their stories, but also in how they choose to visualise their story to the reader. The novel discusses connection and disconnection in the modern world and explores how we forge our own identities.
A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess
This is a timeless classic that you have undoubtedly heard of – but have you read it? A Clockwork Orange follows Alex and his teenage gang of “droogs” as they navigate a dystopian world. The story is violent and unnerving but a fantastic example of resistance to conformism.
Burgess creates a new language, a kind of Russian slang called Nadsat. The reader must grapple with moral dilemmas throughout the novel. We confront where we draw the lines between freedom and societal control.
Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein
This is one of the more striking must-read novels on our list. It is otherworldly in style, following a martian who has to adapt to Earth and its political landscape. The reader will notice the clear comparisons between the main character Mike and the story of Jesus Christ.
The reader follows Mike as he tries to assimilate himself and becomes the pawn for others to use to levy power. The story sounds a little strange, but the novel is truly a fantastic read and no synopsis could do it real justice.
The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
This is one of the classic novels from the 19th Century. It depicts Dorian, a man obsessed with his own beauty and youth. Dorian commissions Basil Hallward to paint his portrait. Dorian's beauty becomes an obsession for Basil too.
As time goes by, the picture takes on a monstrous appearance, to Dorian's dismay. This novel is beautifully descriptive. It is a commentary on the ugliness inside being reflected on the outside, as the picture becomes a metaphor for Dorian's soul.