The Secret History by Donna Tartt (640 pages)
Set in New England, The Secret History tells the story of a close-knit group of six classics students at Hampden College, a small, elite Vermont college based on Bennington College, where Pulitzer Prize-winning author Donna Tartt was a student from 1982-86. Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, the group of clever, eccentric misfits discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of morality, their lives are changed profoundly and forever. This 640-page novel is a story of two parts; the chain of events that led to the death of a classmate – and what happened next. A modern classic, this bestseller is both compelling and elegant, dramatic and playful.
The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante (1,720 pages)
Named as one of Time’s ‘100 Most Influential People’ in 2016, Elena Ferrante is the pseudonym of the anonymous author behind some of the most powerful novels of recent times. The complete four-volume set of this bestselling series about hardship and female friendship in post-war Naples has sold over 5m copies. Beginning with My Brilliant Friend, the four ‘Neapolitan Novels’ follow Elena and Lila, from their rough-edged upbringing in Naples not long after WWII, through the many stages of their lives. Sometimes they are separated by jealousy or hostility or physical distance, but the bond between them is unbreakable, for better or for worse. This volume includes all four novels: My Brilliant Friend; The Story of a New Name; Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay; and The Story of the Lost Child.
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (848 pages)
Winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2013, The Luminaries is set in 1866. Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of 12 locals, who have met in secret to discuss a series of unsolved crimes. A wealthy man has vanished, a sex worker has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of an unlucky drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes. Written in pitch-perfect historical register, richly evoking a mid-19th century world of the goldrush, The Luminaries is both a ghost story and a gripping mystery.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (736 pages)
When four graduates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they're skint, adrift and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant Jude, who serves as their centre of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, touched by addiction, success and pride. Yet their greatest challenge is Jude himself, by midlife a talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood and haunted by a trauma that will define his life forever. A devastating read.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (864 pages)
Anna Karenina is one of the most loved heroines in literature. Considered by some to be the greatest novel ever written, Anna Karenina is Leo Tolstoy’s classic tale of love and adultery set against the backdrop of high society in Moscow and St Petersburg. A rich and complex masterpiece, the novel charts the disastrous course of a love affair between Anna, a beautiful married woman, and Count Vronsky, a wealthy army officer. Tolstoy seamlessly weaves together the lives of dozens of characters, and in doing so captures a rich tapestry of late 19th-century Russian society.
The Mirror & The Light by Hilary Mantel (912 pages)
With The Mirror & The Light, Hilary Mantel brings to a close the trilogy she began with Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. She traces the final years of Thomas Cromwell, the boy who climbs to the heights of power, offering a defining portrait of predator and prey, of a ferocious contest between present and past, and between royal will and a common man’s vision. It begins in May 1536 – Anne Boleyn is dead. Cromwell emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles into short-lived happiness with his third queen, Jane Seymour. Add the two prequels into the mix, and this trilogy is guaranteed to keep you going through lockdown.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (624 pages)
We’re huge fans of Japanese author Haruki Murakami, and his 1994 long-read is a great place to start. Toru Okada's cat has disappeared. His wife is growing more distant every day. Then there are the increasingly explicit telephone calls he has recently been receiving. As this compelling story unfolds, the tidy suburban realities of Okada's vague and blameless life, spent cooking, reading, listening to jazz and opera and drinking beer at the kitchen table, are turned inside out, and he embarks on a bizarre journey, guided (however obscurely) by a succession of characters, each with a tale to tell.
She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb (480 pages)
Meet Dolores Price. She's 13 and wise but wounded. Slumped in front of her bedroom TV, she spends the next few years nourishing herself with the chocolate, crisps and fizzy drinks her anxious mother supplies. When she finally emerges into womanhood at 257 pounds, Dolores is no stronger and life is no kinder. But this time she's determined to rise to the occasion and give herself one more chance – with comical effects. In his extraordinary coming-of-age odyssey, Wally Lamb invites us to immerse ourselves in Dolores’s journey of love, pain and renewal.
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray (912 pages)
A bewitching beauty who bends men to her will using charm, sex and guile. An awkward man who remains loyal to his friends, even when those friends don’t deserve his affection. A mother who cannot get over the loss of her husband and devotes her life to her child. Though written in 1847-48, William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair is filled by characters who remain familiar today. The novel’s early 19th-century setting immerses readers in a strange world of social climbing, moral strictures and self-conscious sentiment. Yet its characters – from dissolute playboys and self-important heirs to judgmental aunts and finicky gourmands – are instantly recognisable. A classic for a reason.
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (944 pages)
Shantaram is a novel of adventure and moral purpose, based on an extraordinary true story of eight years spent in the Bombay underworld. Set in the early 80s, the book focuses on ‘Lindsay Ford’ – a pseudonym for Roberts himself – an armed robber and heroin addict who escaped from an Australian prison to India, where he lived in a Bombay slum. There, he established a free health clinic and joined the mafia, working as a money launderer, forger and street soldier. Over these eight years, Ford also found time to learn Hindi and Marathi, fall in love, spend time being worked over in an Indian jail, act in Bollywood and fight with the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan. A novel that reads like an autobiography, this is a truly gripping read – and one that makes almost 950 pages fly by. We can’t wait for Apple TV’s adaptation, which is rumoured to be released later this year.
Wild Swans: Three Daughters Of China by Jung Chang (720 pages)
Few books have had such an impact as Wild Swans. Its publication in 1991 was a worldwide phenomenon. Not only did it become the bestselling non-fiction book in British publishing history (it has since sold over 13m copies), it received unanimous critical acclaim and won the 1993 ‘British Book of the Year’ award. Translated into 37 languages, Wild Swans tells the story of 20th-century China from the last days of Imperial China to the Japanese occupation, civil war, revolution and post-Mao era. The tale is told through the stories of three generations of women from author Jung Chang’s family – her grandmother Yu-fang, who was given to a warlord as a concubine; her Communist mother, Bao Qin; and herself. Unforgettable in its descriptions, Wild Swans is a masterpiece that will stay with you long after you’ve closed the cover.
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