I am writing the first post for my website in rather strange circumstances. As the UK comes to the end of its first week of lockdown due to the spread of the Coronovirus, I have discovered that social distancing has increased my productivity substantially: early morning exercise; more gardening than I would care to admit; to-do lists of the to-do lists I need to write; and, after deliberating over this website for a couple of months, my first post and short stories on the way.
As millions of us wake up to a prolonged period of working from home and extended social distancing, the need to fight off boredom can prove daunting – after all, there are only so many hours you can frantically search online for toilet roll before you need something else to occupy your mind. So to help you pass the time I’ve created a list of six fantastic novels for you to read that I believe will change your perspective on fiction forever.
Whether you want a book to curl up on the sofa with, or to enjoy in the garden with a beer, or to take into your nuclear bunker, give these a try and I promise they will make the time indoors a little less blue.
THE LOVELY BONES by Alice Sebold
“My name was Salmon, like the fish: first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.”
The opening lines of The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold are disturbing. Indeed, I know a number of people who were put off reading this book because of the dark subject matter. But to avoid this novel would be a mistake, for it is one of the most life-affirming works of fiction you will ever read.
Telling her story from heaven – which for Susie closely resembles her school playground – our protagonist recounts her murder and its devastating effect on her family.
The first time I read this novel I raced through it in a day, unable to put it down, and I have read it numerous times since. It grips your emotions like only the greatest fiction can and will bring you to tears. I highly recommend this novel; the story will stay with you for a long time.
FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON by Daniel Keyes
Flowers For Algernon is a science fiction classic which tells the story of Charlie Gordon, a man with severe learning disabilities who is asked to undergo an experimental operation that will turn him into a genius. The operation is a success, but when Algernon – the mouse upon whom the original experiments were based – slowly loses his intelligence and dies, Charlie is faced with the realisation that his genius will not last forever.
The concept is certainly unique, but it is the narrative voice used by Keyes that makes this novel so special. Charlie tells the story through diary entries, which at first are short and filled with spelling/grammatical mistakes. Following the operation, as his IQ starts to soar, the diary entries change too: becoming more complex in style, language and content. And when Charlie starts to lose his gift, the entries regress back to their original form.
Even if you normally steer clear of science fiction, Flowers for Algernon will open your eyes to the very best of the genre.
THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy
For anyone suffering with anxiety in the current pandemic, you may want to read this apocalyptic novel at another time. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, The Road is a dystopian masterpiece. A father and his son travel through an America that is burned and dead, searching for food amidst the wreckage and trying to avoid the roving bands of violent survivors that patrol the roads. The world McCarthy creates is harrowing, which contrasts starkly with the warmth and love these two survivors show for each other.
If you haven’t read a Cormac McCarthy novel before, his style and scarce use of punctuation is at first quite distracting (speech marks and semi-colons, it seems, were a victim of the apocalypse). Even so, this is a great novel and one which raises a worrying eyebrow at the future of mankind.
LESS by Andrew Sean Greer
Less is a comedy novel that won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2018 – a rare achievement for a comedy. Arthur Less is about to turn fifty (and he’s not happy about it) when a wedding invitation arrives from an ex-boyfriend. To avoid the shame and humiliation of attending alone, he decides to embark upon a sporadic trip around the world to avoid the wedding. What follows is a very funny tale of the lengths Arthur will go to avoid facing his fears.
It’s musical prose and continuous moments of hilarity make this novel an enjoyable read, but it’s depiction of the highs and lows of love make this story one which you will adore, and then bug all of your friends to read, too.
TRAINSPOTTING by Irvine Welsh
The novel which spawned the cult classic film of the 1990s, Trainspotting is unlike anything you will ever read. It kicks you in the face with it’s unapologetic, unforgiving tale of a group of heroin addicts in Edinburgh. It is at once funny, disgusting, horrifying and exciting.
The novel is not an easy read: written in strong Scottish slang, it takes a few chapters to understand what is being said. It’s also not for the squeamish: there are moments that are extremely violent or disgusting and I found myself wincing on more than one occasion. Yet, it is this realism that makes Trainspotting such a fearless novel. By the time you’ve finished it you’ll feel out of breath but raring for more.
WHAT DREAMS MAY COME by Richard Matheson
“Heaven would never be heaven without you.”
When Chris Neilsen discovers that his wife has died and gone to hell, he leaves his personal heaven and sets out to find her through the seven levels of hell, risking his own eternity to bring her back to the light.
I cannot say enough positive things about this novel. The concept is brilliant, the writing is poetic and strolls through your brain like a sedative, the imagery is vivid and beautiful, and the dedication is one the loveliest I have ever seen (“with grateful love, to my wife, for adding the sweet measure of her soul to my existence“). Indeed, the immortality of love is the beating heart of this novel and the sentiment stays with you long after the final page is turned. Reading this novel leaves you with an appreciation for the beauty of life and reminds you to cherish the ones you love: rather appropriate for our current times.
I hope you enjoyed my first post and reading recommendations above. If I’ve inspired you to give them a try, you can find the novel by clicking on the linked headings above.
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In the coming weeks, I will be publishing a number of my short stories onto the website, so please be sure to look out for these on my short stories page soon. You can also check out my upcoming books here, and the rest of my website here.