These exceptional literary must-reads simply cannot be missed. Featuring classic and contemporary masterpieces, see below for 20 unmissable adult fiction books.
Aldous Huxley | 1932
In the distant future, the World Controllers have moulded a perfect society. Through ingenious use of genetic engineering, brainwashing and recreational sex and drugs, all its members are happy consumers. But Bernard Marx is different. He seems alone in harbouring an ambiguous dissatisfaction and a longing to break free. But a visit to one of the few remaining Savage Reservations, where the old, imperfect life still continues, may provide the cure for his distress. This deeply engrossing novel compels its readers to question the present and our ideals for the future.
Margaret Atwood | 1985
In the dystopian Republic of Gilead, Offred is forced to be a Handmaid, a woman with only one function: to breed. If she dares to challenge this position, she - like other dissenters - will be hanged at the wall or sent out to die, slowly and painfully, of radiation sickness. Offred remembers all that has been taken away from her: love, family, access to the news. But even a tyrannical state cannot obliterate desire - neither Offred's nor that of the two men upon which her future depends...
Alice Walker | 1982
Set in the American South between the wars, this haunting novel stars Celie, a young black girl born into poverty and persecution. Abused by the man she calls 'father', she has two children taken away from her, is separated from her beloved sister Nettie, and is trapped in an ugly marriage. But then, Celie meets the glamorous Shug Avery, a singer and magic-maker, a woman who commands her own destiny. Celie will gradually uncover the power and joy of her own spirit, and will have the chance to free herself from the past and reunite with those she loves.
Francis Spufford | 2016
It is 1746. A delightful and handsome stranger, Mr Smith, has just arrived in the small town of New York from England. It turns out he has an order for a thousand pounds which he wishes to cash - a perplexing yet compelling proposition. Can this unfamiliar man be trusted when he refuses to say what he will do with his fortune, in a place already rife with financial corruption? And what will happen when the enigmatic Mr Smith falls for Tabitha, his creditor's daughter? Winner of the Costa First Novel Award 2016, this book is sure to enthral its readers.
F. Scott Fitzgerald | 1925
The Great Gatsby is set in the glittering world of 1920s New York. It follows Nick, who moves in next to the mysterious millionaire, Jay Gatsby. Gatsby is the man who seems to have everything and he holds extravagant parties in his magnificent mansion to prove it, full of bright young things drinking and dancing - but Gatsby himself only ever seems to watch and wait. One thing will always be out of his reach, and soon, his secret longing will cause his whole world to unravel... This riveting read is riddled with romance, drama and tragedy, and features themes of materialistic excess, social upheaval, love and jealousy.
Mary Shelley | 1818
Victor Frankenstein, obsessed with the idea of creating life itself, ransacks graveyards for the material necessary to fashion a new being. He shocks the creature into life with electricity, but his botched being, rejected by Frankenstein and denied human companionship, sets out to destroy its creator and all that he holds dear. This spine-chilling Gothic novel is full of moral quandaries, and remains one of the world's most famous horror stories.
John Steinbeck | 1937
This stunning tear-jerker tells the story of two American drifters: the sharp, small George and his big, childlike friend, Lennie. Both are searching for work in the fields and valleys of California, dreaming that they'll find a place of their own one day and realise the American dream. But gentle giant Lennie doesn't know his own strength and lands himself in a lot of trouble, especially with the boss's daughter-in-law. It is up to George to protect his friend - but even he will struggle to save him. 1920s America is vividly brought to life, as is the unique friendship of two unforgettable characters.
Haruki Murakami | 1987
When he hears her favourite Beatles song, Toru Watanabe remembers his first love, Naoko, the girlfriend of his best friend Kizuki. He is transported almost twenty years into the past, to his student days in Tokyo, adrift in a world of uneasy friendships, casual sex, passion, loss and desire - to a time when an impetuous young woman named Midori marches into his life and he is forced to choose between the future and the past. This striking novel is sure to captivate its readers.
Charlotte Bronte | 1847
A novel ahead of its time, Jane is the feisty, argumentative and keenly intelligent protagonist of this enthralling tale. She refuses to accept her designated position in society and resolves to find love on her own terms. She thinks she may have found it when she meets the dark and brooding Mr Rochester, but she will endure terrible tragedies, setbacks and challenges, from a difficult childhood with her cruel aunt, to shocking encounters and deadly fires. This rich work of literature is simply a must-read.
Khaled Hosseini | 2003
Afghanistan, 1975. 12-year-old Amir is desperate to win the local kite-fighting tournament alongside his faithful friend, Hassan. But neither of the boys can foresee the terrible things that will happen to Hassan that afternoon, an event that will shatter their lives. After the Russians invade and the family is forced to flee to America, Amir realises one day that he must return to Afghanistan under Taliban rule to seek the one thing his new world cannot offer: redemption.
Virginia Woolf | 1927
This classic novel follows the Ramsay family and their summer guests on the Isle of Skye, before and after the First World War. Relationships shift and transform as the children and adults on the island must live, work and play alongside each other. Based on Virginia Woolf's own childhood experiences, the book explores children's and adults' changing perceptions and desires in the period spanning the Great War.
Kazuo Ishiguro | 2015
The Romans have long since departed and Britain is gradually fading into ruin. Axl and Beatrice set off across a troubled land of mist and rain to find the son they haven't seen for years. They expect to face many dangers - some strange and otherworldly - but they could never have foreseen that their journey would reveal to them dark and forgotten corners of their love for each other. Fierce, gripping, and intensely moving, this stunning novel is about lost memories, revenge, war, and love.
Louis de Bernieres | 1994
It is 1941 and Captain Antonio Corelli, a young Italian officer, is despatched to the Greek island of Cephalonia as part of the occupying forces. At first, he is ostracised by the locals, but they realise in time that he is civilised, amusing, and an excellent musician. But it isn't long before Corelli and the local doctor's daughter, Pelagia, become involved in a steamy love affair - despite her engagement to Mandras, a fisherman. Can their love survive the war as the lines are drawn between invader and defender?
Zadie Smith | 2000
This highly-acclaimed fictional debut from Zadie Smith is a funny, generous and big-hearted novel, adored by critics and readers alike. Dealing with many themes including friendship, love and war; three cultures (Indian, Jamaican and Bangladeshi) and three families over three generations; one brown mouse and the way the past can come back to bite you, it is a life-affirming and riotous read that cannot be missed.
Thomas Hardy | 1874
This powerful novel of swift sexual passion and slow-burning loyalty centres on Bathsheba Everdene, a proud working woman whose life is complicated by three very different men: respectable farmer Boldwood; seductive Sergeant Troy; and devoted Gabriel. She soon becomes the object of scandal and betrayal amidst the superstitions and traditions of a rural community. This gripping classic has endured for generations and proves just as compelling today as it did when it was published in 1874.
George Orwell | 1949
In London, Big Brother stares out from every poster, and the intimidating Thought Police uncover every act of betrayal. Winston Smith works for the Ministry of Truth, but when he finds love with Julia, he discovers that life needn't be tedious, but rich and exciting. Winston and Julia start to question the Party and are increasingly drawn towards conspiracy theories. But Big Brother will not tolerate dissent - not even in the mind. This unsettling vision of a future dystopian society, ruled with an iron fist by a totalitarian government, will shock and move its readers.
Sylvia Plath | 1963
College girl Esther Greenwood is fighting two battles: one against her own desire for perfection in all things - grades, romance, looks, career... and the other against remorseless mental illness. As her depression deepens, she finds herself encased in it, an invisible barrier firmly between her and the rest of the world. This is the story of her journey back into reality. Witty and disturbing, this is Sylvia Plath's only novel but it has lots to say about what women expect of themselves, and what society expects of women.
Kathryn Stockett | 2009
Jackson, Mississippi, 1962. Black maids raise white children, but aren't trusted not to steal. In the midst of this toxic world, three women are about to embark on a compelling friendship: Aibileen, who is raising her 17th white child and grieving over the tragic death of her son; Minny, the sassy cook; and the white Miss Skeeter, who wants to know why her beloved maid disappeared. No-one would believe such a friendship could ever come into fruition - and fewer still would tolerate it. However, in this moving and extraordinary novel, these three very different but courageous women manage to cross boundaries, reject expectations and rely on one another.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie | 2006
This powerful novel tells a shocking tale of war and peace in the author's homeland of Nigeria, swinging back and forth between the early and late 1960s. It is told through the interweaving viewpoints of three characters: Ugwu, a village boy who gets a job as a houseboy for university professor Odenigbo; Olanna, a privileged young woman from Lagos, who leaves her luxurious life behind to live with Odenigbo; and Richard, an English journalist. But life will take a turbulent turn as these three characters are drawn into the heart of the Nigerian Civil War - and the consequences will be life-changing...
Oscar Wilde | 1890
Mesmerised by his own superb portrait, Dorian Gray trades his soul for eternal youth and beauty. He is lured into a corrupt double life by Lord Henry Wotton, fascinated by Wotton's hedonistic worldview. Dorian indulges his desires in secret whilst upholding a gentlemanly facade in polite society. But as his portrait ages and fades, it records every sin. This gripping novel caused a scandal upon publication, labelled indecent and mawkish, but it is now considered a classic and an extraordinary work of imagination.