20 Unmissable Adult Fiction Books

These exceptional literary must-reads simply cannot be missed. Featuring classic and contemporary masterpieces, see below for 20 unmissable adult fiction books.

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1. Brave New World

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.

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2. The Handmaid's Tale

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...

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3. The Color Purple

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.

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4. Golden Hill

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.

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5. The Great Gatsby

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.

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6. Frankenstein

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.

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7. Of Mice and Men

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.

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8. Norwegian Wood

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.

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9. Jane Eyre

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.

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10. The Kite Runner

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.

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11. To the Lighthouse

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.

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12. The Buried Giant

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.

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13. Captain Corelli's Mandolin

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?

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14. White Teeth

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.

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15. Far From the Madding Crowd

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.

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16. Nineteen Eighty-Four

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.

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17. The Bell Jar

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.

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18. The Help

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.

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19. Half of a Yellow Sun

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...

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20. The Picture of Dorian Gray

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.

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  • AQWHH
    Kazuo Ishiguro
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    The extraordinary new novel from the author of Never Let Me Go and the Booker Prize winning The Remains of the Day. The Romans have long since departed, and Britain is steadily declining into ruin. But at least the wars that once ravaged the country have ceased. The Buried Giant begins as a couple, Axl and Beatrice, set off across a troubled land of mist and rain in the hope of finding a son they have not seen for years. They expect to face many hazards - some strange and other-worldly - but they cannot yet foresee how their journey will reveal to them dark and forgotten corners of their love for one another. Sometimes savage, often intensely moving, Kazuo Ishiguro's first novel in a decade is about lost memories, love, revenge and war.
  • ALQSI
    Aldous Huxley
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    This title comes with introductions by Margaret Atwood and David Bradshaw. Far in the future, the World Controllers have created the ideal society. Through clever use of genetic engineering, brainwashing and recreational sex and drugs all its members are happy consumers. Bernard Marx seems alone harbouring an ill-defined longing to break free. A visit to one of the few remaining Savage Reservations where the old, imperfect life still continues, may be the cure for his distress...Huxley's ingenious fantasy of the future sheds a blazing light on the present and is considered to be his most enduring masterpiece.
  • Golden Hill - Paperback - 9780571225200 - Francis Spufford
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    Francis Spufford
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    Winner of the Costa First Novel Award, Francis Spufford's debut fiction novel, Golden Hill, is a book that will transport you right back to New York, a small town on the tip of Manhattan Island, in 1746.

    A charming stranger from England arrives and has a compelling (yet suspicious) proposition for the counting house on Golden Hill Street - he wishes to cash and order for #1,000...

    With questions hanging over whether he can be trusted, the young man has the gift of the gab and decides to create a new life for himself in a place that is just starting to develop its unique character. But then he falls in love and enters a whole new world of trouble...
  • AADZG
    Mary Shelley
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    Obsessed by creating life itself, Victor Frankenstein plunders graveyards for the material to fashion a new being, which he shocks into life by electricity. But his botched creature, rejected by Frankenstein and denied human companionship, sets out to destroy his maker and all that he holds dear. Mary Shelley's chilling gothic tale was conceived when she was only eighteen, living with her lover Percy Shelley near Byron's villa on Lake Geneva. It would become the world's most famous work of horror fiction, and remains a devastating exploration of the limits of human creativity.
  • AAGNJ
    Sylvia Plath
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    Esther Greenwood is at college and is fighting two battles, one against her own desire for perfection in all things - grades, boyfriend, looks, career - and the other against remorseless mental illness. As her depression deepens she finds herself encased in it, bell-jarred away from the rest of the world. This is the story of her journey back into reality. Highly readable, witty and disturbing, The Bell Jar is Sylvia Plath's only novel and was originally published under a pseudonym in 1963. What it has to say about what women expect of themselves, and what society expects of women, is as sharply relevant today as it has always been.
  • AAEEB
    Charlotte Bronte
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    'Such a strange book! Imagine a novel with a little swarthy governess for heroine, and a middle-aged ruffian for hero.' Sharpe's London Magazine (June 1855) Jane Eyre is an orphan grown up under the harsh regime first of her aunt and then as a pupil at Lowood Institution. She leaves to become a governess to the daughter of the mysterious Mr Rochester; gradually their relationship deepens, but Jane's passionate nature has yet to endure its deepest blows. In this new edition Sally Shuttleworth explores the power of a narrative that questions the rights of women, the nature of servitude and madness, martyrdom and rebellion in a story whose emotional charge is a strong today as it was more than 150 years ago.
  • AADAM
    Margaret Atwood
    (1)
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    The Republic of Gilead offers Offred only one function: to breed. If she deviates, she will, like dissenters, be hanged at the wall or sent out to die slowly of radiation sickness. But even a repressive state cannot obliterate desire - neither Offred's nor that of the two men on which her future hangs...
  • AAHPA
    Louis De Bernieres
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    It is 1941 and Captain Antonio Corelli, a young Italian officer, is posted to the Greek island of Cephallonia as part of the occupying forces. At first he is ostracised by the locals, but as a conscien-tious but far from fanatical soldier, whose main aim is to have a peaceful war, he proves in time to be civilised, humorous - and a consumate musician. When the local doctor's daughter's letters to her fiance go unanswered, the working of the eternal triangle seems inevitable. But can this fragile love survive as a war of bestial savagery gets closer and the lines are drawn between invader and defender?
  • ACDVU
    Oscar Wilde
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    Enthralled by his own exquisite portrait, Dorian Gray exchanges his soul for eternal youth and beauty. Influenced by his friend Lord Henry Wotton, he is drawn into a corrupt double life; indulging his desires in secret while remaining a gentleman in the eyes of polite society. Only his portrait bears the traces of his decadence. The novel was a success de scandale and the book was later used as evidence against Wilde at the Old Bailey in 1895. It has lost none of its power to fascinate and disturb.
  • AADNT
    George Orwell
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    A famous novel that covers many questions that are still relevant today, it is easy to see why George Orwell's 1984 has been applauded and acclaimed by so many. Winston Smith works for the Ministry of Truth in London, where Big Brother stares out from every poster and the Thought Police uncover every act of betrayal. When he finds love with Julia, he discovers life does not have to be dull and mundane, and opens up to new possibilities. Despite the police helicopters that hover and circle overhead, Winston and Julia begin to question the Party and are drawn towards conspiracy theories. But Big Brother will not tolerate dissent, even in the mind. A terrifying vision of a totalitarian future in which everything and everyone is slave to a tyrannical regime. This is a classic story that just has to be read!