I haven’t done one of these posts for a while, so as this was a ‘freebie’ week, I’ve chosen my favourite post title from a few weeks ago: 21st Century Books I think will become Classics.
When we think about reading ‘The Classics’ (note the two capital letters), we generally think about authors such as Dickens, Austen, Hardy and the Brontes. At a push, some people will now be forward-thinking enough to include a few 20th century authors in their lists such as Woolf, Orwell and Steinbeck. For most though, that’s as far as it goes. Is it now time to start thinking about those contemporary, future classics that are being penned right under our noses in the 21st century?
For the purpose of this post, I’ve chosen my new classics as those must-read gems that have become my personal instant favourites: books that speak to me about lives that aren’t my own in a way that makes me understand, and the books that I recommend to others over and over again. To select ten books from the hundreds that I’ve read, and approximate twenty million that have been published this century, has taken a while – but what a lovely morning task it was!
By Maggie O’Farrell. Published 2020.
In this gorgeously portrayed family drama, Maggie O’Farrell explores the inspiration for Hamlet – the loss of Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet. Set in 1580s Warwickshire, Agnes, a woman both feared and sought after, tries to keep her family together in her husband’s absence, as he lives in London seeking fame and wealth. This is a unique retelling of the Shakespeare biography focusing on his wife and children, which has swiftly become a favourite with fans of the playwright, historical novels and feminist retellings.
Daisy Jones and The Six
by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Published 2019.
Rock and Roll in a novel! Taylor Jenkins Reid’s style has been a revelation to the world of fiction over the last few years – abrupt, direct, unapologetic and captivating, it will drag you into a world of wild parties, cataclysmic arguments and amounts of money that can make virtually any problem disappear.
I listened to audiobook of this one, and the narration by Jennifer Beals and Benjamin Bratt is a masterclass in bringing a book to life.
All the Light We Cannot See
By Anthony Doerr. Published 2014.
I stumbled across this one via an extract in an GCSE English Language textbook. What a find!
This is the stunningly beautiful and deeply saddening bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of WWII.
Girl, Woman, Other
By Bernardine Evaristo. Published 2019.
When ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ won the Booker Prize, it was a joint winner with ‘The Testaments’, Margaret Atwood’s follow-up to ‘The Handmaid’ s Tale’. All of the press seemed to centre on Atwood’s novel, she being the more famous author, and ‘the Handmaid’s Tale’ having been recently televised. As a fan of Atwood, I had pre-ordered ‘The Testaments’, skim-read articles about the Booker winners for comments about it, and almost ignored media-coverage of ‘Girl, Woman, Other’. My mistake.
This is an amazing book: it takes on the narratives of a series of ‘ordinary’ characters, most of whom are black and female, and makes the reader really care about their lives. To create a realistic protagonist is impressive, but to do this over and over again within the same novel was sonething else.
This book is political, but rather than employing a didactic tone, it shows you people’s lives, and allows the reader to make their own conclusions. My hope would be that many white men would read this novel, although I regretfully feel that this will not be the case.
The Beekeeper of Aleppo
By Christy Lefteri. Published 2019.
The unforgettable love story of a mother blinded by loss and her husband who insists on their survival as they undertake the Syrian refugee trail to Europe. If one book has the power to stop people seeing every refugee as being the same, and as ‘other’ to themselves, then this may be it.
The Night Circus
By Erin Morgenstern. Published 2011.
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.
Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.
The House in the Cerulean Sea
By T. J. Klune. Published 2020.
Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.
When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.
An enchanting story, masterfully told, The House in the Cerulean Sea is about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place—and realizing that family is yours.
Never Let Me Go
By Kazuo Ishiguro. Published 2005.
Hailsham seems like a pleasant English boarding school, far from the influences of the city. Its students are well tended and supported, trained in art and literature, and become just the sort of people the world wants them to be. But, curiously, they are taught nothing of the outside world and are allowed little contact with it.
Within the grounds of Hailsham, Kathy grows from schoolgirl to young woman, but it’s only when she and her friends Ruth and Tommy leave the safe grounds of the school (as they always knew they would) that they realize the full truth of what Hailsham is.
Never Let Me Go breaks through the boundaries of the literary novel. It is a gripping mystery, a beautiful love story, and also a scathing critique of human arrogance and a moral examination of how we treat the vulnerable and different in our society. In exploring the themes of memory and the impact of the past, Ishiguro takes on the idea of a possible future to create his most moving and powerful book to date.
By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Published 2013.
Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland
The Shadow of the Wind
By Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Published 2001.
Barcelona, 1945: A city slowly heals from its war wounds, and Daniel, an antiquarian book dealer’s son who mourns the loss of his mother, finds solace in a mysterious book entitled The Shadow of the Wind, by one Julian Carax. But when he sets out to find the author’s other works, he makes a shocking discovery: someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book Carax has written. In fact, Daniel may have the last of Carax’s books in existence. Soon Daniel’s seemingly innocent quest opens a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets–an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love.