The book that brought us the term ‘Big Brother’ was written by George Orwell way back in 1948 as a prophecy of the future, and its chilling, haunting vision of a future society is as current and convincing as ever. Set in the UK, now known as Airstrip One, independent thinking is persecuted and punished as a thought crime. Its protagonist is Winston Smith, whose job at the Ministry of Truth is to re-write past news articles to support the party line. Laugh you won’t. Shudder you might.
Pride and Prejudice
This witty comedy of manners by Jane Austen is the story of Elizabeth Bennet, who sees herself as a matchmaker extraordinaire, and who spars enjoyably throughout with a haughty Mr Darcy (you remember Colin Firth emerging from the pond with the wet shirt, right?). We won’t give it away – but there’s lots of witty repartee and it doesn’t all go her way… at least until the end.
War and Peace
Looking for an epic? You’ve got it in this work by Russian author Leo Tolstoy. The book’s story is told through the eyes of five Russian aristocratic families as they negotiate the French invasion of Russia during the Napoleonic era. One of the longest novels ever written (although Tolstoy would argue that it wasn’t a novel at all), it may be on the shelf of your smallest room for some time…
Lord of the Flies
The first novel by Nobel prize-winning author William Golding is about a group of ordinary boys stranded on an island and left to fend for themselves. What starts as a fun adventure, swiftly descends into a hellish struggle for survival as the norms of society are replaced with primitive behaviour that descends into death nd murder. Sounds like a Channel 4 mockumentary? It’s much more sophisticated than that but it’s certainly inspired at least one!
No reading list is complete without a work by William Shakespeare. Hamlet is a tragedy we’re all familiar with even if we haven’t read it: the story of the Prince of Denmark who learns of the death of his father at the hands of his uncle, Claudius, who wants the throne and Hamlet’s mother for himself. A revenge tale that goes badly for everyone involved, Hamlet portrays madness both real and feigned, while exploring the themes of treachery, revenge, incest and corruption. Makes EastEnders look like a kids’ programme.
A Christmas Carol
You’ve seen the TV adaptations, now read the original work by Charles Dickens. For anyone who’s never attempted a Dickens – and we heartily recommend you do – this is one of the best-loved and most quoted of his stories. Its protagonist is the miserly Ebeneezer Scrooge who hates Christmas – and people in general. But one Christmas Eve, when Scrooge is visited by his dead business partner, Jacob Marley, and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come, he learns charity, goodwill and kindness.
Set in Algeria, this is the story of a French Algerian, Mersault, an ordinary man who is drawn into a senseless murder of an Arab man on a beach. Sentenced to death, he rages against the absurdity of the human condition and the indifference of the universe. By famed French writer Albert Camus, it’s existentialism at its finest, don’t you know… and if you’re feeling really flash, you can read it in the original French.
For Whom the Bell Tolls
For fine literature from the USA, look no further than Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, a story set in the Spanish Sierra during the civil war. Its protagonist, Robert Jordan, is a young American who has travelled to Spain to join the fight against the fascist forces of Franco. Inspired by Hemingway’s own experiences as a reporter in the Spanish civil war, his character experiences great danger and intense comradeship – and of course love.
Brave New World
Written in 1932 and set in 2540, Aldous Huxley’s novel introduces the reader to a world of test-tube, engineered babies and drug-controlled happiness, and was in part inspired by a trip the author took to America, where he was outraged by the culture of youth, sexual promiscuity and commercial cheeriness. Misfit Bernard Marx is the protagonist of this chilling and witty comment on the future – which is far too similar to our present to be comfortable.
Brief History of Time
Stephen Hawking’s updated version of the tome includes explanations for the lay person of the questions surrounding the Big Bang, black holes, light cones, wormholes and time travel – among others. Brief it is not – but it might just answer all those ‘Why?’ questions your kids ask you. Or confuse them further.