Top 10 novels to read in your lifetime

Five contemporary novels to read…

Historical fiction at it’s best

Merivel: A Man of his Time by Rose Tremain, a sequel to the much-loved Restoration. It reunites us with Robert Merivel, a physician and bumbling jester to Charles II, an engaging, self-mocking character with a rambunctious nature. Merivel and his friends have now entered old age and are caught compulsively in patterns of the past.

A sardonic black comedy

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The Wimbledon Poisoner by Nigel Williams, Henry Farr is middle-aged, average and feels hen-pecked by his wife. His solution is murder. Yet the farcical plans he concocts go disastrously wrong.

A literary thriller

The House of Leaves
by Mark Z. Danielewski, is not for the faint hearted as a 700-page doorstop of a book that cannot be pigeon holed to a genre with an almost indescribable plot and a now cult following. It is excitingly innovative in its composition and a deeply engrossing read that inspires terror, confusion and laughter.

Sumptuous magical realism

Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter, winner of the James Tait Black Award, canon-balls the reader into the topsy-turvy world of Colnel Keanery’s travelling circus ricocheting through 19th century London, St Petersburg and Siberia. Fevvers, part woman part bird, is a famous trapeze artist recounting her racy stories to the captivated Jack Walser the journalist-cum-clown. A novel bulging with colourful symbolism and luxurious language.

Beautifully evocative and haunting

The Clear Light of Day by Anita Desai, depicts the tensions of post-partition India juxtaposed with the decaying elegance of Old Delhi. A family reunion of estranged siblings rustles up old memories of their smothered childhood disturbed by the distant but tumultuous Partition violence.

Five classics

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes.

One of the first novels ever written, it follows the farcical character of Don Quixote, a man going through a middle ages, mid-life crisis cavorting around believing he is a knight in shining armour. For full appreciation of this sardonic humour listen on audiobook- perfect for long car journeys as it is 35 hours long unabridged!
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

Decried as a sensation novel of ‘highly seasoned garbage’ when it was first published The Moonstone is now regarded as a classic of detective fiction. Collins deftly balances a dry wit with psychological depth to create a marvellously intricate and gripping novel.

The Leopard by Guiseppe di Lampedusa

This 20th century novel is set in Sicily in an era of baroque balls and entrenched feudalism pivoting around the dominating Prince Fabrizio Salina and his family. Their way of life is under threat from the encroaching invasion by Garabaldi. A compelling story of masterful prose and vivid characters.

Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe

Moll Flanders is a rollicking picaresque novel set in 17th century London chronicling the colourful exploits of the ultimate gold digger, the eponymous heroine. Born in Newgate prison, Moll churns through 5 husbands (one of whom is her brother), becomes a whore, a thief, a convicted felon and finally repents.

Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh

A satirical masterpiece, this was Waugh’s first novel and ultimately his funniest. It follows the tragically hapless Paul Pennyfeather as he is sent down from Oxford and falls into teaching with unwittingly hilarious consequences. Waugh wields marvellously cutting dialogue lining up an eccentric cast of characters to create outlandishly, improbable scenes of comic genius.


Heywood Hill

The long established, independent bookshop Heywood Hill in Mayfair has been quietly rejuvenating its image recently; the downstairs floor is under refurbishment, near completion, and its website has had a facelift.

But their changes are not all superficial gloss. They have been creating some innovative ‘tailored literary services’ for their customers.

One of which is ‘Reading Journeys: grand tours of the mind’ which offers readers the chance to delve into a specific area of interest under the tutelage of ‘a distinguished writer’. The package gives the reader a year’s worth of essential and ‘unexpected’ books selected, and with ‘invaluable introductions’, by the ‘distinguished writer’.

So far there are four topics available including: ‘Understanding Modern China’ with Juan Chang, ‘A Century of Espionage Fiction’ with William Boyd and ‘The American Saviours of British Heritage’ with Country Life’s Editor-at-large, Clive Aslet.