From books that changed the world to contemporary works that are certain to endure, these are your must-read classics from the Booker Library


Publication date and time: Published

‘A classic,’ journalist and author Italo Calvino reflected in his 1991 book Why Read the Classics, ‘is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say’. 

However, we believe the ultimate measure lies with readers themselves, which is precisely why we turned to you, our newsletter subscribers and social followers, to share your favourite classic books from the Booker Library (the 600+ titles nominated for our prizes since their inception in 1969). You told us of stories that were intimate and epic; of multilayered novels that endure, standing up to re-reads over many years; and of books that have stayed with you since the day you first picked them up. 

Here, we present your favourite classics that have been nominated for the Booker Prize – a selection of bestsellers and hidden gems that span the decades, offering a journey through the must-reads of the prize, and beyond.

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

Jamaica, 1976. Seven gunmen storm Bob Marley’s house, machine guns blazing. The reggae superstar survives, but the gunmen are never caught. In his 2015 Booker Prize-winning novel, Marlon James investigates the story behind this near-mythical event. The result is a mesmerising, continent-crossing tale that spans three decades, with a shadowy cast of street kids, drug lords, journalists, prostitutes, gunmen and secret service agents.

What our readers said: ‘A Brief History of Seven Killings is so many things, a political thriller, a glimpse into America’s imperialism in the seventies. Imagine The Sopranos and The Wire rolled into one. This is probably one the most memorable winners, and the writing… OMG – the writing, the voices that James gives to his characters, pure poetry.’

Mirko Kriskovic, Facebook

Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively

Claudia Hampton, a famous writer, lies dying in hospital. But as the nurses tend to her with quiet condescension, she is plotting her greatest work: ‘a history of the world… and in the process, my own’. Gradually she re-creates the rich mosaic of her life and times. Penelope Lively’s timeless 1987 Booker Prize-winning novel explores the shifting nature of reality and identity. She was nominated for the prize three times in total, before joining the judging panel in 1991 and again in 1998.

What our readers said: ‘Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively changed my life. It was the first Booker Prize-winning book I ever read and made me want to be a writer.’

Jes D, Substack

Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth

Outcast Matthew Paris boards the Liverpool Merchant as the ship’s doctor on a slave trade voyage. Illness breaks out, and slaves are ordered to be tossed overboard. Mutiny ensues and, with Paris as one of the leaders, the ship sails for Florida to establish an egalitarian society. Meanwhile, the loss of the ship has ruined its owner, Kemp, who hangs himself. Twelve years later, upon hearing rumours of a utopian interracial community in Florida, Kemp’s son sets out for revenge. Barry Unsworth’s gripping historical novel about the Atlantic slave trade won the Booker Prize 1992, shared jointly with Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient. The author, best known for his historical fiction, was nominated four times in total for the prize. 

What our readers said: ‘One of the greatest of the Booker Prize winners. It is a superb historical novel with richly developed characters. The story of the journey of a slave ship from Britain to Africa to America – and its captain and crew – is detailed and, while difficult to read because of its inhumanity, is no doubt an accurate description. Sacred Hunger is powerful, insightful and beautifully written. It should be on every serious reader’s bookshelf.’ 

Helen Meserve, Substack

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

In an unnamed city by the sea in mid-1970s India, a State of Internal Emergency has been declared. In the tiny flat of the widowed Dina Dalal, Ishvar and Omprakash Darji, tailors who have been forced from their village into the city, and Maneck Kohlah, a young student from a hill-station near the Himalayas, are painfully constructing new lives, which become entwined in circumstances no one could have foreseen. Rohinton Mistry’s epic masterpiece, A Fine Balance, was longlisted for the Booker Prize 1996.

What our readers said: ‘This is an epic book about India, the caste system, the cruelty and corruption. Amidst all the incredible horror of the country’s tumultuous landscape and politics, are individuals, who become friends, and that friendship turns to love. Love of humans, in an inhuman world.’ 

Carla M, Substack

Mrs Palfrey at The Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor

On a rainy Sunday in January, the recently widowed Mrs Palfrey arrives at the Claremont Hotel, to spend her remaining days. Her fellow residents are magnificently eccentric and endlessly curious, living off crumbs of affection and snippets of gossip. Together, upper lips stiffened, they fight off their twin enemies: boredom and the Grim Reaper. Then one day Mrs Palfrey strikes up an unlikely friendship with an impoverished young writer, Ludo, who sees her as inspiration for his novel. Elizabeth Taylor’s ruthlessly observant study of eccentricity in old age was shortlisted for the Booker Prize 1971

What our readers said: ‘Taylor’s subtle presentation of longing and loneliness is heartbreaking and hilarious. It feels lighthearted at times, but Taylor evokes our sympathy, pity, horror, and joy, sometimes all at once. She writes real life, in all its complexity, and her work is as sharp and humane now as it must have been when she was awarded the Booker. It has stood the test of time gracefully.’ 

Christian Powers, Substack

Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel

England, 1535. Anne Boleyn, for whose sake Henry VIII has broken with Rome, has failed to do what she promised: bear a son to secure the Tudor line. Meanwhile, Henry has developed a dangerous attraction to Jane Seymour. The king’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, must negotiate a ‘truth’ that will satisfy Henry and secure his own career. But neither minister nor king will emerge unscathed from the bloody theatre of Anne’s final days. This gripping sequel to Wolf Hall, the second volume of Hilary Mantel’s remarkable trilogy charting the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell, won the Booker Prize 2012

What our readers said: ‘The language is incredibly inventive, and Mantel strikes a perfect balance between narrative, character and theme. The world is immersive, and the ideas and images stay with the reader.’

Karen Anderson, Facebook

Book cover of A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry depicting a child on a pole pointing upwards.

Loitering with Intent by Muriel Spark

When Fleur Talbot takes up work for the snobbish Sir Quentin Oliver and the venal members of his Autobiographical Association she is secretly delighted. Here is inspiration for her villain, Warrender Chase. But when Sir Quentin steals the finished manuscript for his own lunatic ends, life begins to imitate art with uncanny – and dangerous – predictability, for more than one of her characters has met an untimely end. A would-be novelist takes inspiration from life – but then finds the tables are mysteriously turned, in Muriel Spark’s 1981 shortlisted novel. 

What our readers said: ‘Loitering With Intent by Muriel Spark 👏🔥 the wit, the sass, the flawless writing.’

Gagging4lit, Instagram

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

In Julian Barnes’ compelling novel, which won the Booker Prize 2011, a middle-aged man is forced to reconsider his life when he is confronted with his imperfectly remembered past. Tony and his clique first met Adrian at school. Sex-hungry and book-hungry, they navigated the sixth form together, trading in-jokes, rumour and wit. Maybe Adrian was a little more serious than the others, certainly more intelligent, but they all swore to stay friends. Now Tony is retired. He’s had a career and a marriage, a calm divorce. Memory, though, is imperfect. It can always throw up surprises, as a lawyer’s letter is about to prove.

What our readers said: ‘I read The Sense of an Ending late last year and I think it is one of those deceptively simple novels. As soon as I read it, I put it back on my TBR list, as I think it is one of those I will get more from each time I read it.’

Lynda, Substack

Atonement by Ian McEwan

On a hot day in the summer of 1934, 13-year-old Briony sees her older sister Cecilia strip off her clothes and plunge into the fountain in the garden of their country house. Watching is Cecilia’s friend from childhood, Robbie Turner. By the end of that day, the lives of all three will have been changed forever. Robbie and Cecilia will have crossed a boundary they had not imagined at its start. Briony will have committed a crime for which she will spend the rest of her life trying to atone. Ian McEwan’s masterpiece of metafiction was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2001. He won the prize in 1998 with Amsterdam, and has been nominated for the Booker a total of six times. 

What our readers said: ‘It’s a classic because it looks at fiction in all its complexity, in a way that I don’t believe has ever been addressed by any other writer or work to date. Atonement is a dazzlingly original and thought-provoking novel.’

Jean Fernandez, Substack

Book cover of Loitering With Intent by Muriel Spark. Illustration of a young lady with black in a bun and a man siting at a desk.

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

Four very disparate war-torn people, a young woman and three men, take refuge in a damaged villa north of Florence as the war retreats around them. In an upstairs room lies the badly burned English patient, alive but unable to move. His extraordinary adventures and turbulent love affair in the North African desert before the war provide the focus around which the vivid tales of his companions revolve. His very presence will forever change the destiny of those around him. Set in 1945, Michael Ondaatje’s brilliant and moving historical fiction, which won the Booker Prize 1992 (shared with Barry Unsworth’s gripping historical novel, Sacred Hunger), has been translated into 40 languages and turned into an Oscar-winning film.

What our readers said: ‘A rich novel with complex characters set in a strange and fascinating environment. This book still feeds my soul after many years.’

Nan Miller, Substack

The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

Chigozie Obioma combines classic African storytelling with contemporary fiction in this haunting fable suffused with supernatural power, which was shortlisted for the  2015 Booker Prize.  

In a small Nigerian town in the mid-1990s, four brothers take advantage of their strict father’s absence to go fishing in a forbidden river. They encounter a dangerous local madman, whose mystic prophecy of violence threatens the very core of their close-knit family. He predicts that one of the brothers will kill another. This evil prophecy of violence unleashes a tragic chain of events

What our readers said: ‘Quite simply one of the most beautiful novels I have ever read.’

MMeador, Substack

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

A reluctant voyager crossing the Pacific in 1850; a disinherited composer blagging a precarious livelihood in between-the-wars Belgium; a high-minded journalist in Governor Reagan’s California; a vanity publisher fleeing his gangland creditors; a genetically modified ‘dinery server’ on death-row; and Zachry, a young Pacific Islander witnessing the nightfall of science and civilisation. Six stories that echo and impact on each other, and together point to a terrifying vision of the future. Cloud Atlas was shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2004 and went on to be adapted for film in 2012 by the Wachowskis, known for their work on the Matrix series. 

What our readers said: ‘I am utterly fascinated with the six plots in one novel. I recognise it as a true classic. What intrigues me further are the different times he depicts. A real masterpiece!’

Nancy Ofori, Substack

Book cover of The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje.

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee

In 1996, J.M. Coetzee became the first author to win the Booker for a second time, with this tale set in post-apartheid South Africa. Refusing to apologise after an impulsive affair with a student, David Lurie, a 52-year-old professor in Cape Town, seeks refuge on his daughter’s farm. Here, a savage and disturbing attack brings into relief the faults in their relationship. Pitching the moral code of political correctness against the values of Romantic poetry, Disgrace examines dichotomies both in personal relationships and in the unaccountability of one culture towards another.

What our readers said: ‘I read Disgrace as a young parent. I remember finding it at a local thrift shop. The blank white cover stood out to me. It was my first recognition that writing could be stylistic. The first time I could see the virtuosity of a sentence.’

Keshawn Harry, Facebook

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

In Margaret Atwood’s feminist dystopian classic, nothing happens ‘that hasn’t already happened at some time or another’. Offred is a national resource. In the Republic of Gilead, the state allows her only one function: to breed. As a Handmaid she carries no name except her Master’s, for whose barren wife she must act as a surrogate. Dissenters are supposed to end up either at the Wall, where they are hanged, or in the Colonies, to die a lingering death from radiation sickness. But the irrepressible Moira shows Offred that it is possible to cheat the system. Atwood’s novel, now a powerful symbol of feminist resistance, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1986. She has been nominated for the prize six times. 

What our readers said: ‘I read this the year it was published and it still haunts me.’

MMeador, Substack

Every Man for Himself by Beryl Bainbridge

Beryl Bainbridge’s fictional history chronicles the fate of the privileged passengers of the Titanic on its doomed maiden voyage. For four fraught, mysterious days of 1912, the Titanic sails towards New York, glittering with luxury, freighted with millionaires and hopefuls. In her labyrinthine passageways are played out the last, secret hours of a small group of passengers, their fate sealed in prose of startling, sublime beauty, as this haunting masterpiece moves inexorably to its known and terrible end. Every Man for Himself was shortlisted for the prize in 1996. It was one of five times Bainbridge made the shortlist, the most any author has been without winning the prize. 

What our readers said: ‘This novel is what great writing aspires to be. Every Man for Himself. First among equals.’ 

Marc Côté, Substack

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Welcome to Britain and 12 very different people – mostly women, mostly Black – who call it home. Teeming with life and crackling with energy, Girl, Woman, Other follows them across the miles and down the years, through different generations and social classes, in this ever-dynamic, ever-expanding and utterly irresistible novel of our times, which won the Booker Prize – jointly, with Margaret Atwood’s novel The Testaments – in 2019

What our readers said: ‘A powerhouse of diversity, unity and enduring strength in the female experience.’ 

a_pearl_and_her_books, Instagram

In A Free State by V.S. Naipaul

In stories wrapped around a novella (later published as a separate volume), Naipaul introduces a range of discomfiting characters – a mercilessly bullied tramp, a compromised servant, a humiliated cousin and a disaffected tourist. In the central narrative, he imagines a new Heart of Darkness for Africa, as a British civil servant and his wife drive back to their compound across an unnamed country: a dangerous journey into an increasingly disturbed and violent land. In A Free State won the Booker Prize 1971

What our readers said: ‘It changed the form and introduced something the world hadn’t seen, until then.’

bibliognost_debu, Instagram

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

After signing up for the US Army in the 1850s, aged barely 17, Thomas McNulty and his brother-in-arms, John Cole, go on to fight in the Indian wars and, ultimately, the Civil War. Having fled terrible hardships they find these days to be vivid and filled with wonder, despite the horrors they both see and are complicit in. Eventually, the possibility of lasting happiness emerges, if only they can survive. Sebastian Barry’s atmospheric portrayal of America was longlisted for the Booker Prize 2017. He has been nominated for the prize five times, most recently in 2023 for Old God’s Time.  

What our readers said: ‘Days Without End, which is a remarkable feat – an Irish author giving us a brilliant perspective on the American West.’

MMeador, Substack

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

It looks at fiction in all its complexity, in a way that I don’t believe has ever been addressed by any other writer or work to date. Atonement is a dazzlingly original and thought-provoking novel

— A reader's review of Ian McEwan's 2001 shortlisted novel, Atonement

How Late It Was, How Late by James Kelman

One Sunday morning in Glasgow, Sammy awakens in a lane and tries to remember the two-day drinking binge that landed him there. Things only get worse. Sammy gets into a fight with some soldiers, lands in jail, and discovers that he is completely blind. His girlfriend disappears, the police probe him endlessly, and his stab at Disability Compensation embroils him in the Kafkaesque red tape of the welfare system. James Kelman’s raw, wry vision of human survival in a bureaucratic world won the Booker Prize 1994. He was the first Scottish winner of the prize. 

What our readers said: ‘Kelman’s book is a kind of exploration of modern masculinity in crisis as the working-class protagonist seeks to navigate his way, literally and metaphorically, through a landscape which is simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar.’

Daviegcaricatures, Instagram

Life and Times of Michael K by J.M. Coetzee

In a South Africa torn by civil war, Michael K sets out to take his ailing mother back to her rural home. On the way there she dies, leaving him alone in an anarchic world of brutal roving armies. Imprisoned, Michael is unable to bear confinement and escapes, determined to live with dignity. This life-affirming novel, which won the Booker Prize 1983, illuminates the human experience: the need for an interior, spiritual life; for meaningful connections to the world in which we live; and for purity of vision. 

What our readers said: ‘Life and Times of Michael K gives a restrained but clear middle finger to the toxic masculinity of the SA Military in the 80s.’

Ross Fleming, Substack

Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes

Geoffrey Braithwaite is the learned and querulous narrator of this inquiry into the mysteries of Gustave Flaubert and his art, and into the facts of his own marriage to the adulteress he adored. As part of his mission to unravel the supposed secrets of the long-dead author, Braithwaite travels to France on an absurd quest to find the stuffed parrot Flaubert kept on his desk for inspiration. The novel was shortlisted for the prize in 1984. Barnes went on to win the Booker in 2011, with The Sense of an Ending.

What our readers said: ‘I loved this book when released and still return to it from time to time. Although only shortlisted, I think it stands up with any Booker Prize winners.’

Brian, Substack

How Late It Was, How Late by James Kelman

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

Born at midnight on August 15, 1947, at the precise moment of India’s independence, the infant Saleem Sinai is celebrated in the press and welcomed by Prime Minister Nehru himself. But this coincidence of birth has consequences for which Saleem is not prepared: telepathic powers that connect him with 1,000 other ‘midnight’s children’ – all born in the initial hour of India’s independence – and an uncanny sense of smell that allows him to sniff out danger imperceptible to others. Saleem’s life is a whirlwind of disasters and triumphs, in Salman Rushdie’s masterpiece which won the Booker Prize 1981

What our readers said: ‘It was my first experience of magic realism and I felt like I was drowning in those words – it overwhelmed and consumed me in the most delicious way. I have read it several times and although I have a different experience each time I do, the wonder is always the same ❤️’

en_aitch_jay, Instagram

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

By degrees, an enigmatic, brilliant and terrifyingly talented litigator becomes an increasingly broken man. Despite his successful career and the support of his friends, his mind and body remain deeply scarred by an unspeakable childhood. He becomes progressively more haunted by what he suspects is a history of trauma he cannot overcome, and that he fears will define his life forever. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2015, Hanya Yanagihara’s deft depiction of friendship and heartbreak becomes a dark examination of the tyranny of memory and the limits of human endurance.

What our readers said: ‘Wonderfully written – very long and sometimes disturbing, but worth every minute.’

Joan Atlas, Substack

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years, and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe oppose him. Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell. Son of a brutal blacksmith, Cromwell is a political genius, a briber, a bully and a charmer. He has broken all the rules of a rigid society in his rise to power, and is prepared to break some more. Hilary Mantel’s 2009 Booker Prize-winning novel peels back history to explore the rich intersection of individual psychology and wider politics in Tudor England.

What our readers said: ‘It works on many levels but, most importantly, it makes the reader see, and feel, through Cromwell’s eyes.’

Eluned Jones, Substack

Front cover of Midnight's Children (cover art - faces as clocks)

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro 

Kathy, Ruth and Tommy were pupils at Hailsham – an idyllic establishment situated deep in the English countryside. The children were sheltered entirely from the outside world and brought up to believe they were special. But why were they really there? Now 31, Kathy looks back on the past and narrates the haunting story of how she and her two friends slowly came to confront the truth about their past – and about their futures. Thought-provoking and unsettling by turns, Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2005 Booker Prize-shortlisted novel gradually unveils the true nature of three children’s apparently happy childhoods.

What our readers said: ‘It moved the parameters of what I’d understood a novel could do. You think you’re reading one kind of story, then you realise it’s another kind, and on looking back you realise it was a totally different one as well. I read it again 10 years later and it hit me just as hard the second time.’

Laura F, Substack

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

The narrator is Snowman. As the story begins, he’s sleeping in a tree, wearing a dirty old bedsheet, mourning the loss of his beloved Oryx and best friend Crake, and slowly starving to death. Earlier, his life was one of comparative privilege, living with all the other smart, rich people in the gated company towns owned by biotech corporations. The first book in Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy, which was shortlisted for the prize in 2003, genetically-modified humanoids he calls ‘the Crakers’ is a cautionary tale set in a less-than-brave new world.

What our readers said: ‘I love her speculative fiction. She recasts the world in such a powerful way. I’ve bought this book for so many people.’

Alette Bernasconi via Facebook

Paradise by Abdulrazak Gurnah

Yusuf, a young African boy comes of age in an East Africa increasingly corrupted by colonialism and violence. It soon transpires that the ‘uncle’ Yusuf is travelling with is in reality a powerful merchant, and he has been pawned to him to pay his father’s debts. Having been sold into slavery by his father, Yusuf is thrown into a multi-ethnic world of war and violence – and the trials of adolescence. Abdulrazak Gurnah’s powerful work of historical fiction was shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2004

What our readers said: ‘An extraordinary, moving and vivid evocation of a young enslaved boy’s experience in 19th century East Africa, told with compassion.’

Lyn Innes, Substack

Book cover of Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. Blurry image of a young woman dancing.

Possession by A.S. Byatt

Maud Bailey is a scholar researching the life and work of her distant relative, a little-known 19th-century poet named Christabel LaMotte. Roland Mitchell is looking into an obscure moment in the life of another Victorian poet, the celebrated Randolph Henry Ash. Together, the two uncover a dark secret in Ash’s life: though apparently happily married, he conducted a torrid affair with LaMotte. As Maud and Roland dig deeper, they too find themselves falling in love. A.S. Byatt’s gloriously exhilarating novel of wit and romance won the Booker Prize 1990

What our readers said: ‘It is a beautifully written story of how obsession mirrors possession in all of its forms, with a gentle love story and a compelling historical mystery woven into the narrative. And after 60+ years of reading, it has the best last chapter of any novel I have ever read. A truly magnificent book, and an absolute classic.’

Lesley West, Facebook

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

At the end of his three decades of service at Darlington Hall, Stevens embarks on a country drive, during which he looks back over his career to reassure himself that he has served humanity by serving ‘a great gentleman.’ But lurking in his memory are doubts about the true nature of Lord Darlington’s ‘greatness’ – and graver doubts about his own faith in the man he has served. Kazuo Ishiguro’s moving portrait of the perfect English butler, his loyalty and his fading, insular world in post-war England, won the Booker Prize 1989

What our readers said: ‘The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro is my favourite book of all time. It is so beautifully written, not a word out of place, and utterly heartbreaking - a life sacrificed to duty.’

Amanda Huggins, Substack

Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally

In the shadow of Auschwitz, a flamboyant German industrialist continually defies the SS and becomes a living legend to the Jews of Krakow. This is the story of Oskar Schindler, a womaniser and drinker who was transformed by the war into a man with a mission, risking his life to protect beleaguered Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland. Thomas Keneally’s remarkable, Booker-winning historical fiction about the unlikely hero who rescued thousands of Jews from the Nazi death machine won the Booker Prize 1982. The novel was published as Schindler’s List in the US and subsequently turned into a hugely successful film, which won seven Oscars, including Best Picture. 

What our readers said: ‘Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally, which introduced us to one of the unsung heroes of World War II. A book and film that showed how good in the end triumphed over evil.’

Rafael Donnelly, Substack

Possession by AS Byatt

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

1981, Glasgow. The city is dying. Poverty is on the rise. When her philandering husband walks out, leaving her with three children, Agnes turns to alcohol for comfort. The children try their best to save her. Yet one by one they have to abandon her in order to save themselves. Shuggie still holds out hope. But Shuggie has problems of his own, despite all his efforts to pass as ‘normal’. Agnes wants to protect her son, but her addiction has the power to eclipse everything. And everyone. Shuggie Bain was Stuart’s debut novel. It won the Booker Prize in 2020

What our readers said: ‘What drew me to it was the sheer rawness of the book. At a human level, you empathise with Shuggie and Agnes, his mum. Neither are perfect, not even close, and it’s their imperfections that make them so real. I have no hesitation in my mind that Shuggie Bain is the modern classic of our times. And Douglas Stuart’s labour of love was well worth the wait.’

Arnab Mitra, Facebook

The Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe

This is the story of Francis ‘Francie’ Brady, whose troubled home life leaves him violent and detached, yet somehow still childlike. Things begin to fall apart after his mother’s suicide - when he is consumed with fury and commits a terrible crime. Committed to an asylum, it is only here that he finally achieves peace. Through his narrator’s stream of consciousness in this 1992 shortlisted novel, Patrick McCabe portrays the descent into madness of a young killer in small-town Ireland in the 1960s.

What our readers said: ‘Achingly sad.’

Herb Roselle, Substack

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

Iris Chase – married at 18 to a politically prominent industrialist, but now 82 and poor –  is living in a town dominated by her once-prosperous family. While bewailing her unreliable body and deriding those who try to help her, Iris reflects on her far-from-exemplary life and perilous times, particularly on the events surrounding her sister Laura’s mysterious early death – a death which confirmed her iconic status as the author of a scandalous novel. Margaret Atwood’s 2000 Booker Prize winner is a multilayered drama that weaves its narrative threads across past and present, fiction and reality.

What our readers said: ‘It made me want to reread as soon as I finished, the narrative and storyline are just superb.’

Liza Millard, Facebook

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

In a small East Anglian coastal town, outsider Florence Green decides, against polite but ruthless local opposition, to open a bookshop. Hardborough becomes a battleground, as small towns so easily do. Florence has tried to change the way things have always been done, and as a result she has to take on not only the people who have made themselves important, but natural and – on occasion supernatural – forces. Not every town without a bookshop necessarily wants one, as Florence soon discovers in this wise and funny gem from Penelope Fitzgerald, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize 1978. Fitzgerald went on to win the prize one year later, with Offshore

What our readers said: ‘The remarkable character of Mr Brundish impressed me a lot! Unusual and severe in his appearance but very soft and noble in his heart. I think this fine character is also the success of the book, which has an extraordinary finesse.’

Arlinda Guma via Facebook

The Bone People by Keri Hulme

One New Zealand night, artist in exile Kerewin’s solitude is disrupted by a visitor – a speechless, mercurial boy named Simon, who tries to steal from her and then repays her with his most precious possession. As Kerewin succumbs to Simon’s feral charms, she also falls under the spell of his Maori foster father Joe, who rescued the boy from a shipwreck and now treats him with an unsettling mixture of tenderness and brutality. Keri Hulme’s 1985 Booker Prize-winning novel focuses on the mysterious relationships between three unorthodox outsiders. 

What our readers said: ‘The Bone People is my all-time favourite and one I have reread twice. Love and psychosis in a stunning package.’

Karen Wilbur, Substack

The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt

In the golden summers of Edwardian times, the Wellwood children play in a story-book world in their rambling house near Romney Marsh. But their lives, and those of their cousins and friends – are already inscribed with mystery. As the sons rebel against their parents and the girls dream of independent futures, they are unaware that in the darkness ahead they will unintentionally be betrayed by the adults who love them. A.S. Byatt’s vivid and deeply affecting historical fiction is the story of a singular family, played out against the great, rippling tides of the day. It was shortlisted in 2009, 19 years after she won the prize for Possession

What our readers said: ‘I loved it much more than Possession.’

Paolo Angelini, Substack

The Bookshop

Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner

Edith Hope writes romance novels under a pseudonym. When her life begins to resemble the plots of her own novels, however, Edith flees to Switzerland, where the quiet luxury of the Hotel du Lac promises to restore her to her senses. But instead of peace and rest, Edith finds herself sequestered at the hotel with an assortment of love’s casualties and exiles. Anita Brookner’s novel won the 1984 Booker Prize. She was longlisted once again in 2002 with The Next Big Thing

What our readers said: ‘A multi-layered examination of loneliness, love and self-discovery.’

Cazz Anders, Substack

A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr

In the summer of 1920, two men meet in the quiet English countryside. One is a war survivor, living in a church, intent on uncovering and restoring a historical wall painting. The other, too, is a war survivor, camping in the next field in search of a lost grave. Out of their physical meeting comes a deeper communion – with the landscape, with history –and a renewed belief in the future. J.L. Carr’s tale of survival and healing was shortlisted for the Booker Prize 1980

What our readers said: ‘A slim volume but once read and put away it will creep up on you.’

Simon Sunderland, Substack

The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie

The Enchantress of Florence brings together two cities that barely know each other – the hedonistic Mughal capital, where the brilliant emperor wrestles daily with questions of belief, desire and the treachery of sons, and the sensual Florentine world of powerful courtesans, humanist philosophy and inhuman torture. These two separate worlds turn out to be uncannily alike, and the enchantments of women hold sway over them both. Salman Rushdie’s masterful, magical story was longlisted for the prize in 2008

What our readers said: ‘I read The Enchantress of Florence when I was 25 years old with a mind full of sexual desire for an impossible love. This novel I suggest is the best so far because it depicts a love that transcends both space and time.’

Rajaram Hota, Facebook

Hotel du Lac

Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively changed my life. It was the first Booker Prize-winning book I ever read and made me want to be a writer

— A reader's review of Penelope Lively's 1987 Booker Prize-winning novel

The Ghost Road by Pat Barker

In 1918, Billy Prior experiences a late-summer idyll, some days of perfect beauty, before the final battles in a war that has destroyed most of his generation. In London, Prior’s psychologist, William Rivers, tends to his new patients, more young men whose lives and minds have been shattered. The third volume of Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy follows the fortunes of shell-shocked British army officers towards the end of the First World War. The novel won the Booker Prize 1995

What our readers said: ‘Pat Barker’s wonderful presentation and exploration of WW1 experiences from different class perspectives – the books are poetic, gritty, earthy, with biting humour and, of course, tragedy.’

Londonbongo, Instagram

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

London, 1862. Sue Trinder, orphaned at birth, grows up under the rough but loving care of Mrs Sucksby and her ‘family’ of unwanted babies turned artful dodgers – ‘fingersmiths’. When one of Mrs Sucksby’s scams places Sue as a lady’s maid to an orphan-heiress in a sprawling Gothic mansion, the narrative explores even darker corners, among the pinched corsets and rustling skirts of Victorian England. Sarah Waters’ intriguing blend of mystery and suspense, secrets and betrayal was shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2002

What our readers said: ‘Clever, salacious, thrilling – reads like a Victorian novel.’

Dru Lawton, Substack

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

February, 1862. Two days after his death, 11-year-old Willie Lincoln is laid to rest in a marble crypt in a Georgetown cemetery. All that night, his father Abraham paces the darkness of the graveyard, shattered with grief. Meanwhile, Willie is trapped in a state of limbo between the dead and the living – drawn to his father with whom he can no longer communicate, existing in a ghostly world populated by the recently passed and the long dead. Lincoln in the Bardo won the Booker Prize 2017

What our readers said: ‘I love Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. It made me laugh and cry, the sorrow of losing a child and the complexity of the relationships. The unusual mixture of story and quotes works so well, rooting the story in its time and showing the unreliability of the observers. Definitely one of my favourite books ever.’

Barbara Paterson, Substack

The Ghost Road by Pat Barker

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Set in Kerala in the 1960s, The God of Small Things paints a vivid picture of life in a rural Indian town, the thoughts and feelings of the two small children, and the complexity and hypocrisy of the adults in their world. It is also a poignant lesson in the destructive power of the caste system and moral and political bigotry in general. Arundhati Roy’s poetic debut novel won the Booker Prize 1997

What our readers said: ‘Deeply moving and with a horrendous moral warning on social divides.’

Sara Walker, Substack

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

In the despair of a Japanese POW camp on the infamous Thailand-Burma Death Railway during World War Two, surgeon Dorrigo Evans is haunted by his love affair with his uncle’s young wife two years earlier. Struggling to save the men under his command from starvation, from cholera, from beatings, he receives a letter that will change his life. Richard Flanagan’s epic novel, which won the Booker Prize in 2014, tells the unforgettable story of one man’s reckoning with the truth.

What our readers said: ‘I read this a few years ago but still remember the novel. It is one of the best books that I’ve read that illustrates the strength of the human spirit. The book is gut-wrenching, but there is still so much hope there.’

Shirley Schwartz, Facebook

The Siege of Krishnapur by J.G. Farrell 

India, 1857 – the year of the Great Mutiny. In an isolated Victorian outpost on the subcontinent, rumours of strife begin to filter in from afar. Yet the members of the colonial community remain confident of their military and, above all, moral superiority. When they find themselves under actual siege, however, the true character of their dominion – at once brutal, blundering and wistful – is soon revealed. J.G. Farrell details the siege of a fictional town in India in 1857, in his novel which won the 1973 Booker Prize. Later, some 40 years after publication, his 1970 novel Troubles, went on to win the Lost Man Booker

What our readers said: ‘It captures the absurdity of the British Raj. The characters are so well-formed. There are passages which have humour and others which convey the horror of the besieged English.’ 

Nick Denison, Substack

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

The Secret River by Kate Grenville

London, 1806. William Thornhill, happily wedded to his childhood sweetheart, is a waterman on the River Thames. Life is tough but bearable – until William makes a mistake for which he and his family are made to pay dearly. His sentence: to be transported to New South Wales for the term of his natural life. In this harsh and alien environment, William makes his home in ‘unclaimed land’ – but is shocked to find aboriginal people are already living there. Kate Grenville’s fictional account of the conflict that accompanied the settlement of New South Wales by exiled British convicts in the 19th century was shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2006

What our readers said: ‘A gorgeously-written historical novel about an Englishman deported to the colony of New South Wales who makes a new life for himself in what will become Australia.’

Dru Lawton, Substack

The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst

It is the summer of 1983 in Alan Hollinghurst’s 2004 Booker Prize winner, and young Nick Guest has moved into an attic room in the Notting Hill home of the Feddens: Gerald, an ambitious Tory MP, his wealthy wife Rachel, and their children. As the boom years of the mid-80s unfold, Nick, an innocent in matters of politics and money, becomes embroiled in the Feddens’ world, with its grand parties, its holidays in the Dordogne, its parade of monsters both comic and threatening. 

What our readers said: ‘Still so relevant today, it’s uncanny.’

 Leo_dollstoy, Instagram

The Sea by John Banville

Led back to Ballyless by a dream, Max Morden returns to the coastal town where he spent a holiday in his youth. The Grace family appeared that long-ago summer as if from another world. Drawn to the twins, Chloe and Myles, Max soon found himself entangled in their lives, which were as seductive as they were unsettling. What ensued haunts him for the rest of his years and shapes everything that is to follow. John Banville’s moving portrait of a man adrift won the Booker Prize 2005. Professor John Sutherland, chair of judges that year, called it ‘a masterly study of grief, memory and love recollected’.

What our readers said: ‘Lyrical introspective fiction merits repeated reads, and John Banville’s The Sea, is one of those.’

Jean Fernandez, Substack

The Secret River by Kate Grenville

Milkman by Anna Burns

In this unnamed city, to be interesting is dangerous. Middle sister, our protagonist, is busy attempting to keep her mother from discovering her maybe-boyfriend and to keep everyone in the dark about her encounter with Milkman. But when first brother-in-law sniffs out her struggle, and rumours start to swell, middle sister becomes ‘interesting’. The last thing she ever wanted to be. To be interesting is to be noticed and to be noticed is dangerous, in Anna Burns’s 2018 Booker Prize-winning novel.

What our readers said: ‘A story of the lived experience of people caught up by community and proximity in a political movement. Burns skillfully uses language and plotting to evoke what this feels like moment-to-moment. We see how fear and politics rule the thinking patterns and determine the behaviour of everyone in the town, so that one unexpected activity, ‘reading while walking’, can lead the young female narrator being suspected of an inappropriate liaison.’

Caroline MM, Substack

Bewilderment by Richard Powers

Theo Byrne is an astrobiologist. He is also the widowed father of a most unusual nine-year-old. Robin is loving, funny and full of plans to save the world. He is also troubled. What can a father do, when the only solution offered is to put his boy on psychoactive drugs? What can he say, when his boy asks why we are destroying the world? The only thing to do is to take the boy to other planets, while helping him to save this one. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2021, the judging panel that year said this was a ‘beautiful and truly inspiring’ novel. 

What our readers said: ‘Set in the future but relevant to our times, this is the story of a man and his young neurodiverse son, whose obsession with the natural world inspires a delicate love and grief. Powers’ sensitivity, his descriptive prose, and his presentation of environmental issues and science are so superbly woven into the intimacy of the personal, that I am filled with admiration for this writer and this work.’

Robyn Friend, Substack

The Famished Road by Ben Okri

Azaro, is an abiku, a spirit child, who in the Yoruba tradition of Nigeria exists between life and death. The life he foresees for himself and the tale he tells are full of sadness and tragedy, but inexplicably he is born with a smile on his face. Nearly called back to the realm of the dead, he is resurrected to confront the tension between the land of the living, often joyful despite violence and political struggles, and the temptations of the carefree kingdom of the spirits. Ben Okri’s epic won the Booker Prize 1991

What our readers said: ‘A beautifully written work of magical realism, laden with incredible detail and symbolism.’

Sandra T, Substack

Milkman by Anna Burns

I read this the year it was published and it still haunts me

— A reader's review of The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

In 1976, when The Emergency is announced, Pi (Piscine) Molitor – the son of a zoo manager in India – and his family embark on a Japanese freight ship to North America. It sinks a few days and Pi is left alone on a lifeboat with a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan, and a tiger named Richard Parker. He is rescued after 227 days afloat, barring one excursion to a surreally depicted carnivorous island.  Life of Pi won the Booker Prize 2002 and went on to become one of the biggest-selling novels in the prize’s history. It went on to be adapted for the big screen in 2012, in an award-winning film directed and produced by Ang Lee.

What our readers said: ‘For surreal storytelling, which the reader believes 💯 percent. Unforgettable. Unbelievable yet we believe.’

Jo.somerset, Instagram

The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch

Charles Arrowby, leading light of England’s theatrical set, retires from glittering London to an isolated home by the sea. He plans to write a memoir about his great love affair with Clement Makin, his mentor, and to amuse himself with Lizzie, an actress he has strung along for many years. But his plans fail, and his memoir evolves into a riveting chronicle of strange events and unexpected visitors – some real, some spectral – that disrupt his world and shake his oversized ego to its very core. Murdoch, who is now considered one of the great writers of the 21st century, turns her microscopic gaze on vanity and obsession in her 19th novel, which won the Booker Prize 1978.

What our readers said: ‘It’s so relatable. We’ve all had a teenage crush, and probably wondered about what it would be like to meet that person again. Would we understand the encounter to be ‘meant to be,’ somehow? Murdoch offers a chilling and riveting take.’

Books on GIF, Substack

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

When the van door slammed on Offred’s future at the end of The Handmaid’s Tale, what lay ahead for her? Freedom or prison? Life or death? The Testaments picks up the story 15 years after Offred stepped into the unknown, with the explosive testaments of three female narrators from Gilead. Margaret Atwood’s spellbinding sequel to her bestselling dystopian novel was inspired by readers’ responses to the first book and ‘the world we’ve been living in’. It won the Booker Prize 2019, alongside Bernardine Evaristo’s novel Girl, Woman, Other

What our readers said: ‘The ordeal and subjugation of women, especially girls who come from a low background, is both timely and poignant. The Wives, who belong to the creme de la creme of the society and give orders; the Aunts who train the Pearl Girls and man the Ardual Hall; the Commanders, etc. I love the character of Baby Nicole and how she’s subtly revealed in the end. This novel calls for a campaign against violence against women and girls and seeks to probe the nefarious practices in the corridors of power. The fall of Gilead! What a book!’

chikezieonwumere1, Instagram

Front cover of Life of Pi (image of tiger and boy on a boat surrounded by sea creatures.

Empire of the Sun by J.G. Ballard

Based on J. G. Ballard’s own childhood, this is the extraordinary account of a boy’s life in Japanese-occupied wartime Shanghai. The result is a mesmerising, hypnotically compelling novel of war, of starvation and survival, of internment camps and death marches. This is a book that blends searing honesty with an almost hallucinatory vision of a world thrown utterly out of joint. The novel was shortlisted for the Booker Prize 1984 and was adapted for film in 1987 by Steven Spielberg.

What our readers said: ‘Though I saw the movie before reading the book, I found the book, being semi-autobiographical and yet also fiction, a coming-of-age story in war-time about a young Jim, figuring out how to survive, very memorable and enjoyable.’

Cathy Burns, Substack

True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey

True History of the Kelly Gang is the song of Australia, and it sings its protest in Ned Kelly’s voice. Carey gives us Ned Kelly as orphan, Oedipus, horse thief, farmer, bushranger, reformer, bank-robber, police-killer and finally, his country’s beloved Robin Hood. By the time of his hanging in 1880 a whole country would seem to agree that he was ‘the best bloody man that has ever been in Benalla’. Peter Carey skilfully makes art from the life story of his country’s greatest outlaw, in a novel that won the Booker Prize 2001. He has been nominated for the prize five times, and also won in 1988 with Oscar and Lucinda

What our readers said:‘An excellent page-turner with a very engaging first-person narration and a complex and powerful set of characters. The setting is also very vivid and atmospheric – a great novel.’

Elizabeth Graham Madden, Substack

Rites of Passage by William Golding 

In the early 1800s, Edmund Talbot, a young and rather priggish Englishman, takes passage on a boat heading for Australia where he is to be an official in the colonial government. In addition to Talbot, many of the eccentric passengers – a sexually predatory sailor, an ageing coquette, the ship’s tyrannical captain – undergo profound changes in the course of the voyage, during which a naive clergyman is victimised and, finally, pushed to take drastic action. The first book of William Golding’s Sea Trilogy won the Booker Prize 1980. Best know for his coming-of-age novel Lord of the Flies, Golding was awarded the Nobel Prize three years later, in 1983. 

What our readers said: ‘I read the trilogy like one long book, as I was on that voyage as soon as I opened the first book!’

Alette Bernasconi, Facebook

Book cover of Empire of the sun

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

A love story, an adventure, a study of corruption and a glimpse into a hidden world – David Mitchell’s novel, which was longlisted for the Booker Prize 2010, is a historical fiction like no other. For over 150 years, the island of Dejima in Nagasaki harbour has been the only point of contact between Japan and Europe. Foreign traders are forbidden to leave the island while the Japanese may not travel beyond their native country. Yet through the porthole of Dejima, the new learning of the Enlightenment seeps into the Shogun’s cloistered realm, while tales of a mysterious land seep out. In 1799, Jacob de Zoet arrives on Dejima. He has an unpleasant – perhaps dangerous – task to perform. Mitchell has been nominated for the Booker Prize a total of five times. 

What our readers said: ‘A wonderful journey in ancient Japan.’

Paola Angelini, Substack

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead 

In a Georgian cotton plantation, Cora hears rumours about the Underground Railroad and decides to escape on it to the North. In Whitehead’s razor-sharp imagining, which was longlisted for the Booker Prize 2017, the Underground Railroad has assumed a physical form: a dilapidated box car pulled along subterranean tracks by a steam locomotive, picking up fugitives wherever it can. The narrative of Cora’s journey seamlessly weaves the saga of America, from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day.

What our readers said: ‘A story of slavery and racial segregation from the perspective of those pursuing freedom.’

Paolo Angelini, Substack

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

In the north-eastern Himalayas, at the foot of Mount Kanchenjunga, in an isolated and crumbling house, lives an embittered old judge, who wants nothing more than to retire in peace. But with the arrival of his orphaned granddaughter, Sai, and the son of his chatty cook trying to stay a step ahead of US immigration services, this is far from easy. Kiran Desai won the Booker Prize 2006 for this funny and politically acute family saga about a peaceful retirement under siege from all sides.

What our readers said: ‘The prose by Kiran Desai just mesmerised me the first time I read it – those incredible descriptions of the rainy season and its impact on the flora and fauna as well as on the locals brought Kalimpong to life. The second time I read it, I could appreciate the unsparing humour Desai finds in the humdrum of ‘The Indian Way Of Life’. She nails the Indianness of all characters and their differences. The third time I read it, I marvelled at the biting commentary of immigrants’ lives – belonging neither back home nor abroad. It’s a stunning winner 🥇 that needs to be read and appreciated more. ❤️’

bonvivant81, Instagram

Book cover of The Thousand Autumns Of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell depicting a seaside town with a big ship in the harbour.

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

Two brown girls dream of being dancers – but only one, Tracey, has talent. The other has ideas: about rhythm and time, about Black bodies and Black music, what constitutes a tribe, or makes a person truly free. It’s a close but complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in their early 20s, never to be revisited. Zadie Smith’s dazzlingly energetic and deeply human story about friendship, music and true identity, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2017. Smith has been nominated for the Booker Prize a total of three times. 

What our readers said: ‘I loved Swing Time by Zadie Smith. It evoked the complexity of childhood friendships between girls so brilliantly.’

Alette Bernasconi, Facebook

The Vegetarian by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith

Yeong-hye and her husband are ordinary people living in modern-day South Korea. He is an office worker with moderate ambitions and mild manners; she is an uninspired but dutiful wife. But then Yeong-hye, seeking a more ‘plant-like’ existence, commits a shocking act of subversion. As her rebellion manifests in ever more bizarre and frightening forms, Yeong-hye spirals further and further into her fantasies of abandoning her fleshly prison and becoming – impossibly, ecstatically – a tree. Fraught, disturbing, and beautiful, The Vegetarian was the first novel to win the International Booker Prize when the prize began to be awarded to a single novel, rather than a body of work, in 2016. 

What our readers said: ‘Perplexing novels rather than ideologically predictable ones engage me; the acclaim for The Vegetarian by Han Kang as a classic is deserving.’

Jean Fernandez, Substack

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

In a small town in the south-east of Ireland in the 1950s, work is hard to find. Eilis Lacey escapes to forge a new life for herself in Brooklyn, America. Young, homesick and alone, she buries the pain of parting to find a sort of happiness. But when tragic news summons her back to Ireland, she finds herself facing a terrible choice. Colm Tóibín’s 2009 longlisted novel is a tender story of deep love and devastating loss, and of the heartbreaking choice between two sides of an ocean, personal freedom and duty. Tóibín has been nominated for the Booker Prize four times. 

What our readers said: ‘A novel of confliction and uncertainty. A poignant chronicle of what it is to be human.’

Eve Smith, Substack

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

It moved the parameters of what I’d understood a novel could do

— A reader's review of Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

In a Barbados sugar plantation, Washington Black, an 11-year-old field slave, is selected to be the servant of one of the new owners – the eccentric Christopher ‘Titch’ Wilde. Titch is a naturalist, explorer, scientist, inventor – and abolitionist. Titch’s idealistic plans are soon shattered and Washington finds himself in mortal danger. They escape the island together, but Titch disappears and Washington must make his way alone, following his own path to freedom. Esi Edugyan’s novel was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2018. More recently, she chaired the panel of judges for the Booker Prize 2023.

What our readers said: ‘Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black is a brilliant tour-de-force of imagination.’

Marc Côté, Substack

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

The son of a rickshaw puller, Balram is taken out of school by his family and put to work in a teashop. As he crushes coals and wipes tables, he nurses a dream of escape – of breaking away from the banks of Mother Ganga, into whose depths have seeped the remains of a hundred generations. Balram’s subsequent journey from the darkness of village life to the light of entrepreneurial success is utterly amoral, deeply endearing and altogether unforgettable, in Aravind Adiga’s 2008 Booker Prize-winning novel. 

What our readers said: ‘Wonderfully written, transporting us to different contexts, different realities, different societies.’

Duarte Padinha, Facebook

Waterland by Graham Swift 

Tom Crick is a history teacher, but the history that absorbs him is his own and his family’s. Driven by a marital crisis and the provocation of one of his pupils, he forsakes his teaching to relate the story of his family who have lived in the Fens since the 18th century. The past, with its secrets and oddities, hangs heavy on him, pushing him towards a heartbreaking new disaster in his life, in Swift’s 1983 Booker Prize-shortlisted novel. He went on to win the prize in 1996, with Last Orders.

What our readers said: ‘A hugely ambitious and complex novel that works brilliantly.’

James Kinvinton, Substack

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

The son of a pioneering sociologist believes that selling his father’s controversial memoir will solve the family’s financial woes. But when he realises there never was a memoir, drastic action is required… The Sellout showcases a comic genius at the top of his game. It challenges the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality – the Black Chinese restaurant. Paul Beatty’s biting novel won the Booker Prize in 2016

What our readers said: ‘It is a good satire of race in the United States.’

Andrew Burke, Substack

The Years by Annie Ernaux, translated by Alison L Strayer

A narrative of the period 1941 to 2006 told through the lens of memory, impressions past and present, photos, books, songs, radio, television, advertising, and news headlines. Local dialect, words of the times, slogans, brands and names for ever-proliferating objects are given voice. The author’s voice continually dissolves and re-emerges as Ernaux makes the passage of time palpable. Time itself, inexorable, narrates its own course, consigning all other narrators to anonymity. Autobiography is given a new form in Nobel Prize winner Annie Ernaux’s genre-bending masterpiece, which was shortlisted for the International Booker Prize 2019

What our readers said: ‘It explores the shame and sense of guilt, related to a change of social status.’

Paola Angelini, Substack

A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman, translated by Jessica Cohen

In a comedy club in a small Israeli town, veteran stand-up Dovaleh G exposes a wound he has been living with for years: a fateful and gruesome choice he had to make between the two people dearest to him. Flaying alive both himself and the people watching, his act provokes a mixture of revulsion and empathy from an audience that doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. David Grossman’s heartbreaking novel, translated by Jessica Cohen, won the International Booker Prize 2017

What our readers said: ‘A remarkable, surprising harrowing book. It has stayed with me for years. A classic because, like The Iliad, it is full of human decisions that lead to disaster. Like The Iliad, it is not in the common ‘I must read that’ domain. Like The Iliad, it has unforgivable moments of humour, pathos, violence and love. Like The Iliad, it takes some dedication to read it but like The Iliad, the reward is great.’

Ann Marie Ritchie, Substack

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

Ending Up by Kingsley Amis 

At Tuppenny-ha’penny Cottage in the English countryside, five elderly people live together in rancorous disharmony. The mismatched quintet keep their spirits alive by bickering and waiting for grandchildren to visit at Christmas. But this festive season does not herald goodwill to all. Kingsley Amis’ deliciously malicious tale, shortlisted for the Booker Prize 1974, tackles twin irritations: the inevitability of growing old, and living in a world inhabited by others. Amis went on to win the prize in 1986 with The Old Devils

What our readers said: ‘Funny and kind of scary.’

Roz, Substack

Titles ranked in no particular order. Some readers’ answers have been abridged or edited for clarity.

Book cover of Ending Up by Kingsley Amis showing an umbrella, a glass of water and glasses.