1) Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Lolita is possibly the most beautifully written book I have ever read with the most sinister plot line. It follows a middle aged man called Humbert Humbert who becomes infatuated with a 12 year old girl. It explores the dark world of a pedophile’s mind and how it was Humbert came to see children sexually. The book is written in first person narrative and while the subject of the novel is horrifying Humbert continually tries to evoke sympathy from the reader. Nabokov’s poetic writing prevents the book from becoming depraved and it remains a psychological exploration into the darkest parts of humanity.
2) The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
The canterbury tales is by no means an easy read but it provides an incredible insight into life in England in the 14th century. Sadly Chaucer died before completing the tales so there are only 24 tales in total and various prologues. The tales are part of a story telling competition for which the winner receives a free meal from the host at his inn. The group telling the tales are a group of pilgrims on their way to Canterbury and each character represents a type of person from 14th century England. From the bawdy miller to the gallant knight each tale is individual, there is truly something for everyone in the Canterbury tales.
3) The Outsider (L’Étranger) by Albert Camus
Albert Camus was a french writer and philosopher. His ideas on absurdism (accepting that death is inevitable and that we should create our own happiness in the world) are brilliantly explored throughout this novel. The plot focuses on an ordinary Algerian man called Mersault who commits a terrible act of violence for seemingly no reason. Camus cleverly entwines a good story with his philosophical thoughts by using imagery and language to create a fantastic novel that leaves an impression on the reader for the rest of their life.
4) The Great Gatsby- F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Great Gatsby is set in 1920s America amid prohibition, The Jazz Age and “The Roaring Twenties”. The novel focuses on the love affair between Gatsby and Daisy while showing the destruction which alcohol, money and status causes. Fitzgerald himself was a victim of wealth, fame and alcohol so throughout the novel the reader can really feel the characters come to life and the atmosphere becoming tense. I highly recommend reading The Great Gatsby before seeing it on film because nothing compares to the elegance of Fitzgerald’s writing.
5) A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
The strange world which Burgess creates in A Clockwork Orange is a mixture of communist fashions, rebellion, violence and later extreme control. The novel is written in first person narrative through the eyes of the extremely dangerous Alex who commits violent acts in a gang but later feels the full force of the law. Perhaps the most daunting thing about reading A Clockwork Orange is the language. It is written in a language invented by Burgess called Nadsat which is a mixture of russian and english. I study russian so it was not too hard for me to understand but there are some parts which may be very difficult to read without any knowledge of Russian. However, this should not put you of reading the book as the language adds to the abnormal and perplexing world in which Alex lives.
These are obviously only my personal recommendations so please tell me about anything which you feel should be a must read! Thank you!