I can’t be the only one who recalls novels read in school English Literature classes with a slight shudder. As evidence of said slight shudder, I give you The Trumpet Major by Thomas Hardy (‘O’ Level set book, JMB examination board, 1984). And incidentally, my sister-in-law chose ‘Thomas Hardy and the Gothic’ for her Masters in English; she heartily disagrees with my opinion of Hardy.
However, with age and maturity comes the realisation that some of the novels you were forced by Miss Mitchell to read aloud were, in fact, pretty good:
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby has built a mansion on Long Island Sound for the sole purpose of wooing and winning his lost love Daisy Buchanan, who married another man while Gatsby was serving overseas. This classic American novel captures the Jazz Age in all its decadence and excess, while weaving a wistful story of love and loss. Even if you’ve seen the reasonably recent film (especially if you’ve seen the film) you need to read the book.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: In this 1960 classic, small-town attorney Atticus Finch attempts a hopeless defense of a black man unjustly accused of rape, and to teach his children, Scout and Jem, about the evils of racism. It’s been a staple on high school reading lists for years, but it enjoyed a fresh burst of publicity when its companion Go Set a Watchman was published in the summer of 2015. The stage version comes to London’s West End in mid-May, and a friend and I already have our tickets for early June.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: Just because it’s compulsory reading in high school doesn’t mean this isn’t a great book. This groundbreaking classic is a Gothic romance, mystery, and psychological thriller all rolled into one. You’ll be kicking yourself for not reading (or re-reading) it years ago. And reader, she married him.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: While many believe that Emma is Jane Austen’s masterpiece, Pride and Prejudice is more likely to show up on compulsory reading lists. On the other hand, consider yourself lucky if you never read Austen in high school. If you were lucky enough to have a gifted teacher who brought classic works to life, that’s fantastic—but many of us read just enough Austen in high school to be convinced she was boring and stuffy. (I was definitely in this second category.) Give her a try now—Pride and Prejudice is a terrific place to start, and if you don’t fall in love with her writing, at least you’ll know what the fuss is about.