Literary Fiction Recommendations

Lost Property, by Laura Beatty

Any novel that begins by riffing on Dante's Inferno ("At the midpoint of my life,I found myself in a dark wood") is set to be a ride. Which Beatty's third novel very much is - Lost Property details a road trip through France and the Mediterranean. In a magical-realist flourish, they bear witness to major historical events (the Hundred Years War, the Italian Renaissance) and bumps into cultural figures along the way - Joan of Arc, James Joyce... An ambitious and timely book on the power of art in the face of global violence.

Tunnel Vision, by Kevin Breathnach

In the last decade 'creative-critical' literature has emerged, writing that blurs the lines between autobiographical fiction and the cultural essay. Ireland is one of the hotbeds for this trend, and Breathnach a young luminary for the style. Described as Ireland's most interesting writers by Sally Rooney, Tunnel Vision warps between essays on artworks to scathing memoir, where ruminations on Susan Sontag sit side by side with blunt accounts of methadone addiction/ Although arch and cerebral. this collection thrives on a coruscating humor, and is an unforgettable read.

How to be both, by Ali Smith

Ali Smith's literature is reconstructive. Every one of her books is a kind of miracle, novels or short story collections which glimmer with the radical idea that things can get better, and will get better, because of collective spirit in the face of adversity. Smith's work isn't oblique, however - her prose is light-footed, and rooted in her enormous compassion towards her characters (and people in general). How to be both is an exemplary work of hers, a tale of gender and coming-of-age told twice: once from the perspective of the trans teenager George in contemporary Britain, and then again from the perspective of a disembodied 14th century painter. Sebastian Barry described Ali Smith as "Scotland's Nobel laureate-n-waiting", and it's easy to see why.

Dhalgren, by Samuel R. Delaney

Science-fiction often breeds the most radical experiments in literature and Dhalgren is perhaps its most awe-inspiring. Thrumming with the Cultural Revolution of the 60s (though published in the decade after) this novel chronicles the fictional Midwestern city of Bellona, which now has two moons in its sky, and 'the Kid', who stumbles between bizarre scenarios amidst its streets. Shockingly queer and told with lurid lyrical stream-of-consciousness, Dhalgren still holds massive power today, and the capacity to confound.

Beyond Black, by Hilary Mantel

Though best-known for her acclaimed Wolf Hall trilogy, the rest of Mantel's bibliography is just as sharply written as her most recent historical fiction. Beyond Black deals with the haunting of a psychic, Alison,working her way through the cultural desert of 00s south-east England, joined by Colette, her unbelieving assistant/manage. In time, the afterlife begins to overtake the real world, with life-changing consequences... a portrayal of England at the turn of the millennium, this s also an exploration of how women move through this world, both psychologically and embodied.

A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki

When a Canadian writer finds a Japanese girl's diary washed up on the shore, in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake, she begins to try and find out the girl's fate, as hr own story unfolds. This novel is full of bifurcation: there is the dual narrative, of course, but the divide between reality and fiction is also blurred, as too the very way we communicate in the digital world. It's a book full of ideas, and covers over an astonishing amount of intellectual work - 9/11, ecology and climate change, the power of art, Buddhism, quantum physics... This book will grip you and leave your head simmering with new ideas, and new ways to perceive the world.

Gut Symmetries, by Jeanette Winterson

Winterson's playfulness is nothing short of audacious. She jumps between genres, taking what she needs to make her lyrical stories brim with passion and flamboyant intellectualism. For Winterson, the novel must always be a firework, that can show the way the world can be changed, while embracing the complexity of everyday life. Like with Ozeki, this is a book obsessed with the power of a what-if - a menagerie of time travel, astrology and, echoing Ali Smith, the full radical power of love.

Lot, by Bryan Washington

In this moving short stories a young man comes of age in Houston, awakening to his sexuality, mixed-race and working-class background. The harsh realities the protagonist has to contend with are punctuated by moments of touching moving beauty, moments of affection and a kind of worldly understanding. This is a book that highlights the need for community, one with barbed heart; for fans of Ocean Vuong and Sally Rooney.

2666, by Roberto Bolano

Five stories centered around the bloody Mexican border city of Santa Teresa unfurl in this masterpiece; literary theorists and professors, sports journalists, murderers and policemen, and an elusive German author, all figure as pivotal characters. This book holds moments of great darkness and violence, but ultimately it  teaches us how to live, as the best novels do - it provides a way through the desert, however meandering and difficult, and leaves behind a profound sense of mystery long after the final page has been read. 

Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson

A Southern Gothic atmosphere permeates this tale of a strange family in Fingerbone, Idaho. Three generations of women are detailed in poetic polished prose, as a succession of relatives look after the orphaned sisters Ruthie and Lucille. As the years pass the eccentric family unit faces new challenges, and hard decisions must be taken. Lyrical and haunting, this novel was celebrated as a modern classic on release, and is still a beautiful read to this day.

Paradise Rot, by Jenny Hval

Known for her excellent experimental pop, Jenny Hval also reveals herself to be an astute and compelling writer in her fiction debut. The novel begins Suspiria-esque, as Jo moves to an unidentified country for university. When she moves in to a house with no walls, things begin to become disoriented , as her senses are heightened and the lines between the body, flora, dreams and wakefulness all mesh. A cutting-edge tale of desire and awakening that dispels the bounds of convention.

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