There are few things in life more satisfying than finding a really good book. From intellectual classics to snappy novellas, reading keeps the mind active and the heart racing.
However, there are a select few novels that go above and beyond our expectations. As well as being enjoyable, some books hit a deeper chord and really get under the skin.
Novels that fit this category are more than just good stories. Whether original in concept, exceptional in writing style, or notably controversial, truly memorable literature is few and far between.
Without further ado, here is a list of 10 books that you aren’t likely to forget in a hurry.
10. Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin
Giovanni’s Room is an iconic contribution to the world of LGBTQ literature. The story follows a young man named David and explores the tension between his desire for Italian bartender Giovanni and the promise of stability and security that comes with heterosexual married life.
Both important and controversial at its time of publication, Giovanni’s Room is a story of love, loss and hope. David’s painful self-loathing, a dose of political undertones and an ending that is little short of heartbreaking make Giovanni’s Room a novel that shaped a generation and remains unforgettable to this day.
9. The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
Roy’s The God of Small Things is less of a story than it is an experience.
Through touching flashbacks and a deliciously playful, occasionally funny narrative, Arundhati Roy shows us the world of the wealthy Ayemenem family and their eventual downfall at the hands of both love and grief.
Focusing mainly on the childhood of twins Rahel and Estha, Roy crafts an eclectic cast of characters that will stay in your mind long after the novel’s poignant ending.
With haunting and beautiful lines that truly resonate with the reader, as well as moments of painful sadness, The God of Small Things is a masterpiece that deserves to be remembered.
8. Time’s Arrow, Martin Amis
Martin Amis’ Time’s Arrow presents a vivid reimagining of the Holocaust with a twist: the mass genocide, and all of the events leading up to it, occur in a backward world.
Seen through the eyes of Todd T. Friendly, a Nazi war criminal, sentences are spoken backwards, partners break up before falling in love, and life begins with old age.
When the war begins, Friendly experiences this in reverse as well, meaning that only the reader is aware of the true nature of the crimes committed by Amis’ deluded narrator.
Overall, Amis’ Holocaust narrative is a daring, original concept that pushes the boundaries of fiction to emphasise the horrific and nonsensical nature of one of the most terrifying mass genocides in modern history.
7. The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka
More of a novella than a novel, Kafka’s The Metamorphosis is like nothing I read before and nothing I have read since.
Both darkly comedic and deeply disconcerting, The Metamorphosis follows the journey of Gregor Samsa, a man who wakes up one day and discovers, to his dismay, that he has turned into a giant insect overnight.
Prior to reading The Metamorphosis, I had never before contemplated what it would be like to wake up as a large, cockroach-esque creature, so Kafka gets points for that reason alone.
Aside from this, The Metamorphosis is unsettling, surreal and incredibly unique in concept. You will not find another story like it.
6. The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
The Picture of Dorian Gray combines art, tragedy and horror in an unforgettable cocktail. Wilde tells the story of Dorian Gray, a beautiful upper-class gentleman.
Out of fear of losing his attractive physical appearance to the hands of time, Gray curses his portrait to age instead of himself. From here, Gray begins a life of debauchery that eventually leads to his demise.
The Picture of Dorian Gray is a classic, and Wilde does an impressive job of tapping into a common human fear that resonates with most readers: old age.
As demonstrated by the novel’s chilling ending, The Picture of Dorian Gray shows us the disastrous results of a lifestyle ruled by greed and hedonism.
5. A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara
Although its mighty length and troubling themes might make Yanagihara’s novel difficult to read at times, A Little Life is a powerful and emotionally devastating story about love, trauma and loss that is simply impossible to forget.
The 800-page book tells the story of four college students and takes the reader on a journey throughout their lives, from youth to old age.
Despite its occasional moments of joy, A Little Life is fundamentally a very upsetting novel. Yanagihara refuses to shy away from hard-hitting themes, and the melancholy last few chapters weighed on my mind for months after completion.
4. Beloved, Toni Morrison
I know a lot of people who would place Toni Morrison’s most famous novel amongst their favourite of all time, and there is good reason for this.
Beloved is a complex dive into the horrors of slavery in nineteenth-century America, following the life of escapee Sethe, her daughter Denver and the ‘baby ghost’ that haunts their home.
Beloved is a very layered novel, and is memorable in every aspect. With Morrison’s complex characters, brutal imagery and thought-provoking symbolism, Beloved is not designed to be a comfortable read. Morrison keeps us guessing at every turn, making Beloved a story to remember.
3. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
Where to begin with Great Expectations? One of Dickens’ most popular reads and arguably one of the greatest novels ever written, Great Expectations tells the story of young Pip, a blacksmith’s apprentice, who suddenly comes into an unexpected fortune.
Great Expectations has one of the most colourful and lively cast of characters found in any novel. I dare you to forget the eccentric Miss Havisham, the mysterious Abel Magwitch and the kindly Joe Gargery.
The novel’s overarching theme of how love is more important than money and class is touchingly beautiful. To put it simply, Great Expectations will make you smile, whilst also leaving you with a strong and positive message in its aftermath.
2. A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess
Naturally, Burgess’s iconic 1960’s dystopian sci-fi novel had to place somewhere on this list.
A Clockwork Orange follows Alex, a teenage boy who spends his days committing an array of violent and disturbing crimes. After being imprisoned, he agrees to undertake a new, experimental treatment, and from here the novel changes direction drastically.
A Clockwork Orange is memorable for an array of reasons. To start with, Burgess’s invented slang ‘Nadsat’ composes the entirety of the novel’s narration, which makes for a unique reading experience to say the least.
Secondly, A Clockwork Orange raises an array of moral questions surrounding free will and the nature of good and bad. Both political and experimental, A Clockwork Orange is creative, fast-paced and controversial, providing the reader with a lot of food for thought.
1. Lolita, Vladmir Nabokov
Nabokov’s controversial masterpiece is undeniably unforgettable. Narrated by the villainous Humbert Humbert, Lolita tells the story of a man’s obsession with his twelve-year-old stepdaughter.
From its opening pages, we are sucked into Humbert’s narrative and forced to see the world through his eyes, which creates an experience that is nothing short of spine-chilling.
The narrative’s inconsistencies and shamelessness will leave you pondering the novel’s timeline and events long after completion.
However, the controversy of Lolita sometimes outshines its literary merit – this is a beautifully written novel with multiple lines that fall nothing short of perfection. All in all, Lolita is memorable for all of the wrong reasons, as well as all of the right ones.