Emma- Jane Austen
Emma is a match-maker and a control freak. She bores easily. At least as far as her family are concerned, she’s always the smartest person in the room. She’s a massive snob. Such attributes may not make a likeable protagonist, but they do make for a pretty great story.
Her life is highly restricted. After her mother’s death her father’s life became completely ruled by his anxieties. The thought of Emma leaving home is unbearable to him, so Emma has decided she never will.
But that’s fine with her. In the small community around which her life revolves, Emma is Queen Bee.
I wrote a project arguing that Jane Fairfax is actually the main character is this novel. I said that Emma only hates her so much because in Jane she sees her own inevitable future: a life of passivity and little to no self-determination. I spent almost an entire semester reading feminist literary writing about Jane Austen and it was wonderful.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland- Lewis Carroll
One day Alice chased a rabbit down an endless hole and found herself in Wonderland. Madness ensues.
Reading children’s book as a grown up is a really eye opening experience. I highly recommend it.
Nights at the Circus- Angela Carter
This is the story of a woman with wings. Nobody knows her origin. Journalist, Jack Walser is determined to discover it, even if he has to travel across Europe with a magical circus in order to uncover her secrets.
I read this during my first year of university. It was the first time I had read any magical realism. Needless to say, I fell in the love.
Lolita- Vladimir Nabokov
Humbert Humbert, grown man, falls in love with Lolita, a twelve year old girl. In order to be close to her, he gets with her mother. After her death, he steals Lolita away on a road trip across America.
This book is horrific. It’s totally disturbing and weirdly funny. It is the height of unreliable narration. The writing is incredible. It got a group of first year students seriously riled during a 9am class. For anyone in doubt, let me assure you, that never happens.
We studied this book in order to learn about post-modernism. What I learned is that post-modern is a name we stick on seriously weird shit.
Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem- Peter Ackroyd
Someone is ripping people to shreds in Limehouse. The papers are referring to the murderer as a golem, a horrific creature from whom nobody is safe. Meanwhile retired actress Elizabeth Cree is facing trial for the poisoning of her husband. With her lie the secrets at the heart of the murders. Unfortunately is likely she’ll be hanged before anyone can discover them.
This book is historical fiction at its best. Set in the 19th century, against the backdrop of the Jack the Ripper and Ratcliff Highway murders, it weaves its way through the darkest parts of London. Ackroyd does an amazing job of blending fact and fiction. Along with the fictional Elizabeth Cree, we see real historical figures such as Dan Leno and George Gissing (whose novel New Grub Street nearly made this list, incidentally). It also has one of the best plot twists I have ever read.
Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf
Woolf presents us with a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, a high society lady knee-deep in depression, regret and party preparations.
We also meet Septimus Warren Smith, an ex-solider losing his battle with post-traumatic stress disorder.
In this module we began by reading a realist text (New Grub Street), we then read through all the writing styles that emerged in protest of it. Woolf, a modernist, was a pretty vocal anti-realist. Realist texts, she felt, failed to get to the heart of what it is to be a person. She felt their preoccupation with houses and landscape was to the detriment of the representation of real human experience.
I tended to agree.
What were your favourite books that you read in school or university?