Tuesday, 24 May 2011

5 Modern Novels That Deserve To Be Classics

For a heathen like me, reading a good book or coming across an immensely talented author is probably the closest thing I have to a religious experience.  It happens quite rarely, but when it does, it's the most peculiar feeling.  I want to tell, no, order everyone I know to immediately go out and buy the book I've just read, but another part of me wants to hold this treasure back, keep it all to myself.  I think it stems from my teenage crush on the Scissor Sisters, which faded as soon as they became immensely popular.  Nobody likes their own private joy to become mainstream.

On the other hand, there are some novels that I read and instantly find myself hoping that other people feel as thrilled by it as I do, that it will be the topic of discussion in book clubs and living rooms all over the world.  Because some books are just that good.  Here are five modern novels which I feel deserve widespread, long-lasting admiration.  I hope there's something on this list for everyone!

5. The Green Mile by Stephen King
Until this spiritual, heartbreaking serialised novel hit the shelves, the world had seen Stephen King as a horror author and not much else.  "Horror author", in this context, not particularly being a compliment.  Then he penned the tale of John Coffey, a gentle giant on death row with an extraordinary gift.  The film adaptation serves as a lesson in how to adapt a novel, as the story has incredible power in either medium.

4. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Eugenides's first novel, The Virgin Suicides, was a poignant and pensive fable of innocence lost.  His second book, Middlesex, massively ups the ante in ambition and scope, spanning several generations of an immigrant family, tracing a rogue gene through time and culminating in the birth of Calliope - protagonist, narrator, hermaphrodite.  This is no literary gimmick, however; Eugenides follows Cal's story believably and lovingly from being raised as a girl, through a shocking and transformative adolescence, all the way to adulthood, by which time Cal is living as a man.  Written with humour and intelligence, Middlesex makes me wish Jeffrey Eugenides would write more books.

3. The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson
I've raved about this book before, so forgive me if this all sounds a little familiar, but months down the line the story has stayed with me.  A handsome but arrogant porn star and drug addict is involved in a car accident that leaves him drastically disfigured.  While recovering in the hospital, he is visited by a woman named Marianne, who is clearly deranged but also entirely bewitching.  She tells him that they've met before, even though he has no memory of this encounter.  What follows is an eight hundred year love story, a trip around the world and a journey to the very heart of Dante's Inferno.

2. A Density Of Souls by Christopher Rice
I've included Rice's second and third novels The Snow Garden and Light Before Day in previous lists, but his debut A Density of Souls is probably my favourite.  It is in turn a coming of age story, a revenge tragedy, a romance and a horror novel.  Four friends enter high school and are immediately pulled apart - by bullying, by their own selfish desires, by love disguised as hate and vice versa.  What happens to them as teenagers sends ripples throughout the rest of their lives.

1. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
I first read this book when I was meant to be revising for a French exam.  Subsequently, each time I revisit it I get the same rush, as if I am doing something slightly naughty.  It is a feeling that goes well with this read.  The premise is a very, very loose parody of The Omen, but the duo of writers have taken a step back and seen the bigger picture.  The opening chapter introduces us to Aziraphale, an angel, and Crowley, a demon, who are seen conversing as Adam and Eve are booted out of the Garden of Eden.  Their friendly banter is a running motif in the novel, as is a book of prophecies by Agnes Nutter (the world's only reliable psychic) and the adventures of young Adam, a perfectly ordinary boy who just so happens to be the Antichrist.  Good Omens works as an intelligent, good-natured satire, but also as a not-too-serious meditation on human nature.

Some other books I wanted to include in this list are The Road by Cormac McCarthy, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon - but I reckon they're going to go down as classics anyway.


  1. I've read 3 of the 5, and I'd have to say Middlesex was my fave by a long shot.

  2. I love Middlesex, it's been six years since I read it but the character of Cal is still so clear in my mind - after writing this post I put it on my to be re-read list!