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Some books aren’t defined by their content but by their form. Graphic novels are a visual form of literature, either presented in a traditional comic-style panel composition or in the artist’s/author’s own style. Once considered cheap, children’s entertainment, the graphic novel has now come into its own with original narratives, manga and retellings of classic novels all being adapted to pictorial form.
1. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (2006)
This graphic memoir deals with themes of sexuality, loss, identity and coming-of-age. Alison’s father, Bruce Bechdel was an English teacher and director of the town’s funeral home. But it was not until college that Alison, who had recently come out as a lesbian, discovered that her father was also gay. A few weeks after this revelation, he was dead, leaving a legacy of mystery for his daughter to resolve. It is wonderfully illustrated and a great, quick read if you’re after something a little different.
2. Asterix Omnibus #1 by Rene Goscinny (2013)
Asterix is celebrating 60 years as an international comics superstar, originally written in French, but now translated into English for a whole new audience to enjoy. Asterix goes on many adventures as he defends his tiny village from the overwhelming forces of the Roman Empire. Join Asterix, the short but powerful warrior and his friends: the boar-eating delivery man Obelix and environmentally conscious canine Dogmatix, as they fight against all odds to save their village.
3. Ghost World by Daniel Clowes (1995)
“The graphic bible of the 90s slacker generation”, Clowe’s Ghost World follows the misadventures of two teenage friends, Rebecca and Enid facing the unwelcome prospect of adulthood. Clowe follows a loose narrative thread through which the two young women’s fragmented lives unfold. The Hartford Advocate says that, “Clowes spells out the realities of teenage angst as powerfully and authentically as Salinger did in Catcher in the Rye for an earlier generation.”
4. Simon’s Cat by Simon Tofield (2009)
Okay this is a little bit of a cheat; I would say it is more of a cartoon than a graphic novel but I still love it. Tofield’s YouTube videos were an internet hit, and this book is equally warming and funny. The book depicts the relationship between a man and his cat in Tofield’s amusing and exaggerated style. It is charming and the kind of easy book you can sit with a cup of tea and flick through.
These books contain fictional stories in historical settings, balancing creativity and facts. In most cases, they feature characters imagined by the authors that are embellished by factual details set in a specific time period. This isn’t a genre I have read much from, but the skill to write good historical fiction, to create an interesting, believable character but include enough historical material I think is tricky. But, when executed well it can mean a book can leave a long-lasting impression – as it really could or has happened.
1. The Fall of Giants by Ken Follet, Trilogy (2010)
The Fall of Giants is “a captivating novel that follows five families through the world-shaking dramas of the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and the struggle for votes for women.” This is an epic of love, hate, violence and oppression. At over 1000 pages, you’ve got to be committed. But I’ve heard that despite its length, it moves at a relatively fast pace so that you don’t find yourself wading through pages and pages of non-descript ‘filler’.
2. The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris (2018)
In April 1942, Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, is transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. “When his captors discover that he speaks several languages, he is put to work as a Tätoweirer (the German word for tattooist), tasked with permanently marking his fellow prisoners.” Lale witnesses horrific atrocities over his two-year imprisonment, but also incredible acts of bravery. One day, Lale comforts a trembling young woman waiting in line to be marked number 34902. From that moment on, he vows to marry her and survive the camp. It is a harrowing tale but one that also contains hope – portraying the power of mankind.
3. The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah (2021)
Texas, the Great Depression, 1934. Elsa Wolcott is a woman trying to raise two children on a farm in the Great Plains during the Dust Bowl. She watches the parched land crack, and farmers fighting to keep their land and livelihoods as crops fails. “As the situation worsens Elsa is forced to make a decision to stay and fight or leave for the uncertain and unfamiliar lands in the West.” This book is a plot-driven, survival story all about resilience, love, hardship, courage and the American Dream.
4. The Rose Code by Kate Quinn (2021)
This book I can’t wait to read! It is set just before WW2 and is focused on three very different women who are all codebreakers at Bletchley Park, where the best minds in Britain train to break German military codes. Debutante Osla is the girl who has everything – wealth, beauty, and the dashing Prince Philip of Greece sending her love letters, but she desperately wants to prove herself as worthy of more than just a male object. Self-made Mab, product of East-London poverty, works the codebreaking machines as she conceals old wounds and looks for a socially advantageous husband. Finally, Beth, the local village spinster, whose shyness conceals a brilliant facility with puzzles – is perfect for the role. The three women encounter a mysterious traitor who has emerged from the shadows of Bletchley Park past and now they must resurrect their old alliance and crack one last code together. But with each part they decipher it brings friends and enemies closer…
What unites these books is not the plot, characters, or setting – but rather the feeling/emotions that they evoke. It can be anything from ‘hide behind the sofa I can’t read any further’ scary, to more creepy, nuanced terror, such as Gothic horror which excels in creating a rich atmosphere that entices the reader in, and then begins to create chaos.
1. Last Breath by Robert Bryndza (2017)
Yet another recommendation for us both, but when I asked my friend Martyna about horror novels – this was at the top of her list. Detective Erika Foster is first at the crime scene, although it isn’t her case. What she finds is a tortured body of a young woman in a dumpster, her eyes swollen shut and her clothes soaked with blood. Erika must fight to take the case, as it looks hauntingly familiar. But the killer stalks his victims online, and preys on woman using a fake identity. How will Erika find this invisible killer? Is it the same as before? Can she stop him before it is too late? It sounds hair-raising, gripping and edge-of-your-seat stuff, a proper horror novel.
2. The Shining by Stephen King (1977)
King is notorious within the horror genre, and The Shining is his highest sold book. It is set in Colorado in the 1970s and centres on the Torrance family: husband Jack, wife Wendy, and their five-year-old son Danny. Jack is hired as the caretaker of the remote Overlook Hotel for the winter offseason. But finds out that the previous hotel caretaker killed his entire family inside the hotel – using a hatchet for the child, and a shotgun for his wife and himself. As Jack learns about the hotel’s history, affairs, murders, and executions come to light. They decide to stay, but as things turn more and more sinister, the only one to notice is the five-year-old Danny.
3. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
“Genius lasts longer than Beauty.” The premise of Wilde’s tale is young Dorian finds himself in Victorian London, and his friend, Basil Hallward, paints his picture to capture his youthful beauty. But Dorian becomes obsessed. He vows that he would do anything to remain that beautiful and young – he is even willing to sell his soul. Wilde’s deeply philosophical and complex novel explores the doctrine of Aestheticism: the devotion to Hedonism, and beauty and art for art’s sake.
You can find a full review here: https://lifeofbeckyc.com/2018/12/05/to-live-is-the-rarest-thing-in-the-world-most-people-exist-that-is-all/
4. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Dr Montague hopes to find evidence of the supernatural and paranormal. He rents Hill House for a summer and invites guests who have previously experienced paranormal events. It is a ghost story at its best, and provides a meditation on the feminine, the supernatural, family and trauma. It draws on Gothic convention of the ‘haunted house’, and the result is something much closer to The Yellow Wallpaper, than The Shining.
Any fiction with authentic LGBTQIA+ representation falls under this category: it could be romance, thriller or fantasy etc.
1. Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters (2021)
This is Peter’s debut novel, and she is also the first trans woman to be nominated for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. It follows three women, Reese, Ames and Katrina, transgender and cisgender, whose lives are connected after an unexpected pregnancy forces them to confront ideas around motherhood, gender and sex. It is a book which pushes the boundaries, and challenges people’s conceptions of identity – beginning from the very title itself. An intriguing and important read, nonetheless.
2. Olivia by Dorothy Strachey (1949)
One of the first and most subtle lesbian novels of the century, this 1949 novel tells the story of a young English girl called Olivia and her lust for headmistress, Mlle. Julie, whilst away at school in Paris. “Although not strictly autobiographical, Olivia draws on the author’s experiences at finishing schools run by the charismatic Mlle. Marie Souvestre, whose influence lived on through former students like Natalie Barney and Eleanor Roosevelt.”
3. Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin (1956)
Baldwin’s daring and controversial tale of desire, lust, confusion, and forbidden love is now a classic of gay literature. An American finds himself unable to repress his desires and live the ‘conventional’ life he so desperately wants to fit in to. Torn between his proposal to a young woman and his infatuation for an Italian bartender, he is conflicted and lost in love.
4. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong (2019)
I am yet to read this book, but the title alone draws me in. It is about a letter from a Vietnamese immigrant boy to his mother, who cannot read. It is also a story about a young man’s intimate life and his relationship with another man. I’ve heard many describe it as ‘raw, shattering, impactful and sad’. Whilst it is considered to also be ‘literary fiction’, its depiction of sex, drug addiction, love and self-exploration have poignancy far beyond just one genre.
Magical Realism paints a realistic view of the modern world while also adding fantastical, magical elements. It specifically blurs the boundaries between what is real and what isn’t. It is sometimes thought of as a subgenre of fantasy, but considering its highbrow style and literary prestige, it is deemed a genre in its own right. Instead of vampires, monsters, or fairies, a ‘fluid and non-linear’ timeline exposes supernatural happenings – which are left unexplained.
1. Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987)
Morrison is a master of magical realism, and Beloved is perhaps one of her most well-known and best works, winning her The Pulitzer Prize. It moves between past and present, as the main character Sethe is troubled by the ghost of her baby, known only as Beloved. Sethe was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but 18 years later she is still not free, instead she is trapped by memories of Sweet Home, the ‘idyllic’ place where unthinkably hideous things happened. The novel is so much more than just a ghost story, it also emphasises the haunting legacy of slavery, abuse and the transformative power of maternal, friend and self-love. It is so well-written that the horrors contained within the book truly come alive.
2. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami (2002)
Okay this one seems weird but stick with it. “Half of the chapters in this book unfold the story of a young runaway named Kafka who leaves home to escape a curse, while the other half revolves around an older man named Nakata who has left home for the first time to find a lost cat.” Their lives become entangled and bring about allusions to Oedipus, pop culture and talking animals. There is also a brutal murder, with the identity of both victim and killer remain hidden, but eventually everything is revealed, and all your questions answered.
3. Autumn by Ali Smith (2016)
The first of Smith’s ‘seasonal-quarterly meditations’ – ‘exploring the subjective experience of time, questioning the nature of time itself’. It is a tale about two people, about change, about Brexit and politics. It is a book of fragments, which are sometimes pieced together, sometimes not. What is said is important, but also what is not. The absence which permeates this novel makes it simultaneously confusing and memorable.
4. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (1997)
“Relentlessly brilliant, beautiful, and heart-breaking, this story has a little bit of everything.” It is a story about the childhood experiences of fraternal twins whose lives are destroyed by “Love Laws” that set out “who should be loved, and how. And how much”. There is family tragedy, forbidden love and political unrest. MyDomaine says, “You’ll enjoy it if you’re looking for something literary, or if you’re in the mood for a plot-driven novel”. As the title suggests, the reader witnesses the interconnection between small, mundane details and grand, large scale events, both good and bad.