Looking for books that will offer new perspectives on the world? Ones unafraid of taking you out of your comfort zone?
You need a couple of these on your shelf (or sprawled over your coffee table).
These types of novels rattle our brains and allow us to rethink what we know.
I have compiled a mixture of texts that vary in accessibility – some are much easier to read than others.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
“Better never means better for everyone… It always means worse, for some.”
Having most recently been made into a stunning TV adaptation by Hulu (reaching the UK via Channel 4), I would highly recommend The Handmaid’s Tale, whether you’ve watched the series, or not.
Margaret Atwood utilises exquisite, captivating language to tap into a dystopian vision of America – renamed Gilead – where women have no rights and many are reduced to their reproductive functions, taking the role of ‘Handmaids’ who must bear children for barren wives. Told from the perspective of Handmaid Offred, the premise of the novel is fascinating, sobering, and very culturally relevant.
Offred’s character is incredibly relatable: before Gilead, she lived a very ordinary, middle-class life as a white woman in America. Her imposed role as a handmaid is a grievous reminder of the rights that women, like myself, are easy to forget we have, and how important it is to fight for them.
The Handmaid’s Tale was a novel I could not put down. I read it ravenously the first time, and slower in the times to come. It is easy to miss out on the intricate details that Atwood scatters throughout her literary world – I did have to reread a few sections over again – but, you can easily grip onto the plot without losing sight of it
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
“It was love at first sight, at last sight, at ever and ever sight.”
Lolita is a lyrical novel that accounts the life of an intellectual, paedophilic professor known as Humbert Humbert, who is both obsessed and in love with a 12-year-old girl named Dolores, who Humbert refers to as ‘Lolita’.
Lolita is not intended to be an easy read: neither in style, nor in content. It was banned in the United Kingdom until 1959, and Nabokov’s reasons for writing it are still debated.
As a character, Humbert is charming, intelligent, interesting and likable. Yet, Nabokov does not refrain from establishing Humbert Humbert as someone who is sexually attracted to minors.
It is, then, very easy to feel conflicted emotions towards him: profound revulsion, mixed in with intrigue.
Yet, perhaps what is most interesting about this text is the fact that Nabokov offers a controversially sympathetic lens to Humbert and his experiences.
Nabokov most certainly opened up some interesting conversations about moral judgement as a reader and the reliability of narrators in novels.
Offering a different perspective on a very taboo subject area, it is a contemporary classic which is filled with satire and uncomfortable ideas in circumstances that seem ordinary, on the surface. I sincerely recommend persevering with it.
The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas by Ursula Le Guin
“With a clamor of bells that set the swallows soaring, the Festival of Summer came to the city. Omelas, bright-towered by the sea. The rigging of the boats in harbor sparkled with flags.”
This text by Ursula Le Guin can be read in one sitting: it is an incredibly short piece of philosophical fiction that addresses huge ideas on morality. It jarred me to the core.
To summarise it would be to spoil it: so grab a hot cuppa, your favourite blanket, and read it. You won’t regret it.
The Country Of The Blind by Herbert George Wells
“In the Country of the Blind the One-Eyed Man is King.”
HG Wells presents a challenge to conceptions of disability through writing about a blind society that has adapted the landscape around them to their needs. In doing this, Wells reimagines the way in which society is ordered, and suggests that it is societal barriers that are disabling, rather than the bodies of the people themselves.
The Country Of The Blind – however – is far from perfect. This is especially apparent through the ill-treatment of a sighted person who enters their civilisation. Threatened with corrective eye-gauging and infantilised for struggling to navigate their lands, Wells makes us consider how not understanding people’s differences can impact on them.
Although not one of his most popular books, it is incredibly progressive for the time in which he was writing and is well worth a read. It has the right balance between humour and sorrow, with two interesting, alternative endings.