A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
While it may not be as well known as the author’s debut novel, The Kite Runner, I think my first recommendation deserves just as much praise and admiration. Centred around two very different women (Laila and Mariam), we are taken on a journey which spans the length of Afghanistan, and the lifetimes of our protagonists. From her very first introduction, Mariam evokes sympathy. Her challenging childhood is followed by a life of restrictions. In contrast, Laila appears to offer a glimmer of hope: she’s young, educated and full of energy. However, their lives quickly become inextricably connected as the story blossoms into a celebration of female solidarity. This novel tugs on the heartstrings with every bit as much force as The Kite Runner, but does so from a uniquely feminine perspective. It doesn’t shy away from difficult topics – the women face trauma, violence and tough choices – but with Hosseini as its storyteller, these are delicately handled. The result is a beautifully moving, memorable narrative which has been a firm favourite of mine for a very long time.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Who could resist a tale of magic and illusions, interwoven with time travel and an enchanted circus? If you are interested in fantasy as a genre, this work of young adult fiction is well worth a try. Originally devised as an entry for a writing competition, Morgenstern subsequently transformed her short story into an epic narrative tracing the development of an ever-changing circus which oddly only opens at night. Each new aspect of the circus is designed by Marco and Celia: apprentice magicians locked in a fierce competition for prominence. Soon though, their increasingly complex ideas spiral placing the circus’ future in jeopardy. Narrated through multiple perspectives, the circus itself is so intricately described that it comfortably becomes a character in its own right; it dominates the plot and will soon have you dreaming of running off to join the fun…
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
I first read this Brontë classic at school. It featured on the A Level English Literature course and is a story which has stuck with me ever since. The eponymous Jane is an orphan sent to live at Gateshead Hall with her cold, cruel aunt who has limited sympathy for the little girl’s plight. Life changes dramatically for the Victorian governess however when she gains employment at Thornfield Hall, working for the enigmatic Mr Rochester. Although romance begins to blossom between the pair, Mr Rochester’s dark secrets threaten to emerge, casting everything Jane thought she knew into disarray. If she can learn to accept his mercurial personality, their relationship may be able to survive, but does that explain the footsteps in the attic?
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
This is the most recent addition to my list of favourites. The English department’s ‘Secret Santa’ was all about books this year (no surprises there, perhaps) and I was lucky enough to receive this gem. Set in Barcelona in the late 1940s, Daniel’s life takes an unforeseen twist. Having selected a book from the labyrinthine Cemetery of Lost Books, he becomes its protector; he must ensure the safety and survival of this book at all costs. However, what may seem at first like a relatively straightforward task, quickly becomes extremely complicated: a mysterious figure appears before melting into the darkness once more; a malevolent pyromaniac sets books alight at an alarming rate; and long-buried secrets are uncovered and slowly pieced together to reach an extraordinarily satisfying conclusion. Every aspect of this novel is spellbinding and is guaranteed to have you on the edge of your seat. It’s the first in a series called The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, the rest of which are right at the top of my summer holiday reading list. I can’t wait!
Written by Miss Carville, English Department
Photos courtesy of Prasanna Kumar and Annie Spratt @unsplash.com