Arctic Tern

  Chris Hawkes

 Sixth Form Reading List

This is not a definitive list; rather, novels spanning the genre, and idiosyncratic to me. Beware: if you are assignment hunting, not all these appear on AQA's list of approved novels - ask before embarking on the essay (but not before reading!)

Oh, and please mail me about any glaring omissions...

ATTWOOD, M. THE HANDMAID'S TALE 1985 - Good for viewpoint. Look at veils of authorial voice, and chilling social criticism.

AUSTEN, J. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE 1813 - Any would do as a title. Painting a tiny piece of ivory: admire her skill, and enjoy her human, gentle irony.

BRONTE, E. WUTHERING HEIGHTS 1847 Any Bronte novel is worth reading, but WH is brooding, dark and romantic. Please do NOT fall in love with Heathcliff, or you'll turn into Isabella. Be warned.

BURGESS, A. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE 1962 - I'm tempted to say "any" here: B is the 20th Century's master writer. Watch the video, too, now it has been re-released in Britain.

CAREY, P. TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG 2001 - Does what it says on the can. Carey gives an individual and human voice to the notorious Australian bushranger: enjoy the story, but also admire the way he gives Kelly a voice and personality.

CERVANTES, M. DON QUIXOTE 1615 - OK, another translation, but seminal.

CHATWIN, Bruce. THE SONGLINES 1987 - An uneven, intricate and (I believe) important novel, ostensibly an anthropological study of Aboriginals, but in fact a wise and philosophical exploration of humanity. You'll be touched.

CONRAD, J. HEART OF DARKNESS 1902 - The horror! The horror! Apocalypse Now is loosely based on this masterpiece.

DAVIES, ROBERTSON THE DEPTFORD TRILOGY 1970-1975 - The best (only???) Canadian novelist, and likely to prove a big name. (My hot tip for survival!)

DEFOE, D. ROBINSON CRUSOE 1720 - Again stigmatised as a children's book, but again arguable the first novel. Also read Moll Flanders for the sex!

DICKENS, C. Any, naturally! Master of characterisation.

ECO, Umberto THE NAME OF THE ROSE 1980 - Yes, I know it's a translation: but it's a literary masterpiece, combining a detective story with treatises on medieval monastic life, philosophy - and humour!

FORSTER E.M. A PASSAGE TO INDIA 1924 - Read for prose style - and for content.

FOWLES, J. THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN 1969 - Watch the film, too - Stoppard's screen play - but read the text to see how authorial voice is handled. Excellent insight too for studies of Victorian novels.

FAULKS, S. BIRDSONG 1994 - A rich and powerful novel that I believe is destined for survival. The novel moves effortlessly between the devastation of the Great War and the emotional intensity of the landscape, equally "war-torn", of love.

GOLDEN, A. MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA 1997 (And thanks to Emma for the recommendation!) - Golden spirits us away to a different time and culture: Japan between the Wars. He sustains a convincing voice for this human tale of survival, and creates for us a detailed world that has now all but vanished.

GOLDING,W THE SPIRE 1964 - Don't dismiss Golding as "The author of Lord of the Flies"! A study of human hubris, sexuality, and the indivisibility of good and evil.

GREENE, G. THE QUIET AMERICAN 1951 - A title plucked out of the air, really. Look at his limpid prose-style.

GUTERSON, D. SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS 1995 - A haunting novel, set in the Puget Sound, about prejudice, relationships, and the way people are haunted by the past. Oh, and it's a "Whodunnit" too!

HORNBY, Nick FEVER PITCH 1993 - If you know anything at all about me, you know I despise football. So why is this here? Whisper it softly: it's really about life, obsession, and growing up. But if you're sad enough to enjoy football and don't like reading, then ignore my comments, tell yourself "Yeah, it's about football!", and read it. Warning: it may change your life!

ISHIGURO, K. NEVER LET ME GO 2005 - A masterpiece. Chillingly dystopic, and beautifully written, this novel explores the human spirit and its response to utter hopelessness. Like Margaret Attwood's THE HANDMAID'S TALE, the context of this futuristic vision are firmly rooted in our present.

JOYCE, J. PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN 1915 - Coherent and personal: read Ulysses to see the genre stretched, and Finnegan's Wake to see it broken!

McCARTHY, C.THE ROAD 2006 - Already appearing on AQA's Literature specification, this is an essential read - don't dimiss it as science fiction. Like Attwood's THE HANDMAID'S TALE and Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, this bleak dystopian novel still serves to celebrate humanity, and (like all good literature) poses more questions than it answers. Look at the way the narrative voice is used, and how the characters are drawn. This is an exercise in "narratology", as well as being a compelling read.

McCOURT, Frank ANGELA'S ASHES 1997 - An intimate, honest and affecting novel about growing up in the poverty of Limerick. Despite the harrowing content, the novel is also a triumph of the human spirit over sorrow and degradation.

MELVILLE, H. MOBY DICK 1851 - Epic is too small a word for this contender for the title "The Great American Novel" - and it has a great deal of my heart. Romance, symbolism, adventure and informational, this tale of whaling and human obsession has it all. Look for the whale's penis!

MORRISON, T. BELOVED 1987 - A novel of character: deeply personal and affecting.

NAIPAUL, V.S. A HOUSE FOR MR BISWAS 1961 - One of the great Indian novels. Pathos and humour carefully balanced in this human story.

PIRSIG, R. ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE 1974 - I know, I know: here's mad biker NMH giving in to his obsessions. Well, the novel may have started my biking career, but this one doesn't do what it says on the can: you won't find much about motorcycle maintenance or Zen here, as Pirsig himself admits. It's a triumphant interweaving of a road trip, philosophy and a life: wise, life-enhancing and - potentially - life-changing. Read with care.

ROTH, P. PORTNOY'S COMPLAINT 1969 - Obsessive, masturbatory, solipsistic, journal of adolescent sexuality, dictated to a psychiatrist. Humorous and penetrating. Read others for authorial identity issues.

SHRIVER, L. WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN 2003 - This is a coompelling and chilling exploration of the relationships between parents and children. It is very uneasy reading, but the novel is a triumph of "narratology" - and that is the focus of Unit 1 English Literature. See how the story unfolds, and the choices Shriver makes in the telling. Brilliant also for narrative voice.

SMITH, Zadie WHITE TEETH 2000 - A celebration of life in multicultural Britain: a funny, philosophical and richly human romp of a novel.

STEINBECK EAST OF EDEN 1952 - For my money, the Great American Novel (pace Huck Finn and Moby Dick). Read the rest too.

STERNE, T. TRISTAM SHANDY 1760 - An odd one: but read and enjoy for modern modernistic effects. What is Sterne saying about the new form of the novel? Raises questions about the merits of realism.

STOCKETT, K. THE HELP 2009 - If you enjoyed To Kill a Mockingbird - or even if you didn't - this is an essential read. Set in the Southern states of America around the time that Harper Lee was writing her novel, this explores the covert racism inherent in a system where black women are commonly employed as maides and house servants for middle class whites. Essentially, despite the subject, this is an optimistic exploration of the way that children hold the key to the future.

SWIFT, J. GULLIVER'S TRAVELS 1726 - I know it has the stigma of a children's novel, but read the unabridged text for social satire. Arguably the first novel.

TROLLOPE, A. THE WARDEN 1855 - Any, again: just ensure that you put yourself in the right frame of mind for his ironic humour. Good joke in name.

TWAIN, M. HUCKLEBERRY FINN 1884- Don't read Tom Sawyer: he's a preachy romanticised ****. HF is labelled The Great American Novel for good reasons. Flawed and riveting.

VONNEGUTT, K. SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE 1969 - Read it: innovative, colloquial and powerful (not to say zany.) So it goes.

WELLS, H.G. THE HISTORY OF MR POLLY 1910 - IMHO, the only Wells worth reading (although many would disagree!) Pushes the flawed human-sized and humanistic hero.

WOOLF, V. TO THE LIGHTHOUSE 1927 - Seminal Stream of Consciousness novel. Read it to understand the phrase.

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