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Big Books for Long Summer Days

Posted on 17th June 2019 by Mark Skinner

Whether you are relaxing around the pool in a sun-kissed Mediterranean resort or taking in the Arcadian ambience from your garden patio, the summer affords many opportunities to block out the noise and stresses of the rat race, and simply be. What better time to lose yourself in a fully realised literary world, be it a fantastical realm, an historical era or a picaresque panorama of modern society. The fifteen books listed below are all big fat works of fiction, richly detailed, audaciously structured and utterly, thrillingly immersive. Go on, dive in. You know you want to…         

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Tolstoy’s titanic masterpiece redefined world literature and shifted the boundaries of psychological realism in the novel. Set during the maelstrom of Napoleon’s ill-fated invasion of Russia, War and Peace focuses on the inner lives and compelling actions of five families, as their country and worldview splinter and evolve around them.
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Susannah Clarke paints a wonderfully convincing picture of an alternate Georgian England, where magic lurks around every corner. Against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell forges a fantastical tale of raven kings, ruthless faeries and reluctant magicians in a phenomenal feat of historical reimagining.
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Twenty four hours in the life of advertising salesman Leopold Bloom, James Joyce’s Dublin-set modernist master-class may have a fearsome reputation, but is, in truth, tremendous fun. Playful, sly, bawdy and humane, Ulysses is a linguistic and structural triumph that deserves a much broader audience.
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A touchstone work of picaresque fiction, Thackeray’s immense ‘novel without a hero’ scandalised and appalled in its day but is now recognized as the satirical masterpiece it undoubtedly is. Becky Sharp’s joyously amoral rampage through Regency England and the battlefields of Napoleonic Europe is every bit as relevant today as it was in the heyday of high Victoriana.
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By turns scary, profound, hilarious and downright weird – sometimes all on the same page – David Foster Wallace’s sprawling epic catalogues the American psyche through militant tennis academies, bohemian addiction recovery clinics and a lost movie so powerful it can transport the viewer to catatonic nirvana. A staggering, singular achievement from a much missed talent.
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A work of scintillating creativity and imagination, Peake’s gothic phantasmagoria is fantasy writing for people who don’t like fantasy. Steerpike’s insidious social climbing and the compromised coming of age of Titus Groan are cradled in electrifying prose, whilst the surrealistic depiction of the eponymous, crumbling castle will haunt the reader’s imagination forever.
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Whilst the regular adaptations of Les Miserables are testament to the ineffable power of Victor Hugo’s magnificent storytelling, it is the angry polemic against social inequality that anchors the narrative’s pyrotechnics. Brimming with characters and vitality, this is nineteenth-century France writ gloriously large.
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The trials and tribulations of Southern belle Scarlett O’Hara, as she navigates both the perils of war and the affections of various suitors, is one of the great works of escapist fiction and, quite possibly, the ultimate holiday read.
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For many the supreme achievement of the Victorian novel, Middlemarch’s psychological acuity and expansive humanism have ensured that a story set in early nineteenth-century provincial England resonates with successive generations the world over. As Virginia Woolf famously termed it, this is truly a novel ‘for grown-up people.’
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A ground-breaking work of fiction, Life and Fate is the saga of the Shaposhnikovs, a Russian family caught in the conflagration of the Second World War. In incredibly dexterous and exciting prose, Grossman details the horrors of battle and war’s effect on civilians better than any writer of the twentieth century. A heart-wrenching masterpiece rescued from the jaws of destruction.
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With 99% of the population dead from a killer virus, the survivors must choose between two very different leaders; King’s epic apocalyptic saga has become a modern classic of the dystopian genre.
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Hugely redolent of the medieval clash of politics, avarice and religion, The Pillars of the Earth is, first and foremost, a ripping good yarn which grafts timeless themes of ambition, lust and jealousy onto a compelling tale of cathedral building. Follett is a top notch storyteller and this wildly enjoyable volume spawned two sequels to form The Kingsbridge Series.
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Seth’s magnum opus seamlessly blends the intensely intimate with the audaciously panoramic as the quest to find Lata a ‘suitable’ husband collides with a widescreen retelling of a nascent Indian state in the first faltering years of independence. A Suitable Boy stands as an example of the seemingly impossible: an extremely long book without a single wasted sentence.
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The iconic case of Jarndyce & Jarndyce takes centre stage in Dickens’ most acclaimed novel, a state of the nation saga whose intricate plot perfectly complements its biting social comment. Shifting perspective between the innocent, moralistic Esther Summerson and a darkly satirical third person narrator, Bleak House is a classic slice of Dickensian drama.
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£22.00
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The archetypal literary quest, The Lord of the Rings pits good against evil, noble action against sinful temptation, in a grand narrative peopled by iconic creations such as Gollum, Gandalf and the resourceful hobbit hero Frodo Baggins.
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