Every movement needs its iconography, and for feminism in the age of women’s marches, few could be more striking than the Handmaid. Shrouded in a red dress, blinkered by a white bonnet, Margaret Atwood’s gloriously chilling symbol of sexual oppression makes for the protest costume to end all protest costumes.Handmaids have taken to the streets to support abortion rights in Northern Ireland, they have marched against Donald Trump in London, they have campaigned in Buenos Aires. Such is the impact of The Handmaid’s Tale, the 1985 novel catapulted into today’s pop culture stratosphere by the twin forces of Hulu and resurgent misogyny, that you can even buy a Handmaid Halloween costume for your dog. Yes, here in the second decade of the 21st century, we’ve entered a curious dystopia where people dress their pets as victims of ritualised rape.
Edna O’Brien made her name in the 1960s with The Country Girls trilogy, banned in her native Ireland for its depiction of young women’s sex lives; in 2012, she released her acclaimed memoir, Country Girl. But while the 88-year-old’s latest novel may be called Girl, its subject is a world away from her own experience: this is the imagined story of one of the Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014.The subject, really, is lost girlhood, as declared by its heart-breaking opening line: “I was a girl once, but not anymore.” And the heart breaks over and over: this is a devastating read, horror and misfortune and injustice piling on its protagonist till you think you can’t bear it, till you remember many how real teenage girls have had to bear worse. Yet it’s told with a spare economy; never sentimentalised, nor sensationalised.
Finishing a good book always leaves you yearning for more – but is the sequel ever as good as the original?With the publication of Margaret Atwood’s Booker Prize-shortlisted novel The Testaments on Tuesday (10 September), this is a question every fan of her 1985 dystopian classic The Handmaid’s Tale is wondering.
Novelist Margaret Atwood has dismissed the suggestion that she made her follow-up to The Handmaid’s Tale an easier read for its new, TV audience.The Testaments is published around the globe more than 30 years after her original classic, which sparked a recent hit TV series starring Elisabeth Moss.
You don’t need me to tell you that this is the “literary event of the year”. Thirty-four years after her seminal novel The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood has published a sequel. It’s already shortlisted for the Booker prize. Bookshops are staying open to midnight on release day. Waterstones has a countdown clock to publication on its website – somewhat undermined by Amazon accidentally sending out a first batch early. In doing so, it broke one of the strictest book embargoes ever – The Testaments has been under Gilead-style surveillance, and possibly with good reason: the publishers have apparently been subject to cyberattacks.So The Testaments has a lot to live up to. As well as all that hype, there’s the genuine brilliance of its predecessor, which has become a touchstone in the age of Trump, and a hugely popular TV series. It cannot fully live up to all of that, but it can and does satisfy our hunger for more. It is an addictively readable, fast-paced adventure towards the collapse of Gilead, a totalitarian Christian state formed in a dystopian America, when falling fertility rates are countered via the sexual enslavement of women (the handmaids). No regime lasts forever – a point already hopefully made in the postscript of The Handmaid’s Tale – and The Testaments looks at how the first blows may be struck from within.
Margaret Atwood wasn’t sure she had a Handmaid’s Tale sequel in her, even as fans clamoured for one.“What they were begging for was a continuation in the voice of Offred, which I would not have been able to do,” she said over tea and juice at a cafe near her home. “You can climb the Empire State Building barehanded once. When you try again, you’ll fall off. It was a wildly improbable thing to have done in the first place. That voice was there. She said her thing. There’s nothing you can really add in her voice.”
Who is going to win? Now we have the list of six Booker Prize shortlisted authors, the bets are on.The Booker Prize is one of the greatest literary triumphs for any novelist. Former winners Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie are the biggest names on this year’s shortlist, hoping to win the £50,000 prize.
If you’re getting ready to fly the nest and head off to embrace student life, you’d do well to equip yourself with a cookbook or two to ensure you can recreate some home comforts in your new pad.And being able to whip up something more than a pan of pesto pasta is always helpful to woo your new flatmates with after a long day at the library.
There’s no question about it: Stephen King is a past master at casting an eerie shade on familiar fictional materials. His new book, The Institute, concerns a sinister government facility, operational since the Second World War. Hidden in the depths of the American forest, the organisation known as “the Institute” sends out special forces to kidnap children (having first dispatched their families), and subjects them to all kinds of horrific tests in order to bring out their developing psychic powers.If you are now thinking of the recent Netflix show Stranger Things, don’t forget that King got there first: he’s been writing about psychic children and conspiracies since the Sixties. There’s even a sense here that he’s having fun. Among the youngsters in the Institute are a pair of girl twins, which are reminiscent of the characters of “some old horror movie”.
Whether you find yourself daydreaming about dinner parties, tearing out delicious-sounding recipes from the Sunday papers or earmarking dishes you’ve seen online to try later – there’s a good chance your foodie thoughts are getting a little disorganised.Well fear not because it’s nothing that a good recipe file can’t help you with. A dedicated space for you to collate all things foodie, a recipe file can help plan everything from mid-week meals, to more special one-off occasions and also chart your experiments and findings in the kitchen along the way.
A bunch of grown-ups are stamping their feet over a dead children’s author. Why? Because the Royal Mint are mean and nasty, and they don’t want to celebrate a racist bigot.You’d think there were more pressing issues to get upset about, like the fact that the Amazon rainforest is burning at an unprecedented rate, but no, a Mail Online story has revealed that the Famous Five author was described as a “racist, sexist homophobe and not very good writer”. So they wouldn’t feature her on a commemorative 50p coin.
Salman Rushdie’s new novel – already longlisted for the Booker Prize – is a sprawling behemoth, feeling finally as big in scope as Midnight’s Children, which twice won the Best of Booker. If that was an allegory for India’s independence and then partition, Quichotte goes as far as to align the death of the author with the end of the entire world.Quichotte is an Indian man of advancing years, living in America and working as a travelling pharmaceutical salesman: following a stroke, he’s lost his grip on reality and become addicted to reality TV. As a result, he believes he’s destined to be with a beautiful, Oprah-like talk show host named Salma R (yes, really), also from India but living in New York. Rushdie’s novel is a modern take on Cervantes’ Don Quixote, and so Quichotte sets off on a quest to prove himself worthy of Salma’s love. To accompany him on his journey, the childless Quichotte invents Sancho, an imaginary son. But Sancho is soon on his own Pinocchio-style mission, determined to become a real boy – with the help a talking cricket named Jiminy (yes, really).
After the Oxford comma debate and the death knell of the period, the latest mark to define and divide us – breaking up our thoughts, adding emphasis to our convictions, alternately vexing and delighting readers – is the em dash.For some writers, the em dash is a vice that their editors occasionally forgive but more often forbid. It has been duly cast as an alluring alternative to the comma, colon, semicolon and full stop in the “distracted boyfriend” meme.
Time was when we knew where we were with books. Big, important men wrote big, important masterworks about science, politics and history that, if enough people bought them, would swiftly be absorbed into the canon. Women writers, meanwhile, were viewed as niche and thus awarded their own specialist categories, among them “romance”, “chick-lit” and “women’s fiction” – let the record show that there is no such thing as “men’s fiction”. These books would invariably come swathed in frou-frou pastel-hued jackets with swirly writing lest people – OK, men – mistake them for works to be taken seriously.Lately, however, a wave of women have emerged to disrupt the male-dominated status quo. This summer’s literary barnstormers have been by women: Candice Carty-Williams’s Queenie, Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women, Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror, Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s Fleishman is in Trouble and Kate Atkinson’s Big Sky. At the time of writing, the top five Sunday Times’ hardbacks are all by female writers, while four out of the top five titles on the New York Times bestseller list, in both fiction and non-fiction categories, are by women.
When Yoko Ogawa discovered The Diary of Anne Frank as a lonely teenager in Japan, she was so taken by it that she began to keep a diary of her own, writing to Anne as if she were a cherished friend.To conjure the kind of physical captivity that Anne experienced, Ogawa would crawl, notebook in hand, into a drawer or under a table draped with a quilt.
Books, books, books. They will increase your lifespan, lower your stress and boost your intelligence. They will give you fuller, thicker hair.Whatever the breathless claims about reading, one thing is certain: losing yourself in a great novel is one of life’s most enduring and dependable joys. Job satisfaction comes and goes, partners enrapture and abscond, but you can always fall back on the timeless ability of literature to transport you to a different world. From Jane Austen’s mannered drawing rooms to the airless tower blocks of 1984, novels do something unique. They simultaneously speak to the heart and mind. They teach you about the history of our world, the possibilities of our future and the fabric of our souls.So where do you start? It’s a fraught question, because the obvious answer – “the literary canon” – means a pantheon of predominantly dead, white dudes. The power structures at play for centuries have meant that a very narrow band of people have been given the opportunity to say something universal about the human condition. It’s impossible to ignore these biases: the least we can do is acknowledge them, include different perspectives, and point to some excellent resources here, here and here to discover more writers we should be reading.As it stands, whittling this list down to 40 novels has been a process that makes Brexit negotiations look simple and amicable. We hope you enjoy the selection – or at least enjoy arguing about who should or should not have made the cut.You can also view this list as a gallery below.Pride and Prejudice, Jane AustenIt is a fact universally acknowledged that every list of great books must include Pride and Prejudice. Don’t be fooled by the bonnets and balls: beneath the sugary surface is a tart exposé of the marriage market in Georgian England. For every lucky Elizabeth, who tames the haughty, handsome Mr Darcy and learns to know herself in the process, there’s a Charlotte, resigned to life with a drivelling buffoon for want of a pretty face. Ceri RadfordThe Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 ¾, Sue TownsendRead this one when you’re decrepit enough, and chances are you’ll die laughing. No one has lampooned the self-absorption, delusions of grandeur and sexual frustration of adolescence as brilliantly as Sue Townsend, and no one ever will. Beyond the majestic poetry and the pimples, there’s also a sharp satire of Thatcherist Britain. CRCharlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald DahlHarry Potter may be more popular, but Willy Wonka is altogether weirder. From the overwhelming poverty experienced by Charlie Bucket and his family, to the spoilt, greedy, brattish children who join Charlie on his trip to Willy Wonka’s phantasmagorical sweet factory there is nothing artificially sweetened in Roald Dahl’s startling work of fantasy. CHThings Fall Apart, Chinua AchebeA classic exposé of colonialism, Achebe’s novel explores what happens to a Nigerian village when European missionaries arrive. The main character, warrior-like Okonkwo, embodies the traditional values that are ultimately doomed. By the time Achebe was born in 1930, missionaries had been settled in his village for decades. He wrote in English and took the title of his novel from a Yeats poem, but wove Igbo proverbs throughout this lyrical work. CR1984, George OrwellThe ultimate piece of dystopian fiction, 1984 was so prescient that it’s become a cliché. But forget TV’s Big Brother or the trite travesty of Room 101: the original has lost none of its furious force. Orwell was interested in the mechanics of totalitarianism, imagining a society that took the paranoid surveillance of the Soviets to chilling conclusions. Our hero, Winston, tries to resist a grey world where a screen watches your every move, but bravery is ultimately futile when the state worms its way inside your mind. CRRebecca, Daphne du MaurierThe second Mrs de Winter is the narrator of Du Maurier’s marvellously gothic tale about a young woman who replaces the deceased Rebecca as wife to the wealthy Maxim de Winter and mistress of the Manderley estate. There she meets the housekeeper Mrs Danvers, formerly devoted to Rebecca, who proceeds to torment her. As atmospheric, psychological horror it just gets darker and darker. CHGreat Expectations, Charles DickensDickens was the social conscience of the Victorian age, but don’t let that put you off. Great Expectations is the roiling tale of the orphaned Pip, the lovely Estella, and the thwarted Miss Havisham. First written in serial form, you barely have time to recover from one cliffhanger before the next one beckons, all told in Dickens’ luxuriant, humorous, heartfelt prose. CRTo Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee A timeless plea for justice in the setting of America’s racist South during the depression years, Lee’s novel caused a sensation. Her device was simple but incendiary: look at the world through the eyes of a six-year-old, in this case, Jean Louise Finch, whose father is a lawyer defending a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman. Lee hoped for nothing but “a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers”: she won the Pulitzer and a place on the curriculum. CRWolf Hall, Hilary MantelIn an astonishing act of literary ventriloquism, Mantel inhabits a fictionalised version of Thomas Cromwell, a working-class boy who rose through his own fierce intelligence to be a key player in the treacherous world of Tudor politics. Historical fiction so immersive you can smell the fear and ambition. CRThe Big Sleep, Raymond ChandlerDashiell Hammett may have been harder boiled, his plots more intricate but, wow, does Raymond Chandler have style. The push and pull at the start of The Big Sleep between private detective Philip Marlowe, in his powder-blue suit and dark blue shirt, and Miss Carmen Sternwood, with her “little sharp predatory teeth” and lashes that she lowers and raises like a theatre curtain, sets the tone for a story of bad girls and bad men. CHFrankenstein, Mary ShelleyShelley was just 18 when she wrote Frankenstein as part of a challenge with her future husband, Percy Shelley, and Lord Byron, to concoct the best horror story. Put down the green face paint: Frankenstein’s monster is a complex creation who yearns for sympathy and companionship. Some 200 years after it was first published, the gothic tale feels more relevant than ever as genetic science pushes the boundaries of what it means to create life. CRWuthering Heights, Emily BrontëWill there ever be a novel that burns with more passionate intensity than Wuthering Heights? The forces that bring together its fierce heroine Catherine Earnshaw and cruel hero Heathcliff are violent and untameable, yet rooted in a childhood devotion to one another, when Heathcliff obeyed Cathy’s every command. It’s impossible to imagine this novel ever provoking quiet slumbers; Emily Brontë’s vision of nature blazes with poetry. CHLord of the Flies, William GoldingAnyone who has ever suspected that children are primitive little beasties will nod sagely as they read Golding’s classic. His theory is this: maroon a bunch of schoolboys on an island, and watch how quickly the trappings of decent behaviour fall away. Never has a broken pair of spectacles seemed so sinister, or civilisation so fragile. CRVanity Fair, William Makepeace ThackerayAll the teeming life of 19th century London is here in Thackeray’s masterpiece, right down to the curry houses frequented by Jos Sedley, who has gained a taste for the hot stuff as an officer in the East India Trading Company. But it is Becky Sharp, one of literature’s great characters, who gives this novel its enduring fascination. As a woman on the make, Becky is the perfect blend of wit, cunning and cold-hearted ruthlessness. Try as film and TV might to humanise and make excuses for her, Becky needs victims to thrive! And she’s all the more compelling for that. CHMidnight’s Children, Salman RushdieThe protagonist of Rushdie’s most celebrated novel is born at the exact moment India gains independence. He’s also born with superpowers, and he’s not the only one. In an audacious and poetic piece of magical realism, Rushdie tells the story of India’s blood-soaked resurgence via a swathe of children born at midnight with uncanny abilities. CRLolita, Vladimir NabokovBanned from entering the UK in its year of publication, 1955, Vladimir Nabokov’s astonishingly skilful and enduringly controversial work of fiction introduces us to literary professor and self-confessed hebephile Humbert Humbert, the perhaps unreliable narrator of the novel. He marries widow Charlotte Haze only to get access to her daughter, 12-year-old Dolores, nicknamed Lo by her mother, or as Humbert calls her “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.” Cloaking his abuse in the allusive language of idealised love does not lessen Humbert’s crimes, but allows Nabokov to skewer him where he hides. CHJane Eyre, Charlotte BronteYou will need a cold, dead heart not to be moved by one of literature’s steeliest heroines. From the institutional cruelty of her boarding school, the “small, plain” Jane Eyre becomes a governess who demands a right to think and feel. Not many love stories take in a mad woman in the attic and a spot of therapeutic disfigurement, but this one somehow carries it off with mythic aplomb. CRAmericanah, Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieA subtle and engrossing look at racial identity, through the story of a charismatic young Nigerian woman who leaves her comfortable Lagos home for a world of struggles in the United States. Capturing both the hard-scrabble life of US immigrants and the brash divisions of a rising Nigeria, Adichie crosses continents with all her usual depth of feeling and lightness of touch. CRCold Comfort Farm, Stella GibbonsAn absolute unadulterated comic joy of a novel. Stella Gibbons neatly pokes fun at sentimental navel-gazing with her zesty heroine Flora, who is more interested in basic hygiene than histrionics. In other words, if you’ve “seen something nasty in the woodshed”, just shut the door. CRBeloved, Toni MorrisonDedicated to the “60 million and more” Africans and their descendants who died as a result of the slave trade, this is a cultural milestone and a Pulitzer-winning tour de force. Morrison was inspired by the real-life story of an enslaved woman who killed her own daughter rather than see her return to slavery. In her plot, the murdered child returns to haunt a black community, suggesting the inescapable taint of America’s history. CRBrideshead Revisited, Evelyn WaughEvelyn Waugh bottles the intoxicating vapour of a vanished era in this novel about middle-class Charles Ryder, who meets upper-class Sebastian Flyte at Oxford University in the 1920s. Scrap the wartime prologue, and Charles’s entire relationship with Sebastian’s sister Julia (Dear Evelyn, thank you for your latest manuscript, a few suggested cuts…) and you’re looking at one of the most affecting love affairs in the English language. Chris HarveyDune, Frank HerbertYou can almost feel your mouth dry with thirst as you enter the world of Frank Herbert’s Dune and encounter the desert planet of Arrakis, with its giant sandworms and mind-altering spice. It’s the setting for an epic saga of warring feudal houses, but it’s as much eco-parable as thrilling adventure story. Rarely has a fictional world been so completely realised. CHThe Code of the Woosters, PG WodehouseIf you haven’t read PG Wodehouse in a hot bath with a snifter of whisky and ideally a rubber duck for company, you haven’t lived. Wallow in this sublimely silly tale of the ultimate comic double act: bumbling aristocrat Bertie Wooster and his omniscient butler, Jeeves. A book that’s a sheer joy to read and also manages to satirise British fascist leader Oswald Mosley as a querulous grump in black shorts. CRThe Great Gatsby, F Scott FitzgeraldThe savage reviews that greeted F Scott Fitzgerald’s third novel – “no more than a glorified anecdote”; “for the season only” – failed to recognise something truly great; a near-perfect distillation of the hope, ambition, cynicism and desire at the heart of the American Dream. Other novels capture the allure of the invented self, from Stendhal’s The Red and the Black to Thomas Mann’s Confessions of Felix Krull, but Fitzgerald’s enigmatic Jay Gatsby casts a shadow that reaches to Mad Men’s Don Draper and beyond. CHA Clockwork Orange, Anthony BurgessFrom the moment we meet Alex and his three droogs in the Korova milk bar, drinking moloko with vellocet or synthemesc and wondering whether to chat up the devotchkas at the counter or tolchock some old veck in an alley, it’s clear that normal novelistic conventions do not apply. Anthony Burgess’s slim volume about a violent near-future where aversion therapy is used on feral youth who speak Nadsat and commit rape and murder, is a dystopian masterpiece. CHTess of the d’Urbervilles, Thomas HardyA good 125 years before MeToo, Thomas Hardy skewered the sexual hypocrisy of the Victorian age in this melodramatic but immensely moving novel. Tess is a naïve girl from a poor family who is raped by a wealthy landowner. After the death of her baby, she tries to build a new life, but the “shame” of her past casts a long shadow. Read this if you want to understand the rotten culture at the root of victim blaming. CRDo Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Philip K DickHere be Roy Baty, Rick Deckard and Rachael Rosen – the novel that inspired Blade Runner is stranger even than the film it became. Back in an age before artificial intelligence could teach itself in a few hours to play chess better than any grandmaster that ever lived, Philip K Dick was using the concept of android life to explore what it meant to be human, and what it is to be left behind on a compromised planet. That he could do it in 250 pages that set the mind spinning and engage the emotions with every page-turn make this a rare science-fiction indeed. CHThe God of Small Things, Arundhati RoyRoy won the 1997 Booker Prize with her debut novel, a powerful intergenerational tale of love that crosses caste lines in southern India, and the appalling consequences for those who break the taboos dictating “who should be loved, and how. And how much.” Sex, death, religion, the ambivalent pull of motherhood: it’s all there in this beautiful and haunting book. CRHeart of Darkness, Joseph ConradInspired by Conrad’s own experiences of captaining a trading steamer up the Congo River, Heart of Darkness is part adventure, part psychological voyage into the unknown, as the narrator Marlow relays the story of his journey into the jungle to meet the mysterious ivory trader Mr Kurtz. The novel – although debate continues to rage about whether its attitude to Africa and colonialism is racist – is deeply involving and demands to be read. CHThe Secret History, Donna TarttStick another log on the fire and curl up with this dark, peculiar and quite brilliant literary murder tale. A group of classics students become entranced by Greek mythology – and then take it up a level. Remember, kids: never try your own delirious Dionysian ritual at home. CRDracula, Bram StokerWhatever passed between Irish theatre manager Bram Stoker and the Hungarian traveller and writer Ármin Vámbéry when they met in London and talked of the Carpathian Mountains, it incubated in the Gothic imagination of Stoker into a work that has had an incalculable influence on Western culture. It’s not hard to read the Count as a shadowy sexual figure surprising straitlaced Victorian England in their beds, but in Stoker’s hands he’s also bloody creepy. CHMiddlemarch, George EliotThis is a richly satisfying slow burn of a novel that follows the lives and loves of the inhabitants of a small town in England through the years 1829–32. The acerbic wit and timeless truth of its observations mark this out as a work of genius; but at the time the author, Mary Anne Evans, had to turn to a male pen name to be taken seriously. CRThe Catcher in the Rye, JD SalingerIt only takes one sentence, written in the first person, for Salinger’s Holden Caulfield to announce himself in all his teenage nihilism, sneering at you for wanting to know his biographical details “and all that David Copperfield kind of crap”. The Catcher in the Rye is the quintessential novel of the adolescent experience, captured in deathless prose. CHThe Bell Jar, Sylvia PlathThe only novel written by the poet Sylvia Plath is a semi-autobiographical account of a descent into depression that the book’s narrator Esther Greenwood describes as like being trapped under a bell jar – used to create a vacuum in scientific experiments – struggling to breathe. Almost every word is arresting, and the way that Plath captures the vivid life happening around Esther – news events and magazine parties – accentuates the deadening illness that drives her towards suicidal feelings. Plath herself would commit suicide one month after the novel’s publication in 1963. CHAnna Karenina, Leo TolstoyAndrew Davies’s recent TV adaptation of War and Peace reminded those of us who can’t quite face returning to the novel’s monstrous demands just how brilliantly Tolstoy delineates affairs of the heart, even if the war passages will always be a struggle. In Anna Karenina – enormous, too! – the great Russian novelist captures the erotic charge between the married Anna and the bachelor Vronsky, then drags his heroine through society’s scorn as their affair takes shape, without ever suggesting we move from her side. CHCatch-22, Joseph HellerIt’s not often an idiom coined in a novel becomes a catchphrase, but Joseph Heller managed it with his madcap, savage and hilarious tour de force. War is the ultimate dead end for logic, and this novel explores all its absurdities as we follow US bombardier pilot Captain John Yossarian. While Heller drew on his own experience as a WWII pilot, it was the McCarthyism of the Fifties that fuelled the book’s glorious rage. CRDangerous Liaisons, Pierre Choderlos de LaclosThe most deliciously wicked experience in literature, this epistolary novel introduces us to the Marquise de Merteuil and Vicomte de Valmont, who play cruel games of sexual conquest on their unwitting victims. The Marquise’s justification for her behaviour – “I, who was born to revenge my sex and master yours” – will strike a chord in the MeToo era, but emotions, even love, intrude, to the point where Laclos’s amorality becomes untenable. Sexy but very, very bad. CH100 Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia MarquezThe energy and enchantment of Garcia Marquez’s story of seven generations of the Buendia family in a small town in Colombia continue to enthral half a century on. Hauntings and premonitions allied to a journalistic eye for detail and a poetic sensibility make Marquez’s magical realism unique. CHThe Trial, Franz Kafka“Someone must have been telling lies about Josef K…” So begins Kafka’s nightmarish tale of a man trapped in an unfathomable bureaucratic process after being arrested by two agents from an unidentified office for a crime they’re not allowed to tell him about. Foreshadowing the antisemitism of Nazi-occupied Europe, as well as the methods of the Stasi, KGB, and StB, it’s an unsettling, at times bewildering, tale with chilling resonance. CHThe Leopard, Giuseppe Tomasi di LampedusaPublished posthumously in 1958, Tomasi di Lampedusa’s novel is set in 19th century Sicily, where revolution is in the air. The imposing Prince Don Fabrizio presides over a town close to Palermo during the last days of an old world in which class stratifications are stable and understood. Garibaldi’s forces have taken the island and a new world will follow. It’s a deep and poetic meditation on political change and the characters that it produces. CH
No matter how high-tech the world gets, you can’t beat an old-fashioned colouring book when it comes to keeping children entertained indoors.Whether you’re whiling away an hour at home on a rainy afternoon or passing time on a long journey, a colouring book is a must-have for occupying youngsters.There’s just something soothing about cracking open a colouring book and a packet of felt-tip pens or coloured pencils. In terms of beating boredom, few things are quite as therapeutic.And while any colouring book is entertaining in and of itself, the secret to choosing one that enthrals your child and isn’t quickly tossed aside is to focus on their temperament, as well as their individual interests.A rambunctious, energetic pre-schooler will need a more engaging colouring book than, say, a toddler who is just beginning to enjoy colouring in.And while cute characters and animals are fun to colour for five minutes, choosing a colouring book that appeals to your child’s particular interests will mean it should hold their interest for much longer.Finally, factor in where your children are likely to use the colouring book. We tested lots of travel-friendly tomes that are practical for packing if space is limited, like on a car journey or flight. If, by contrast, you’re after a gift for a budding artist, one of the colouring posters is likely to be a bigger hit.You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent. Usborne first colouring book football: £3.99, UsborneOur five-year-old tester was delighted to discover that this colouring book is full of soccer-mad girls as well as boys – which makes a change! There’s lots to learn about the game in this, from the names of each player’s position to all the different skills a footballer needs to master. The backgrounds are in colour so there’s much less to shade than in some books, but that didn’t seem to bother our tester – if anything, it meant this book seemed less overwhelming.Buy now The Jam Tart the animal colours colouring book: £6, KidlyThere are 28 pages featuring 20 stylised animals to colour in this book. It’s ideal for learning colours and animal names beyond the basics – we particularly like the indigo iguana. Our five-year-old tester loved writing her name on the “this book belongs to” page. This offering from The Jam Tart is distinctly different from other colouring books, so we think it would make a lovely gift for a budding artist.Buy now Crayola unicreatures colouring book: £3, HobbycraftLlamas are the new unicorns and everyone loves sloths, so this 32-page colouring book is bound to be a hit with on-trend youngsters. It’s great value for money and the pictures are entertaining without being too complex, so it’s ideal for younger children who are just getting into colouring books.Buy now Usborne Minis unicorns colouring book with rub-down transfers: £2.99, UsborneThis little colouring book is the perfect size for popping in a party bag – or even in your pocket. It’s small enough to be practical for travel use, and the transfers add an extra level of entertainment – there are transfers of unicorns, rainbows and flowers, as well as plants and animals to colour in.Buy now Giant colouring picture by Makii: £4, London Transport MuseumThis giant colouring picture is an innovative twist on a classic colouring book, and every one sold supports London Transport Museum’s charitable work. It’s the size of a map and comes with an adventure booklet about visiting the London Transport Museum, plus four postcards which you can colour in and then send to a friend.Buy now Omy magic colouring poster: £12.95, Royal Opera HouseYou can colour this poster in and then frame it and hang it on the wall. Our tester loves the idea of having her own handiwork hanging in her room, so it’s also ideal if you’re looking for an unusual gift for an arty youngster. It also folds away neatly if you want to take it with you on holiday or use it when you’re travelling.Buy now Rex London the jungle colouring and activity book: £6.95, Rex LondonThis is a jungle activity and colouring book in one with a carrying handle, so it’s perfect for travel use. There are ten different activities in this 50-page book as well as drawing challenges. Our tester’s favourite feature is the perforated edges, which mean you can easily tear off a picture and give it to a friend or stick it on the fridge.Buy now The official Harry Potter colouring book: £5.99, The Book PeopleFans of everyone’s favourite wizard will love this official Potter-themed colouring book. The pages feature line drawings that have been used in the making of the Harry Potter films, so it’s better suited to older children who have mastered colouring within the lines. It features much-loved characters including Harry, Dobby and Voldemort.Buy now The Natural History Museum dinosaur colouring book: £4.99, The Natural History MuseumThis 32-page colouring book is packed with fascinating dinosaur facts as well as puzzles and quizzes, so there’s plenty here to keep dino-fans entertained beyond just colouring in. Our five-year-old tester particularly loved the page that teaches you how to draw a diploodocus.Buy now My Little World colouring book: £4.99, My Little WorldThis travel-friendly cut-out, colour and play set is the perfect colouring book for use on long journeys. The set comes in six different varieties including airport, fairy village and space station foxtrot, and features cute characters and illustrations that children can use to create their own play scenes and stories. A modern twist on a traditional colouring book, it’s one of the items our five-year-old tester kept coming back to again and again. Buy now The verdict: Kids' colouring booksOur five-year-old tester thinks the Usborne first colouring book football is hands-down the best colouring book of all those we tested. It’s the one she returned to play with the most, and the first thing she packed for her holiday. If you’re buying a colouring book as a gift, the giant colouring picture by Makii is ideal, and excellent value for money with a charitable twist.
There is nothing more appealing, particularly when time is limited, than dipping into a short story collection.And just because this genre is written in fewer words than a novel, it doesn’t mean it’s any less potent.The short story can be a mechanism for writers to explore and find their own voice. For others, the themes in a short story can gestate and make it into their greatest novel.Some writers are simply more prolific at short story writing, while others just don’t have time to write a novel, finding short stories less of a commitment.Here, we round up 20 of the best short story collections for those who want an enduring story in fewer pages.Dancing Girls and Other Stories by Margaret AtwoodThe Handmaid’s Tale author – whose sequel, The Testaments, is out on 10 September – reveals the complexities of human relationships in ordinary people’s lives in her occasionally violent short story collection. Standout stories include “The Man from Mars”, in which a college student with a creepy stalker almost comes to appreciate this unhealthy obsession, when it gives her the attention that is lacking in her mundane life.The Collected Short Stories of F Scott FitzgeraldThis career-spanning collection of stories brings together the Tender Is the Night author’s most famous stories, including “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz”. This sinister fantasy tale about the perils of fabulous wealth is a topic he explored in greater depth later, especially when writing his best-known novel The Great Gatsby.Kiss Kiss by Roald DahlRoald Dahl is better known for children’s books such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but these creepy, tense and dark stories are a real treat for adults. A highlight is “Mrs Bixby and the Colonel’s Coat”, about a married woman who pawns a mink coat her lover gave her, with a jaw-dropping twist at the end. Alfred Hitchcock directed the screen version.The Garden Party and Other Stories by Katherine MansfieldThis is the third and most revered short story collection by the pioneering modernist writer, whose psychologically in-depth characters tend to have sudden epiphanies. It was written towards the end of Katherine Mansfield’s short life (she died aged 34 of tuberculosis), and includes the title story, one of her best-known works. In it, the wealthy Sheridan family prepares for a picnic, and through this seemingly mundane affair, the author deals with issues of life and death as well as the British class system.The Acid House by Irvine WelshThe Trainspotting author’s first collection of short stories is a real page-turner, bursting with colourful characters and humour. He plays with surrealism and fantasy in standout stories including the title story, about a football hooligan on an acid trip and a pregnant feminist on her way to the hospital who are struck by lightning. In “Eurotrash”, a Scottish junkie hangs around Amsterdam in typically hopeless, Trainspotting fashion.First Love, Last Rites by Ian McEwanThe author admitted that his first published work allowed him to experiment and discover his voice. The perverse and ominous stories in this collection are linked by a theme of adolescence and include “Butterflies”, in which a man has a sordid meeting with a girl who he then drowns. The man describes the murder himself, and is alarmingly void of emotion when doing so.Public Library by Ali SmithThe Man-Booker shortlisted author of Autumn and How To Be Both defends UK public libraries against threats of mass closures in her most recent, must-read short story collection. All of the characters in its 12 stories are passionate about books. Highlights include “The Ex-Wife”, in which Katherine Mansfield becomes the other woman in a relationship, when the narrator feels left out of his partner’s life as she researches the famous author’s life and works.Nine Stories by JD SalingerThe American author of The Catcher in the Rye was deeply affected by his experiences as a soldier in the Second World War, and this is reflected in his writings. This collection includes two of his most famous short stories – “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”, about a combat veteran recently discharged from an army hospital, and “For Esmé – with Love and Squalor”, a tribute to those former Second World War soldiers suffering from PTSD.The Moons of Jupiter by Alice MunroThe master of the contemporary short story won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2013, at the age of 82. She started writing short stories when she was at home with three young children and didn’t have time to write a novel. Her 2004 collection contains stories about 12 women whose romantic lives are derailed by broken marriages and betrayed affections.The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela CarterAngela Carter made it very clear that her intention was not to do “horrible, ‘adult’ fairy tales” but to “extract the latent content from the traditional stories and to use it as the beginnings of new stories”. These dark and sensual new tales include the famous title story, which acts more like a novella within the collection. This gruesome story is about a beautiful young girl who finds the bodies of her husband’s previous wives in a castle chamber.Dubliners by James JoyceThe author’s only short story collection, which is taken up largely by the subject of death, nearly never made it into print. One publisher even burnt the manuscript when he changed his mind about publishing it. Highlights include “Eveline”, about a girl deciding between staying at home like a dutiful daughter or leaving Dublin with her lover. “The Dead” is considered his best short work and a masterpiece of modern fiction.What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond CarverCarver’s breakthrough short story collection is a punchy and concise portrait of the lives of people ambling along in middle America. The writer digs deep into the themes of friendship and heartache with his use of vivid dialogue. The unedited version of the stories were first published after his death under the title “Beginners”, with the approval of Carver’s widow.The Collected Stories by Jean RhysIn 1945, Jean Rhys said that her stories were “too bitter... and besides, who wants short stories?” She found fame in 1966 with her novel Wide Sargasso Sea, which went unpublished for over 20 years. Her stories draw on autobiographical material, moving between the Caribbean, London and Paris – all places where she lived – and the characters are mostly women living life on the periphery of an indifferent society, dealing with alcoholism, doomed relationships and poverty.The Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan PoeEdgar Allan Poe is best-known for his poem “The Raven”, but fans of his Gothic tales of horror will love these macabre stories that include “The Fall of the House of Usher”, in which a brother buries his sister alive in the family tomb, and one of Poe’s best known short stories, “Tell-Tale Heart”, in which the narrator tries to convince the reader of his sanity while describing a murder.Metamorphosis and Other Stories by Franz KafkaFranz Kafka is a master of the short story and never finished any of his full-length novels. This collection, published in Kafka’s lifetime, brings together the few works that he actually wanted to be published. It includes his most famous story, “Metamorphosis”, about a man’s alienation when he turns into a beetle, and “The Judgement”, which Kafka saw as one of his most perfect literary creations. He instructed his executor to burn all his unpublished writing after his death – but this was not upheld. These stories can be found in The Burrow.The Complete Short Stories of Ernest HemingwayThis posthumous collection by the author of For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea includes a foreword by his sons, as well as the classic First Forty-Nine Stories and a number of other stories. Considered to be one of his best stories is “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” about Harry, a writer dying of gangrene while on Safari in Africa, who is musing on his life experiences. It was turned into a 1952 film starring Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward, with an extra part written especially for Ava Gardener.The Happy Prince and Other Stories by Oscar WildeThough he is best known for his novels and plays, Oscar Wilde’s stories for children are fairytales for any age group. Wilde, who believed it was “the duty of every father to write fairytales for his children”, enjoyed reading “The Selfish Giant” to his two sons. The collection’s title story is about a statue who asks a swallow to strip him of all the jewels and gold leaf on his body, to help the poor – a tale which can’t fail to make you cry.Mouthful of Birds by Samantha Schweblin, translated by Megan McDowellThe Argentinian writer’s novel Fever Dream made the shortlist for the Man Booker International Prize in 2017. Her debut collection of eerily unnerving and nightmarish short stories translated into English includes Headlights, in which a jilted bride is dumped at a roadside petrol station by her new husband – along with lots of other rejected women. In the title story a young woman’s transformation from a teenager involves her eating live birds, much to the disgust of her parents.Selected Stories by Anton ChekovConsidered the greatest short story writer, Chekov collated his 30 best stories into this collection. Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky – who translated War and Peace, Doctor Zhivago, and Anna Karenina – it includes “The Lady with the Dog”, about an adulterous affair that turns to love.The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieThese 12 melancholic short stories, from the Orange Prize-winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun, focus largely on the lives and experiences of Nigerian women. Standout stories include Imitation, in which a young mother’s new life in Philadelphia is turned upside down when she finds out that her husband has moved his mistress into their Lagos home, and the title story, about the loneliness of a Nigerian girl who moves to America.