12 Contemporary British Novels We Can’t Live Without

April 26 2016
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As a lifelong Anglophile, I have worshipped at the altar of Austen, Brontë, and Dickens ever since I received my first copy of Pride and Prejudice in the fourth grade. But British literature goes far beyond the country manors and moody moors of the nineteenth century. Here are twelve fantastic novels from some of the most exciting contemporary novelists across the pond that every self-respecting Anglophile should read.

White Teeth
by Zadie Smith

WHITE TEETH plays out its bounding, vibrant course in a Jamaican hair salon in North London, an Indian restaurant in Leicester Square, an Irish poolroom turned immigrant café, a liberal public school, and a sleek science institute, while it takes on faith, race, gender, history, and culture. Zadie Smith's dazzling first novel is not to be missed.

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White Teeth
Zadie Smith

At the center of this invigorating novel are two unlikely friends, Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal. Hapless veterans of World War II, Archie and Samad and their families become agents of England’s irrevocable transformation. Zadie Smith’s dazzling debut caught critics grasping for comparisons and deciding on everyone from Charles Dickens to Salman Rushdie to John Irving and Martin Amis. But the truth is that Zadie Smith’s voice is remarkably, fluently, and altogether wonderfully her own.

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The Paying Guests
by Sarah Waters

Sarah Waters earned a reputation as one of Britain’s great writers of historical fiction, and here she delivers again. A love story, a tension-filled crime story, and a beautifully atmospheric portrait of 1920s London, this is her finest achievement yet.

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The Paying Guests
Sarah Waters

Sarah Waters earned a reputation as one of Britain’s great writers of historical fiction, and here she delivers again. A love story, a tension-filled crime story, and a beautifully atmospheric portrait of 1920s London, this is her finest achievement yet.

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Close
The Ocean at the End of the Lane
by Neil Gaiman

This poignant fairy tale from the modern master of wonder is a bewitching and harrowing story of mystery and survival, memory and magic.

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Neil Gaiman

An imaginative and poignant adult fairy tale from the modern master of wonder and terror. This bewitching and harrowing story of mystery, survival, memory, and magic makes the impossible all too real.

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Cloud Atlas
by David Mitchell

A visionary voice in twenty-first century fiction, David Mitchell combines a keen eye for character and a taste for mind-bending philosophical and scientific speculation to explore fundamental questions of reality and identity.

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Cloud Atlas
David Mitchell

In a narrative that traverses centuries and space, David Mitchell reveals how his disparate characters connect, how their fates intertwine, and how their souls drift across time like clouds across the sky. It is a daring exploration of reality and identity.

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Close
Life After Life
by Kate Atkinson

If there were an infinite number of chances to live your life, would you be able to save the world from its own destiny? Wildly inventive, darkly comic, and startlingly poignant, this is Kate Atkinson at her absolute best.

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Life After Life
Kate Atkinson

During a snowstorm in 1910, a baby is born. She dies before she can draw her first breath. During a snowstorm in 1910, the same baby is born and lives. What if there were an infinite number of chances to live your life? Would you be able to save the world from its own destiny? What power can one woman exert over the fate of civilization as she lives through the turbulent events of the twentieth century again and again?

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Close
Wolf Hall
by Hilary Mantel

One of Britain’s most accomplished, acclaimed, and garlanded writers, Hilary Mantel brutally and acutely recreates Tudor England in this Man Booker Prize–winning novel. She deploys her gifts for penetrating, unsparing characterization to breathe thrilling new life into the well-trodden territory of Henry VIII and his court.

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Wolf Hall
Hilary Mantel

In the ruthless arena of King Henry VIII’s court, only Thomas Cromwell dares to gamble his life to win the king’s favor and ascend to the heights of political power. Wolf Hall re-creates an era when the personal and political are separated by a hairbreadth, where success brings unlimited power but a single failure means death.

“At New Year’s he had given Anne a present of silver forks. . . . He hopes she will use them to eat with, not to stick in people.” —Hilary Mantel

Claire: “What should we server the Walkers?”
Frank: “Cyanide.”
Claire: “I’m saving that for dessert. . . .”

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In a Dark, Dark Wood
by Ruth Ware

What should be a cozy and fun-filled weekend in the English countryside takes a sinister turn in this gripping, suspenseful, and darkly twisted literary debut.

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In a Dark, Dark Wood
Ruth Ware

During a weekend away with a friend in an eerie glass house, crime writer Leonora wakes up in a hospital bed injured wondering not “What happened?” but “What have I done?” This one is for fans of GONE GIRL and THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN.

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The Girl Next Door
by Ruth Rendell

The discovery of human remains in a long-forgotten tin box sends shockwaves across a group of longtime friends in this psychologically explosive story from the late Ruth Rendell, the grand dame of British crime writing.

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The Girl Next Door
Ruth Rendell

In the waning months of the Second World War, a group of children discover an earthen tunnel that becomes their “secret garden.” Six decades later, on the same land, construction workers uncover a tin box containing two skeletal hands. Is the truth behind this psychologically explosive story buried among these long-time friends and their memories?

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Me Before You
by JoJo Moyes

Ever since she debuted stateside, Americans have fallen in love with Jojo Moyes and her opposites-attract love stories. This is the word-of-mouth sensation that put her on the map. You’ll laugh, you’ll weep, and when you turn the last page, you’ll want to start all over again.

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Me Before You
JoJo Moyes

Will Traynor is an attractive but brooding young man grieving the life he lived before the terrible accident that left him paralyzed. Louisa Clark is the quirky and charming young woman that Will’s parents hire to cheer him up and remind him that life is worth living. You will fall as hard and deeply in love with Will as Louisa does.

Read the review of ME BEFORE YOU and AFTER YOU.

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MENTIONED IN:

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Atonement
by Ian McEwan

A symphonic and heartbreaking novel of love and war, childhood and class, and guilt and forgiveness that provides all the satisfaction of a brilliant narrative and the provocation we have come to expect from this master of English prose.

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Atonement
Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan’s symphonic novel of love and war, childhood and class, guilt and forgiveness provides all the satisfaction of a brilliant narrative and the provocation we have come to expect from this master of English prose. Benedict is the icky Paul Marshall. His scene with the candy bar is worth every penny.

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Close
The Sense of an Ending
by Julian Barnes

A novel so compelling that it begs to be read in a single sitting, this Man Booker Prize–winning novel of stunning psychological and emotional depth and sophistication is a brilliant new chapter in Julian Barnes’s oeuvre.

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The Sense of an Ending
Julian Barnes

A novel so compelling that it begs to be read in a single sitting, this Man Booker Prize–winning novel of stunning psychological and emotional depth and sophistication is a brilliant new chapter in Julian Barnes’s oeuvre.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo

MENTIONED IN:

Readers’ Choice: Your 9 Favorite Classics and What to Read Next

By Off the Shelf Staff | March 2, 2021

March eBook Deals: 10 Enthralling Reads to Add to Your Digital Library

By Off the Shelf Staff | March 1, 2021

The 10 Most Popular Books of February

By Off the Shelf Staff | February 26, 2021

Author Picks: 6 Memoirs That Stuck with Me Long after the Last Page

By Charlie Gilmour | February 25, 2021

Our 16 Most Anticipated New Reads of March

By Off the Shelf Staff | February 24, 2021

Longing to Travel? Explore France with These 9 Magnifique Reads

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Close
Little Bee
by Chris Cleave

This novel of a young Nigerian refugee seeking asylum in Great Britain is a story of uncertainty, courage, and profound humanity rendered in brutal yet gorgeous prose.

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Little Bee
Chris Cleave

It was Little Bee’s voice that first knocked me out. It’s musical, it’s magical, and it’s joyful. And yet, this sixteen-year-old Nigerian girl has experienced unspeakable horrors. Chris Cleave’s novel is brutal and beautiful at the same time.

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MENTIONED IN:

Readers’ Choice: Your 9 Favorite Classics and What to Read Next

By Off the Shelf Staff | March 2, 2021

March eBook Deals: 10 Enthralling Reads to Add to Your Digital Library

By Off the Shelf Staff | March 1, 2021

The 10 Most Popular Books of February

By Off the Shelf Staff | February 26, 2021

Author Picks: 6 Memoirs That Stuck with Me Long after the Last Page

By Charlie Gilmour | February 25, 2021

Our 16 Most Anticipated New Reads of March

By Off the Shelf Staff | February 24, 2021

Longing to Travel? Explore France with These 9 Magnifique Reads

By Alice Martin | February 23, 2021

Close

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