Literary prize-winning books aren’t always at the top of our reading list. Although considered works of genius, they are often seen as being too much like hard work, with visions of tedious set texts assigned at school springing to mind. The Girly Book Club investigates 10 award winners we recommend you DO read.
1. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy: Man Booker Prize 1997
This won the Man Booker the year it was written – quite a coup as it was Roy’s debut novel. Set in the beautiful town of Aymanam in Kerala, India, we’re introduced to fraternal twins Esthappen and Rahel and follow their lives as they grow and move away from home. Both are faced with significant obstacles to happiness. The book explores themes of class, discrimination and betrayal. A deeply moving and evocative read.
2. Larry’s Party by Carol Shields: Orange Prize for Fiction 1997
The fact that a novel about one distinctly average American man’s life can be so beautiful is down to the writer’s spot-on perception and unquestionable talent. The story of Larry’s life may not seem interesting when you first pick it up, and some argue it’s only in retrospect that can you garner full appreciation for the story told, but Shields has a distinct and powerful voice with a remarkable talent of making the average seem so much more.
3. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver: Orange Prize for Fiction 2005
Not for the faint-hearted, this is a profound read that examines nature versus nurture and the possibility that not all people are born ‘good’. We meet Eva, a mother who never really wanted to be a mother. We follow on the sidelines as her son ‘Kevin’ grows up and commits atrocities a mother could never fathom. The internal conflict of loving her child while finding some way of coming to terms with what he’s done and the pain he’s inflicted makes the book hard to put down.
4. The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas: Commonwealth Writers Prize – Best Book 2009
Set in Australia at a BBQ, a man slaps a child that is not his own. The book then follows the direct and indirect fallout of his actions. From the complex to the apparently mundane, over the 500 pages we become acquainted with some very thought-provoking character dynamics.
5. The Curious Case of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon: Costa Book Award 2003
Written as a first person narrative of 15-year-old autistic teenager Christopher, a talented mathematician and amateur sleuth in the making, we follow him as he documents his investigation into the murder of a neighbour’s dog. Christopher takes the reader for an interesting and unexpected ride. You’ll yearn for his success and applaud him as he is forced to face a number of his fears while all along struggling to read the emotional and social indicators along the way. Well written and surprisingly inspirational.
6. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood: Man Booker 2000
Multi award-winning Canadian author Margaret Atwood has been on the Booker shortlist five times and, although this is her only win, she’s obviously doing something right. If you haven’t read any of her books this is a good one to start with – this story of Iris Chase and her sister Laura is an onion of a book – a novel within a novel.
7. The Road by Cormac McCarthy: Pulitzer 2007
Don’t be surprised if you read this book in one sitting. A father and son travel a post-apocalyptic America – toward the coast through a burnt landscape where nothing has survived – towards what? They do not know. They have very little left, other than each other. A bleak yet beautifully written novel that you’ll follow with a long sigh and perhaps find yourself a little more thankful for your present circumstances.
8. Life of Pi by Yann Martel: Man Booker 2002
This is the story of Piscine Molitor who survives for 227 days on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger. Sound unlikely? The book is really about spirituality and heavily relies on symbolism to make its point. Truly thought-provoking.
9. Small Island by Andrea Levy: Orange Prize for Fiction 2004
Set in the 1950s, Small Island explores the fascinating journey of Jamaican immigrants as they move to England. In search of a better life having fought for the country in the Second World War, they expect a much warmer reception than the one they encounter. Told from the point of view of four main characters – the book explores issues of prejudice and inequality.
10. Amsterdam by Ian McEwan: Man Booker 1998
Arguably one of McEwan’s best novels, this critically acclaimed story is a cultural examination of morality: the repercussions of the choices we make or don’t make and living with those choices. As we follow the lives of old friends Clive Linley and Vernon Halliday we get drawn in and invest in the characters. A very enjoyable read and one not to miss.