Essential Modern Fiction – A Reading Checklist

Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson
A quirky girl relates the events of her life and those of her dysfunctional family beginning in 1959.


The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Set in the near future, under the new social order a handmaid’s only purpose is to breed.


Regeneration by Pat Barker
Set in a hospital during World War I, a conversation leads a doctor to reexamine his personal thoughts about the ravages of war.


Possession by A. S. Byatt
While researching the lives of two Victorian poets, a pair of young scholars uncovers letters, journals and poems.


True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey
Unwilling Australian outlaw Ned Kelly was forced into a life of crime as the apprentice of a highwayman.


Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
In 17th century Holland, a sixteen-year-old girl takes a job as maid for the artist Vermeer.


Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee
A white woman decides to bear the child resulting from an attack by blacks in post-apartheid South Africa.


Being Dead by Jim Crace
How and why were two middle-aged zoologists murdered?


Underworld by Don DeLillo
The Cold War is seen through the eyes of two people united by a passionate affair.


Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Set in 1920s Asia Minor and present day Berlin, a her-maphrodite raised as a girl is more comfortable as a boy.


The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald
The novel recreates the life of an 18th-century German poet and philosopher focusing on his romance with a 12-year-old girl.


The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
A woman’s plans are threatened by her husband’s Parkinson’s disease and long-buried secrets.


The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard
Two sisters, born in Australia and orphaned at an early age, make their way to England to start a new life.


Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg
An Eskimo woman living in Copenhagen decides the death of her six-year-old neighbor was not an accident.


High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
After his girlfriend leaves him, a record store owner takes refuge in the offbeat clerks at his store.


A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
A social outcast convinces his friends and neighbors that his is an instrument of God.


The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro
A renowned pianist finds himself in a mysterious and dreamlike urban maze.


The Known World by Edward P. Jones
A freed slave remains attached to his former owner and eventually buys his own slaves.


Misery by Stephen King
After an almost fatal car crash, a novelist finds himself being nursed by a deranged fan who holds him captive.


The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
A fiery evangelist takes his wife and daughters to the Belgian Congo in 1959.


A Perfect Spy by John le Carré
An elegant British master-spy disappears from his posting and family in Vienna.


Small Island by Andrea Levy
Set in 1940, two Jamaicans and two Britons as they struggle to find peace in post-war England.


No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod
A family patriarch and his twelve children journey from Scotland to an uncertain future in the New World.


Life of Pi by Yann Martel
A zookeeper and his family emigrate from India to North America aboard a cargo ship with their zoo animals.


Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
A dispossessed young man joins a gang of bloodthirsty mercenaries in mid- 19th century Mexico.


Atonement by Ian McEwan
A woman who once helped to convict a family friend for rape is on the brink of losing her memory.


Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels
A young polish Jew rescued by a Greek geologist and immigrates to Canada.


The Restraint of Beasts by Magnus Mills
A builder of high-tension fences copes with his crew’s lack of ambition and a string of peculiar clients.


A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
A chain of circumstances om 1970s India throws four varied individuals together in one small apartment.


Beloved by Toni Morrison
After the Civil War,, a woman is haunted by the choic-es she made as an escaped slave facing recapture.


The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
Short stories relate the exploits and personalities of a fictional platoon of American soldiers in Vietnam.


After You’d Gone by Maggie O’Farrell
An intergenerational tale of three women introduces the grandmother, the mother and a young woman.


The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
At the end of World War II, a young nurse cares for a soldier so horribly burned he cannot be identified.


The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx
A miserable family starts a new life in a Newfound-land fishing village.


The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
A young woman leaves her sheltered life at Oxford University to look for her kidnapped best friend.


Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
A girl and her younger sister grow up under the care of their competent grandmother an eccentric aunt.


American Pastoral by Philip Roth
A successful businessman’s conventional life is ruined by the turmoil of the 1960s.


The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
Set in a small town in India, the return of a long absent brother unsettles the family of a pair of twins.


Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
A man chronicles the story of a child and a nation that both came into existence in 1947.


A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
In the decade following India’s independence, traditional and modern ways clash for four families.


The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
A woman born in 1905 and living into the 1990s, probes her thoughts and those of the people who enter her life.


White Teeth by Zadie Smith
Two men who shared experiences during World War II and their families rely on each other.


A Far Cry from Kensington by Muriel Spark
A woman remembers back to 1954 when she was a young war widow living in furnished rooms.


Last Orders by Graham Swift
The death of one of their friends gives a group of World War II veterans an opportunity for reflection.


The White Hotel by D.M. Thomas
A young opera singer suffering from severe pain seeks treatment from Professor Sigmund Freud.


Music & Silence by Rose Tremain
In 1629, King Christian IV of Denmark turns to music to assuage his fears while his country fall into ruins.


The Story of Lucy Gault by William Trevor
A young girl’s life seems to fall apart when her family is driven from their country home.


The Color Purple by Alice Walker
An elegant portrait of black women’s brutal, poverty-driven lives, sustained by faith, love and trust.


Cloudstreet by Tim Winton
Two families share a decaying mansion in Perth, Australia.


Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
A man shuttles between fire-bombed Dresden and a luxurious zoo on the planet Tralfamadore.