While travel guides are all well and good, I feel the most crucial way to immerse yourself in the sensibility of a country is to read several novelists who hail from it. This being said, here are five books to read prior to your trip to the UK.
A.S. Byatt’s Possession
Byatt has stated that this is the only book she wrote out of sheer literary pleasure. The novel, written in 1990, explores the untapped comedic potential of academia and hinges on a love story between two literary critics who uncover a love affair between the two Victorian poets they each, respectively, have spent their professional lives researching. The prose is unimaginably beautiful and the tapestry of forms and allusions that Byatt so effortlessly weaves throughout is nothing short of breathtaking.
Julian Barnes The Sense of an Ending
The title itself is based on a work of literary theory by Frank Kermode which tries to make sense of the ways we seek out patterns to understand our lives. Julian Barnes wrote The Sense of an Ending in 2011. A man in his sixties is forced to explore several key events of his adolescence after a letter from a lawyer sends him on journey through memory. The novel itself is quite short, the prose and the concept so enthralling that everyone I know who has read it read did so in one go.
Thomas Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus
This novel, roughly translated as “The Tailor Re-Tailored”, was written in 1836 and still remains one of the wildest and most inventive novels I’ve ever read. An unnamed editor is set to the task of making some sense of the enigmatic (fictional) philosopher Diogenes Teufelsdröckh’s seminal work, Clothes, Their Origin and Influence. What follows is the crazy, meta-fictional story of Diogenes, his failures in love and his subsequent spiritual wanderings, all translated through the non-understanding eyes of the unnamed editor, representative of the English populace at the time. The book influenced Borges, Whitman and countless others.
Virginia Woolf’s Orlando: A Biography
While most associate Virginia Woolf with 1927’s To the Lighthouse, Orlando was written the year after and is more lighthearted and satirical. After being scorned in love, a 30-year old 17th century nobleman falls asleep and wakes to find he’s transformed into a woman. Her subsequent life lasts over 300 years. Widely hailed as a feminist work of critical import, Virginia Woolf’s novel explores the significance of being a woman throughout history.
William Trevor Felicia’s Journey
Though Trevor is widely lauded as a better short story writer than a novelist, this novel, written in 1994 is ingeniously structured to make sure you read it in one sitting. The plot follows a young Irish girl who flees home in search of the English man who has impregnated her. Over the course of her failed search, she unwittingly becomes ensnared in a serial-killer’s web. The novel features some of the most unsettling passages in recent literary memory.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Stephanie Kasheta is a graduate of the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she majored in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing. She is currently finishing up her MFA in Fiction at Emerson College in Boston. She is a Las Vegas native who recently relocated to Cape Cod with her husband, a veteran of the US Air Force. Stephanie is also step-mother to a seven-year old future writer named Olivia. When not reading or daydreaming of travel abroad, she can be found blowing glass at the Sandwich Glass Museum or working on her short story collection. Follow her on Twitter
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