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8 classic challenging reads

Written by · Published Feb 18, 2016

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, 2666 by Roberto Bolano and The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

The recent BBC TV adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s War and peace has led to a surge of interest in classic titles. If you enjoyed War and peace why not try one of the following ‘challenging’ reads?

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

A significant number of readers consider Tolstoy’s 1876 story of a Russian society woman who leaves her loveless marriage for the dashing Count Vronsky the greatest novel ever written. The novel explores and illuminates the deepest questions about how to live a fulfilled life.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Flaubert put much of his own life into the bored, beautiful housewife at the centre of his 1857 tale of provincial adultery. The story is now 150 years old, but readers of both sexes continue to find themselves and their friends in its pages.

The great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

The great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald himself called his 1925 portrait of the Jazz Age and story of obsessive love a “consciously artistic achievement” and a “purely creative work.” It offers complicated characters who can be interpreted in fresh ways by new readers. It is also beautifully written.

Middlemarch by George Eliot

Middlemarch by George Eliot

Virginia Woolf called this Victorian masterpiece and detailed portrait of provincial English life “one of the few English novels written for grown-up people.” Martin Amis and Julian Barnes have both cited it as perhaps the greatest novel in the English language.

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

A comic tale of a humble man who fashions himself as a chivalrous knight and sets out on many adventures. In 2002, it was voted best novel by 100 modern authors.

Foucault’s pendulum by Umberto Eco

Foucault’s pendulum by Umberto Eco

Three Italian editors play a game creating a super-conspiracy linking major events in European history, attracting attention from real conspiracy theorists who want to know the truth at all costs. A truly challenging read.

2666 by Roberto Bolano

2666 by Roberto Bolano

A novel of stupefying ambition. Five sections with different characters and settings, all linked to a Mexican city where 300 young women have been murdered. It’s based on the real town of Ciudad Juarez, where thousands of women have been murdered or gone missing in the past 20 years. This is Bolano’s masterpiece.

Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov

Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov

The novel focuses on the midlife crisis of the main character, Ilya Ilyich Oblomov, an upper middle class son of a member of Russia’s nineteenth century landed gentry. While comedic, the novel also seriously examines many critical issues that faced Russian society in the nineteenth century. Some of these problems included the uselessness of landowners and gentry in a feudal society that did not encourage innovation or reform. This is beautifully written and has a lot to say about the human condition.

Brandon King

I work in the Suffolk Libraries Stock Team