I love big books and I cannot lie. Going through the unread books on my shelf I realised there are some I have been putting off reading because they’re just so big and slightly intimidating. So I decided I’m going to tackle them head on.
For me I consider a big book as one that’s 500 pages and above. So let’s get into my list. I have three classics, one historical fiction, and one contemporary fiction.
1. The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell – 566 pages
On the banks of the Zambezi River, a few miles from the majestic Victoria Falls, there was once a colonial settlement called The Old Drift. Here begins the epic story of a small African nation, told by a mysterious swarm-like chorus that calls itself man’s greatest nemesis. The tale? A playful panorama of history, fairytale, romance and science fiction. The moral? To err is human.
In 1904, in a smoky room at the hotel across the river, an Old Drifter named Percy M. Clark, foggy with fever, makes a mistake that entangles the fates of an Italian hotelier and an African busboy. This sets off a cycle of unwitting retribution between three Zambian families (black, white, brown) as they collide and converge over the course of the century, into the present and beyond. As the generations pass, their lives – their triumphs, errors, losses and hopes – form a symphony about what it means to be human.
From a woman covered with hair and another plagued with endless tears, to forbidden love affairs and fiery political ones, to homegrown technological marvels like Afronauts, microdrones and viral vaccines – this gripping, unforgettable novel sweeps over the years and the globe, subverting expectations along the way. Exploding with colour and energy, The Old Drift is a testament to our yearning to create and cross borders, and a meditation on the slow, grand passage of time
2. The Mill On The Floss by George Eliot – 535
Recreates the author’s own childhood through the story of the Maggie Tulliver and her spoilt, selfish brother. This novel combines images of family life with a portrait of the heroine.
3. Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope – 847 pages
Alice Vavasor cannot decide whether to marry her ambitious but violent cousin George or the upright and gentlemanly John Grey – and finds herself accepting and rejecting each of them in turn.
Increasingly confused about her own feelings and unable to forgive herself for such vacillation, her situation is contrasted with that of her friend Lady Glencora – forced to marry the rising politician Plantagenet Palliser in order to prevent the worthless Burgo Fitzgerald from wasting her vast fortune.
In asking his readers to pardon Alice for her transgression of the Victorian moral code, Trollope created a telling and wide-ranging account of the social world of his day.
4. White Teeth by Zadie Smith – 542 pages
One of the most talked about fictional debuts ever, White Teeth is a funny, generous, big-hearted novel, adored by critics and readers alike. Dealing – among many other things – with friendship, love, war, three cultures and three families over three generations, one brown mouse, and the tricky way the past has of coming back and biting you on the ankle, it is a life-affirming, riotous must-read of a book.
5. Middlemarch by George Eliot – 908 pages
Middlemarch (1871-2) is perhaps the masterpiece of a writer who is now recognized as a major literary figure of the nineteenth century. Virginia Woolf hailed as ‘one of the few English novels written for adult people’ this magnificent work in which George Eliot paints a luminous and spacious landscape of life in a provincial town. With sure and subtle touch she draws together the links of the rural network: Dorothea, a modern St Teresa; Dr Lydgate, the young doctor defeated by self and circumstance; Rosamond, that masterly study in triviality and egoism, and the unprepossessing and doomed banker, Bulstrode. Indeed, in her analysis of human nature George Eliot achieved what Dr Leavis has called ‘a Tolstoyan depth and reality’.
That’s it for my short list. A small but might stack. Actually at the time are writing this I’m currently reading White Teeth and to be honest I’m not enjoying it as much. I’ll have a review up as soon as I’m done.
Have you read any of these books? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.