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ELC Staff Recommended Novels Copies of these books can be found in the OLC (room LG15)

Candide by Voltaire Review by John Ramsay I was first recommended this book whilst in second year at university. It was such a good book that I managed to finish it after a couple of nights. In short, Candide is a fictional tale about a young man from Westphalia whose tutor instilled in him the positive philosophical view of the world that ‘all is for the best’. However, after his love of a baron’s daughter was discovered, Candide is forced to leave Westphalia and make his own way in the world. Throughout the book, Candide encounters tragedy and misfortune which will ultimately test his optimism. If you are looking for a book that mixes chaos, disaster, tragedy whilst remaining humorous and highly entertaining, then you will enjoy this as much as I did.

One Day by David Nicholls Review by Maria Jackson 15th July is a pivotal day in the lives of Emma and Dexter. It marks the day they meet before graduating from Edinburgh University and going their separate ways. It is a date on which the reader revisits the two characters over a 20 year period and is tantalisingly left to discover whether or not their friendship will ever develop into something more. An extremely easy read that you will find hard to put down. Far, far better than the film.


The Fry Chronicles by Stephen Fry Review by Steve Miller Stephen Fry is one of Britain’s best loved personalities – he is an actor, writer, comedian, broadcaster, podcaster, technology expert - the list goes on… After a successful spell in the Cambridge University Footlights dramatic club, he rose to prominence in the 1980s alternative comedy scene, starring on TV in the legendary Blackadder. Today Fry is best known as the presenter of QI – a quiz show which entertains but also informs. He is admired for his commanding and beautiful use of the English language, which is used to great effect in this book, his second autobiography. If you are new to British culture and want to learn more, the Fry Chronicles will fill many gaps in your knowledge. There is light and shade in this book – it is entertaining and funny but Fry’s life has not been without its complexities and even heartbreak at times. Read it and learn about one of our national treasures!

Dark Matter: A Ghost Story by Michelle Paver Review by Lena Grannell Set just before World War Two in the 1930s, the book follows the story of a scientific expedition to the Arctic. The story is told in the first person in the form of a journal kept by one of its members, Jack Miller. The arctic landscape is a big part of the story and contributes to Jack's (and the reader's) increasing sense of isolation and unease. I would never usually choose to read a ghost story but I was totally gripped from the start of this book and read it in one day.


The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz Review by Emma Mutter First in a series about a dysfunctional family of private detectives in San Francisco. Light, amusing, fast-paced – could be enjoyed by males and females alike – there are two editions, one looks like a normal book and the other looks suspiciously like ‘chick lit’. The main character is female but it ain’t just for chicks.

Carry On, Jeeves by PG Wodehouse Review by Tim Lunardoni Carry On, Jeeves is a collection of short stories featuring Wodehouse’s famous characters, Bertie Wooster and his valet, Jeeves. The challenging vocabulary and irregular grammar will provide higher level students with valuable practice working through complicated sentences and ideas. The relative brevity and simplicity of the stories will provide an important counter-balance to the complex prose. Wodehouse’s short stories are filled with important cultural references, those derived from the stories themselves as well as frequent references to Classical, Biblical, Renaissance, and Enlightenment authors and texts. These will improve reader’s cultural literacy as well as English comprehension. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the short stories published in Carry On, Jeeves are fun and funny to read for the first time, to re-read, and to share.


Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon Review by Katie Jones It is set in Barcelona and tells the story of a young boy who is taken to the secret Cemetery of Forgotten Books by his father and chooses a book from there which changes his life forever. Surely that's enough to make anyone want to read it?! It is romantic and mysterious at the same time and a great story within a story.

The Alchemist by Paolo Coehlo Review by Andy Otaqui This is an inspirational book which is accessible to a wide range of readers regardless of their language level, cultural background or religion. It encourages readers to examine themselves and their goals from a generally spiritual perspective and is written in an accessible style.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell Review by Saul Jones This book has six stories, which are interconnected in theme (the ways that human beings cynically use other human beings for their own ends) but have no overlapping characters. The catch is that each story begins before the last one ends. It’s unlikely that you’ll ever read another book quite like this one.


The Siege by Helen Dunmore Review by Jonathan Stoddart A fantastic novel. Set in St Petersburg (then Leningrad) during the German and Finnish siege of World War Two that killed 600,000. The story revolves around Anna and her family, who go from living a peaceful middle class life to fighting for survival as the siege takes hold. The political background of the former Soviet Union is always present in the background, and the protagonists’ battle against both the German siege and the political repression of their own country. Very moving.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy Review by Richard Bryan This is one of the finest and most readable English language novels in recent years. A nameless father and young boy travel across a nightmarish, post-apocalyptic America. The only possessions they have are a cart full of scavenged goods, and a gun to defend themselves against the gangs of murderous cannibals who frequent the road. Their aim is to reach the coast and some kind of salvation, but their chances of doing so are desperately slim. This is a book which manages to be both horrific and beautiful at the same time. The book contains scenes of horror which will stay with you for a lifetime. The beauty can be found in the simple but poetic language employed by McCarthy, and in the loving relationship of a father and his son. Will that relationship survive the journey across a nightmare land? You’ll have to read the book to find out!!!


A Painted House by John Grisham Review by Chris Green Set in the summer and early autumn of 1952, A Painted House, narrated by the protagonist Luke, tells the story of a close family of cotton pickers struggling to get by and pay their debts in the harsh South of 1950s Arkansas, America. It follows the family’s ill-fated employment of the Spruills, a family of ‘hill people’, and a few Mexican migrant workers who annually come to the area looking for work. As the laborious picking season progresses, the lives of the families become increasingly entwined with love, death, violence, and friendship intervening throughout. Grisham manages to vividly portray the delicate lives of both residents and migrants of 1950s Arkansas. He lays bare the dreams and aspirations of the people of that era in a work of fiction unique for John Grisham, the international bestselling author.

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell Review by Rhod Fiorini I think this book should be of interest to ELC students for a number of reasons. It provides an insight into social, political, economical and cultural life in Britain early in the last century, when the British Empire was still strong, but many people in the UK lived in poverty. Although a work of fiction, the book is based on the writer’s own experiences as a member of the working class at that time, and the overriding theme of the book the relationship between working class people and their employers. It was written just as socialism was beginning to be seen as viable alternative to capitalism, and is still considered to be one of the great English novels about the class system.


The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald Review by David Ramwell This is an easy book to read and is nice and short as well. It was first published in 1925, and it’s interesting to read about how that sector of society lived then. It’s probably not the most romantic love story you’re likely to read but it’s well written and very unpredictable; the character of Gatsby keeps you guessing all the way through. As I understand it, everyone reads this book at least once in their life.

Istanbul: Memories of a City by Orhan Pamuk Review by Sora Zushi The sixth book by Orhan Pamuk – the first Turkish winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and currently Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University – is a seductive, quietly profound and wistful memoir of growing up in the crumbling, post-imperial city of Istanbul. Like his works of fiction, which include the celebrated My Name is Red (2001) and Snow (2004), Istanbul dwells upon the conflict between Western and Eastern values, the resulting difficulties in forging a meaningful Turkish identity for modern times, and the powerful, lingering emotional value of places and things. In this particular book, the conflicts Pamuk describes belong specifically to the Istanbul of the 1950s and 1960s; the places and things are the streets and objects from his privileged childhood. These form the basis of his poeticised memories, which have a dreamlike valence and are presented palimpsestically; but at the same time, they are given concrete form in the family photos and other images that illustrate this evocative book. The whole work is suffused with hϋzϋn (inadequately translated into English as ‘melancholy’), on which Pamuk devotes a whole chapter.


The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald Review by David Ramwell This is an easy book to read and is nice and short as well. It was first published in 1925, and it’s interesting to read about how that sector of society lived then. It’s probably not the most romantic love story you’re likely to read but it’s well written and very unpredictable; the character of Gatsby keeps you guessing all the way through. As I understand it, everyone reads this book at least once in their life.

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell Review by Chris Sowton George Orwell’s tales of his life working in a succession of poorly paid jobs in Paris, and then being a tramp in London, is a fascinating tales of poverty in the 1930s. It is a very forceful book which offers powerful criticisms of society and the economic system of the day. The book completely changed my political views and opened up my eyes to a different world. I became obsessed with George Orwell after this and read his other writings as quickly as I could.


Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman Review by Jayne Pearson Pigeon English is a moving story of an 11 year old from Ghana negotiating school and gang life on his London council estate. This book is realistic, funny and sad, and is written from the point of view of a school boy so the language is simple but still very poetic. Some of the words you won’t find in a dictionary!

Youth: Scenes from Provincial Life II by J.M Coetzee Review by Edd Barley This book is part two in a ‘fictionalised autobiography’ of the author J. M. Coetzee. A South African leaves his home and family with dreams of being an artist, and ends up in London facing the realities of life in the capital. The book is neither laugh out loud funny, nor page turningly thrilling in the traditional sense but what it does exceptionally well is convey the inner struggles of those who seek to break old bonds, create a new life, or to realise a version of themselves. So, not exactly heart-warming, you won’t like the protagonist (I didn’t), not much happens, and then it ends! But it is so well written, and so realistic in its depiction of being young in a new environment, I highly recommend it.


For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemmingway Review by Dan Pearce I did my dissertation on Hemmingway and I remember loving this book at the time for its adventurous and tense story line. It’s set during the Spanish Civil War, which for me is one of the most fascinating eras in history. Chapter 10 is the most important part of the book, where the leader of the guerrilla resistance, Pilar, describes how a number of fascists were thrown off a bridge in her hometown. Hemmingway said he made this whole scene up, but it is based on events which took place in Ronda where the famous bridge connects a giant gorge. I visited Ronda two summers ago, and immediately reconnected with that scene in the book. Spain, like England, has such a dark history, but also one full of adventure. I would recommend reading this book whilst travelling around southern Spain, particularly Ronda, which Hemmingway described as the best place to spend a honeymoon. Hemmingway is very easy to read – no long complicated sentences.


Recommended staff books