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20 of the Greatest Novels of All Time

Greatest Novels To Read In Your Lifetime

18 September 2023

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Looking for a great book to devour? I’ve got you covered.

Here, I’ve compiled some of the best novels I’ve ever read (and of course, there are many, many more beyond those listed below). From classic literature to children’s favourites, this selection spans a range of genres, time periods and themes. It’s an ideal place to start if you want to pick up an exceptional book that will stay with you long after the last page.

You ready? Let’s explore 20 of the greatest must-read books.

1. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (1860)

It has it alla compelling story of personal growth and transformation, intriguing characters like the enigmatic Miss Havisham, and a wonderfully detailed depiction of Victorian England.

2. The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993)

Thought-provoking and haunting. We follow Jonas, a young boy who discovers the brutal reality of his worlda place initially presented as a utopia but gradually unravels into an eerily controlled society—and the truth beneath the community’s lack of emotions, memories and individualism. While it’s typically shelved as a YA novel, you can appreciate The Giver whatever your age.

3. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (2004)

A novel that delves into human nature. Prepare for multiple narrative strands spanning different times and places, with characters and events rippling through the past, present and future.

4. The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006)

McCarthy paints a rather bleak setting as we follow a father and son navigating a post-apocalyptic world. There are dangers and tension throughout their journey, and the book raises plenty of questions about hope and despair, human nature and morality.

5. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (1954)

A classic fantasy epic. At its core, this masterpiece revolves around the quest to destroy the One Ring. Along the way, we meet wizards and orcs, elves and hobbits, courageous heroes and dark villains. The story teems with diverse cultures, languages and rich history. Tolkien’s creation has left a mark on popular culture, from gaming to the fantasy genre itself. Dive into the first volume, where it all began.

6. Dune by Frank Herbert (1965)

A young nobleman, Paul Atreides, is caught up in interstellar power struggles and rivalries that take him to the desert planet Arrakis, home to the spice melange—the most valuable resource in the universe. Herbert’s sci-fi epic explores sustainability and the environment (through the exploitation of spice), seemingly echoing real-world challenges (think the oil industry and deforestation). I, for one, love these parallels and make you keep turning the page.

7. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (1948)

Get lost in the journal of Cassandra Mortmain, a witty narrator who tells us about her life in a 1930s-decaying (yet very charming) English castle with her eccentric family. Their lives change and transform when a wealthy American family inherit a nearby estate, bringing challenges and romance to the Mortmains’ door.

8. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (1949)

This book is a chilling vision of a dystopian future where citizens are watched by “Big Brother”. You’ve got government surveillance and propaganda. You’ve got the loss of privacy. And you’ve got zero rebellions and zero freedom. That’s until our main star, Winston Smith, shows some resistance to power and gets lost in a forbidden love. The concepts are brilliant, from the Ministry of Truth to Newspeak and Thoughtcrime. If that doesn’t grab you, Orwell’s powerful and vivid writing will.

9. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865)

When someone thinks of classic children’s fiction, here’s betting they might think of this book. And it’s no surprise because Lewis Carroll’s novel is famous worldwide. Many of us know about Alice’s fall down the rabbit hole. Beyond these widely recognised images, we’ve got Carroll’s brilliant use of wordplay and puns. He celebrates the realm of nonsense (the complete opposite of an adult world’s logic and reason). Read the tale for a creative exploration of growing up, or simply enjoy the dreamlike quality of Wonderland.

10. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)

A timeless tale about Elizabeth Bennet and her love interest, Mr. Darcy. Our leading lady has wit and intelligence, who on the surface doesn’t conform to expectations. Over two hundred years old, it remains a standout, heartwarming love story.

11. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)

Atwood’s eerie speculative fiction set in a near-future dystopian America enters this list for several reasons. The red cloak image of oppression. The loss of women’s rights. A patriarchal society influenced by an extreme religion. It will stay with you long after you turn the last page.

12. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)

The American Dream sits at the heart of this novel—and the idea that it’s perhaps an unattainable goal. Set in the Roaring Twenties, the book is narrated by Nick Carraway, who moves next door to a mysterious, self-made man named Jay Gatsby. It’s a story of love, illusions and wealth in the Jazz Age and absolutely one to devour.

13. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2008)

A YA (and yes, another dystopian) phenomenon, thanks to its superb writing, compelling characters and Battle Royale setup. Our first-person lead, Katniss Everdeen, volunteers to take part in the brutal Hunger Games to save her sister. She’s forced to fight to the death and quickly becomes a symbol of hope across the nation. Come along for the love triangle and stay for the pulse-racing survival story.

14. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)

A renowned novel set in the racially divided American South during the 1930s. It’s narrated by the young child of a lawyer, Scout Finch, who witnesses racism and injustice happening around her. It’s emotional, powerful and memorable—it’s a must-read.

15. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)

Many readers say Frankenstein serves as sci-fi’s founding masterpiece. And it can’t be argued that it’s one brilliant book. Written by Shelley when she was just 18 years old, the gothic novel dives into the nature of humanity when Victor Frankenstein creates life from dead body parts. But Frankenstein’s Monster turns out to be more misunderstood than monstrous.

16. The Secret History by Donna Tartt (1992)

This dark psychological thriller is told by Richard Papen, a student who joins an exclusive classics class and becomes involved with a group of classmates. Get lost in a mystery, meet complex characters and eat up Tartt’s atmospheric writing.

17. The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton (1967)

This gem of a book follows Ponyboy Curtis, a teen from a working-class family, who must face the hardships of growing up. Written when Hinton was in high school, this coming-of-age tale is well-known for its timeless themes of identity and the quest for belonging. Interestingly, some say that this novel pioneered the YA genre.

18. Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice (1976)

A gothic New Orleans serves as the backdrop for the early life of Louis as he becomes a vampire. Through a rather honest interview in the present day, he recounts his journey as a creature of the night and his many undead encounters, like the dark yet charming Lestat. That said, the story is charming just as much as it is dark. It’s one to devour if you’re looking for gothic horror.

19. Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)

Another vampire-filled novel, but this time a title that actually pioneered the entire genre, Dracula is an iconic tale. It continues to terrify readers today, combining horror, romance and action with plenty of tension in the mix. Told through diary entries and journal-style entries, the book’s epistolary format is executed brilliantly, giving us multiple perspectives while engaging us to keep reading on.

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20. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (1979)

The last book on my list is a special one, brimming with a fun sense of humour and wit that shines through, from start to end. The pages are filled with wordplay and imagination, not to mention a cast of incredibly endearing characters. It’s a joy to read with philosophical undertones that make it truly unique.

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Written By Eira Edwards

Eira is a writer and editor from the South of England with over five years of experience as a Content Manager, helping clients perfect their copy.

She has a degree in English Literature and Language, which she loves putting to work by working closely with fiction authors.

When she’s not working on manuscripts, you can find her in the woods with her partner and dog, or curling up with a good book.

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