At last the season of colourful leaves, pumpkins and cosy jumpers is upon us again! And what better way to spend those long, chilly evenings than curled up on the sofa with a big mug of tea/hot chocolate/glass of wine and a good book? If this sounds like a good idea to you, then I can offer a few suggestions in varying genres; after all, just because we’re heading for Halloween doesn’t mean that we have to abandon the light-hearted summer reads for an all-out horror fest… unless, you know, you really like horror. For those who don’t, however, here are a few recommendations:
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
I’m currently about three quarters of the way through this work of Young Adult fiction and I’m enjoying it so much I want to write a fanfiction about it. Honestly, if I had read this in my first year at university, it would have become my new Bible. Cath Avery is everything that eighteen-year-old me was… and that twenty-three-year-old me still is: stubborn, socially anxious, lives in scarves and cardigans and spends more time immersed in the magical world of the Simon Snow fandom than in reality. Fangirl strikes a wonderful balance between showing that change is scary but that it can also be something positive if given a little guidance. Not only that, but it eased any doubts that I had before starting to read it about how the world of fanfiction would be portrayed in a work of published prose. Is this going to inadvertently patronise or misrepresent fangirls? I wondered apprehensively. Is this just going to be about a hipster in an Etsy t-shirt who spends her every waking moment squeeing over her OTPs and verbally biting the head off anyone who disagrees with her? Mercifully though, Fangirl makes the effort to represent fandom culture without creating a cringe-worthy caricature. I just hope that the book will end as strongly as it started.
Credit: Risa Rodil
Enduring Love by Ian McEwan
I can’t count the number of times I almost ran over time on my work breaks reading this masterpiece. Don’t be fooled by the title, though – this is no ordinary love story. When a hot-air balloon accident introduces him to the enigmatic and deeply pious Jed Parry, Joe Rose’s life is turned upside down. As time goes on and Jed’s feelings for Joe grow stronger, a series of events unfolds that is guided by McEwan’s great talent for suspense and intrigue. With a plot this delightfully gripping, the pages practically turn themselves until before you know it, you’ve hit the back cover and you’re scrambling to the bookshelf to pick up another one of his novels (I’d also recommend The Innocent as an autumn read, incidentally). I wouldn’t say that love is really the main theme of the book, so much as obsession on the part of both Joe and Jed; Jed is obsessed with the notion that God has brought he and Joe together, and Joe is obsessed with getting to the real root of Jed’s obsession. This is truly a masterful literary game of cat-and-mouse to lose yourself in on a cold night.
Petals on the Wind by Virginia Andrews
This novel is actually the second instalment of V.C. Andrews’ Dollanganger series, but my advice would be to read Flowers in the Attic during the summer (trust me, if you read it in winter you’ll never feel happiness again). After escaping the confines of their grandparents’ attic in the dead of night, protagonist Cathy and her two siblings, Chris and Carrie, collectively known as the "Dresden Dolls", find themselves taken in by a kindly and lonely doctor who helps them to rebuild their halted lives. Despite her new-found freedom and her dedication to becoming the world’s greatest ballerina, however, Cathy is unable to escape her burning desire for revenge against a family that betrayed her, along with a few other dangerous desires. Also, feminists beware: this series plays out across the 50’s and 60’s, and the attitudes of certain characters towards women can make for some uncomfortable reading. Having said that, there is some room for arguing that female empowerment is given equal stage-space through Cathy’s independent nature and talent for (heavily misguided) sexual manipulation. Every twist and turn in this chilling tale will have you on the edge of your seat as they build up towards an intense and fiery crescendo.
Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
If you decide to pick up this gem of gothic fiction brought to you by the author of Shadow of the Wind, I’d highly recommend it as a Halloween read. Set in 1980’s Barcelona, the story takes young protagonist Oscar Drai into the city’s deepest, darkest shadows alongside his unusual new friend, Marina. This novel is riddled with mystery, horror and just the right amount of tragedy to make your blood freeze and your tears run, and with such elaborate descriptions of Barcelona’s streets and iconic architecture, you’ll feel as though you’re right there, exploring a dilapidated house, chasing butterflies and veiled women right along with Oscar, which considerably heightens the reader’s sense of impending dread, I can assure you. If The Fault in our Stars had some kind of book-baby with The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, this macabre mystery would be that creepy and crazy child - but in a really, really good way. Promise.
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
This is the classic forbidden love story that was so scandalous in its time that it landed the author in court under immorality charges brought against him by the government of the Second Empire. Having read this book twice now, I can’t help but wonder how nineteenth-century France would react to something like Fifty Shades of Grey. When widowed country doctor Charles Bovary falls in love with Emma, the daughter of one of his patients, he is only too happy to see his first marriage to a dreary and jealous older woman come to an end. Now able to marry the woman he truly wants, he believes that his luck is finally taking a turn for the better. But Emma, with her romantic tendencies and her implacable taste for the glamour and luxury of aristocratic life, quickly grows bored with her simple, rural life and seeks adventure and solace in the arms of other men. Secrecy and scandal walk hand in hand either side of a fine divide through this story of adultery, escapism and small-town life in post-Revolutionary France.
Mia Wasikowska as Emma in the 2014 adaptation of Madame Bovary. Credit: 20th Century Fox/Warner Bros.
The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder
Attention all steampunk fans! If you have not read this series, of which Spring Heeled Jack is the first volume, then clear some space on your reading list, adjust your goggles and prepare to see the Victorian era in a strange new light. The place is London, the time is 1840. Werewolves are making off with chimney sweeps, scientists are creating genetically modified animals to serve as public transport and cleaning appliances, and a mysterious time traveller is on the loose, terrorising young women and sending the police running in circles. Enter Sir Richard Francis Burton, the renowned explorer and linguist, who must now take on the role of King’s Agent (yes, King, you’ll have to read it to unravel that little mystery), and his unwitting sidekick Algernon Swinburne, a poet who holds a profound admiration for the Marquis de Sade and enjoys a little casual sadomasochism. Both the novel’s events and time itself take many unexpected twists the further in you go, so maybe avoid reading it too close to bedtime unless you feel like backtracking every so often. So, dear reader, if you wish to see the legend of Spring Heeled Jack given a Victorian industrial sci-fi twist, this is definitely the read for you. Why is it on my autumn reading list specifically? Mostly because I read it recently so the plot is still relatively fresh in my memory, but also because any book that obsesses so much over London fog seems appropriate for reading at this time of year.
Well, there you have it, my suggestions of books to leaf through while leaves are falling and ghosts are roaming outside. I hope I’ve offered a reasonable variety of genres, and if you have any ideas for autumn reading yourself, I’d love to hear them, especially if it turns out they’re books I haven’t read before!
As always, please enjoy, share and happy reading!