Magus by John Fowles
The best book I have ever read is The Magus by John Fowles. This postmodern novel follows Nicholas Urfe, an English teacher, that travels to a Greek island to teach. There, he meets a mysterious man, who plays God, that guides him through a game of psychosomatic tricks and illusions. This novel was wildly intriguing and bewildering. The purpose of the social experiment Nicholas was trapped in asks: Can someone be humiliated and tortured but still forgive his kidnappers? Fowles creates the perfect blend of probing philosophy, riveting plots, and suspenseful horror, as he dives into the depths of the moral consciousness. This novel will send a shiver down your spine, as it thematically argues that humans mistake our lives to be filled with only trifling victories and disappointments, but that is merely a distortion of the extraordinary lives we are able to live.
“Which do you drink: the water or the wave?”
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
You may have already read this book in high school or college, but if not, this is a must-read-now novel. The story is told as a letter within a letter within a letter about Dr. Victor Frankenstein who plays God and creates life. Dr. Frankenstein creates the monster, but casts him away, because he is hideous. The monster seeks human companionship, but no one will give him a chance, since he is externally frightening. However, inside the monster is a kind, intelligent creature. This contrasts with Dr. Frankenstein, who on the outside is attractive but on the inside is rotten from greed. The novel clashes between the Enlightenment era and the Romantic era, a time where science and reason oppose intense emotion and moral thought. Dr. Frankenstein is a symbol of the Enlightenment era, for he seeks to improve his reputation and ego by advancing in scientific discoveries. The monster is a symbol of the Romantic era, for he represents humanity and compassion. There are many more events and themes within the novel that I have not covered her, but if you are interested in the human soul and gothic literature, this one is for you.
“It is true, we shall be monsters, cut off from all the world; but on that account we shall be more attached to one another.”
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Ahh, the American Dream, criminal psychology, and an adventurous journey. All of these elements are within Truman Capote’s most prolific, true crime book, In Cold Blood. This novel is nonfiction, for all these events actually happened. In a little, happy town in the Midwest is a family that appears to be perfect, but one day they are brutally murdered by two strangers. These two strangers are Perry (a criminal with a history of abuse and depression) and Dick (a criminal with a history of cheating, lying, and female violence). These two criminals are on the run from the police the rest of the novel, with Truman Capote himself writing investigative interviews on the two men. It becomes increasingly easy to empathize with Perry, who had a very difficult life and increasingly easy to detest Dick. Truman Capote, along with his best friend, Harper Lee, traveled around for 6 years to interview and compile this book together, and Capote actually fell in love with Perry in real life.
“Imagination, of course, can open any door – turn the key and let terror walk right in.”
The Collector by John Fowles
This literary debut is another fantastic, chilling piece by John Fowles. This story follows the origins of a serial killer in the 1968, in the hub of multiple murders. The story is told poly-vocally, through the perspectives of the serial killer and his young art student he captured, Miranda. The lonely, disturbed man exerts his power over Miranda to gain a sense of control, in the hopes that if he treats her kindly, she will fall in love with him. He cannot understand why she does not fall in love with him. The depth into both character’s psyche is incredibly profound, especially given the publication date. This novel is one of the first to analyze criminal psychology. Wait until the ending; it is cryptic and jarring.
“When you draw something it lives and when you photograph it it dies”
Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
Samuel Beckett writes this postmodern, dark satire play as part of his Theatre for the Absurd. And absurd it appears. The play is very choppy, very silly on the surface. Estrogen and Vladimir are two characters that are stopped on the side of the road waiting for this man, Godot, to come. They dilly and dally to pass the time, they meet another character, Lucky, and they question whether Godot is ever going to show up. What is the most jaw-dropping about this play is Beckett’s ability to capture such existential, nihilistic philosophies in the most symbolic way. The two characters are clearly waiting for their life to be given purpose from this God-like character that never interacts with them. So, one hand, this can be interpreted through an nihilistic perspective, where our lives are chaotic and void of meaning. On the other hand, (the hand I choose to perceive this play through) this play can be seen through an existential lens, where the characters are free of a divine power that tells them how to live, so they are given the agency to choose their own destiny. This is such a spectacular play. Please, go read it.
“The tears of the world are a constant quantity. For each one who begins to weep somewhere else another stops. The same is true of the laugh.”
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
This is an antiwar, postmodern novel based on Vonnegut’s time in World War II. Since everything in this time period is chaotic, the plot is also jumbled and jangled in a nonlinear fashion. The story follows Billy Pilgrim, a man who returns from WWII and lives the American Dream, but is extremely unhappy inside. He gets abducted by aliens, the Tralfamadorians, who take him back to their planet, where he lives in a zoo exhibit and is married to Montana Wildhack, a famous movie star. This magical realism novel clearly depicts Billy Piglrim’s PTSD, for he escapes to an alternate dimension in his mind to find happiness. Billy is so desensitized to death from the war that during whenever something dies throughout the novel, he says, “So it goes…” and moves on. I absolutely love this book, because it is so authentic and profound.
“Take it moment by moment, and you will find, as I have said before, that we are all bugs in amber.”
The Crucible by Arthur Miller
This famous, historic play is set during the Salem Witch Trials in the late 1600s, but the play is also influenced by the McCarthy Trials of the 1950s. History repeats itself, and it seems we never learn from it. In this play, the characters are Puritans that see one girl become possessed by a witch. In order to save themselves from being accused as the witch, they accuse one another. This leads to mayhem, resulting in 19 people hanged, one person pressed to death by rocks, and 13 people died in jail. This intriguing play shows the dangers of ideology and that integrity is far greater than reputation.
“I speak my own sins; I cannot judge another. I have no tongue for it.”
Please go read all five of these novels! They are amazing!