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  • Writer's pictureThe Fiction Fox

Literary Favourites (Updated 2024)

Updated: Jan 17

For this all-time-favourite series, I’ve made an attempt to narrow each genre-list down to a top 10, and have managed to do so for the majority of them. Literary fiction proved one where that was a hopeless endeavor from the start. Not is it my most-read genre by a hefty length, the sheer variety of books within it (and all my unique reasons for loving them), meant I settled for a top 17 and a bunch of honourable mentions instead. As with the other lists, these are subject to change, and may be pushed off into the honourable mention-section, as new favourites come along. With that being said, consider this a list of the literary favourites that I wouldn’t want anyone with a similar taste to mine to miss.

Top 15 Favourites

Sitting currently at the top of my favourites-list is a book that’s close to my heart thanks to its subject-matter, as well as its brilliant prose and characterwork. Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies is the lyrical tale of a woman, her body and the illness that coinhabits it. Told from the perspectives of Lia herself, her daughter Iris and the (callous? Cynical? Caring…?) voice of the disease itself, we follow her life after a diagnosis of terminal cancer. A coming of age story, at the end of a life.Lia, her husband Harry, and their beloved daughter, Iris, are a precisely balanced family of three. With Iris struggling to navigate the social tightrope of early adolescence, their tender home is a much-needed refuge. But when a sudden diagnosis threatens to derail each of their lives, the secrets of Lia’s past come rushing into the present, and the world around them begins to transform.Deftly guided through time, we discover the people who shaped Lia’s youth; from her deeply religious mother to her troubled first love. In turn, each will take their place in the shifting landscape of Lia’s body; at the center of which dances a gleeful narrator, learning her life from the inside, growing more emboldened by the day.


2.      Migrations – Charlotte McConaghy See also: Once There Were Wolves by the same author

Stunning nature writing and descriptions of the arctic oceans are combined with a phenomenally intimate exploration of grief, trauma and a woman’s escape from the remnants of her old life. Franny Stone has always been the kind of woman who is able to love but unable to stay. Leaving behind everything but her research gear, she arrives in Greenland with a singular purpose: to follow the last Arctic terns in the world on what might be their final migration to Antarctica. Franny talks her way onto a fishing boat, and she and the crew set sail, traveling ever further from shore and safety. But as Franny’s history begins to unspool—a passionate love affair, an absent family, a devastating crime—it becomes clear that she is chasing more than just the birds. When Franny's dark secrets catch up with her, how much is she willing to risk for one more chance at redemption?

See also: Station Eleven, Sea of Tranquility and The Singers Gun by the same author.

This entry can be seen as a placeholder for all of Emily St. John Mandel’s novels, all of which can be read separate but take place in a shared universe. Since Station Eleven and Sea of Tranquility are already featured on my Sci-fi favourite list as well, I’m giving this spot to The Glass Hotel. Mandel’s talent for brilliant character work, stunning prose and attention for small moments of beauty amidst quiet melancholy give a different meaning to the words “bitter-sweet”.

Vincent is a bartender at the Hotel Caiette, a five-star lodging on the northernmost tip of Vancouver Island. On the night she meets Jonathan Alkaitis, a hooded figure scrawls a message on the lobby’s glass wall: Why don’t you swallow broken glass. High above Manhattan, a greater crime is committed: Alkaitis is running an international Ponzi scheme, moving imaginary sums of money through clients’ accounts. When the financial empire collapses, it obliterates countless fortunes and devastates lives. Vincent, who had been posing as Jonathan’s wife, walks away into the night. Years later, a victim of the fraud is hired to investigate a strange occurrence: a woman has seemingly vanished from the deck of a container ship between ports of call.

 See also: Braised Pork by the same author

Magical realism, Mushrooms and Music sounds like a combination that shouldn’t work, but An Yu somehow managed to craft something incredibly out of it. A wonderfully layered and lyrically told contemporary, set in Beijing, takes a surreal turn as a young woman contemplates the mold she feels pushed in, and the loss of the opportunities that passed her by.

For three years, Song Yan has filled the emptiness of her Beijing apartment with the tentative notes of her young piano students. She gave up on her own career as a concert pianist many years ago, but her husband Bowen, an executive at a car company, has long rebuffed her pleas to have a child. He resists even when his mother arrives from the southwestern Chinese region of Yunnan and begins her own campaign for a grandchild. As tension in the household rises, it becomes harder for Song Yan to keep her usual placid demeanor, especially since she is troubled by dreams of a doorless room she can’t escape, populated only by a strange orange mushroom.

When a parcel of mushrooms native to her mother-in-law’s province is delivered seemingly by mistake, Song Yan sees an opportunity to bond with her, and as the packages continue to arrive every week, the women stir-fry and grill the mushrooms, adding them to soups and noodles. When a letter arrives in the mail from the sender of the mushrooms, Song Yan’s world begins to tilt further into the surreal. Summoned to an uncanny, seemingly ageless house hidden in a hutong that sits in the middle of the congested city, she finds Bai Yu, a once world-famous pianist who disappeared ten years ago.

See also: Salt Slow, shorts-stories by the same author.

My number 5 teeters the edge between horror and literary, but due to my undying love for it, I’ve elected to feature it on both lists. Unnerving in its atmosphere, and yet deeply relatable and tender in its emotional resonance, this tale of trauma and its ripple-effect on a F-F relationship has cemented Julia Armfield as an instant-favourite author.

Miri thinks she has got her wife back, when Leah finally returns after a deep-sea mission that ended in catastrophe. It soon becomes clear, though, that Leah is not the same. Whatever happened in that vessel, whatever it was they were supposed to be studying before they were stranded on the ocean floor, Leah has brought part of it back with her, onto dry land and into their home.Moving through something that only resembles normal life, Miri comes to realize that the life that they had before might be gone. Though Leah is still there, Miri can feel the woman she loves slipping from her grasp.

Another book that made its way on my list for being a “disability-favourite”. You’d need to read my full review to grasp its full significance for me personally, but this story of family, caregiving and a sudden and abrupt realization of mortality and the fragility of health will never leave its special place in my heart.

Adam is a stay-at-home dad who is also working on a history of the bombing and rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral. He is a good man and he is happy. But one day, he receives a call from his daughter's school to inform him that, for no apparent reason, fifteen-year-old Miriam has collapsed and stopped breathing. In that moment, he is plunged into a world of waiting, agonising, not knowing.

The story of his life and the lives of his family are rewritten and re-told around this shocking central event, around a body that has inexplicably failed. In this exceptionally courageous and unflinching novel of contemporary life Sarah Moss goes where most of us wouldn't dare to look, and the result is riveting - unbearably sad, but also miraculously funny and ultimately hopeful.

 In at number 7 is a modern classic, deserving of that title. An intimate, dystopian coming of age tale of friendship, memory, magical thinking and the ultimate acceptance of what (we perceive) cannot be changed. I bawled the first time I read this and couldn’t put it out of my mind for months, and it still continues to gain more power over me upon rereads.  

As children, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school secluded in the English countryside. It was a place of mercurial cliques and mysterious rules where teachers were constantly reminding their charges of how special they were. Now, years later, Kathy is a young woman. Ruth and Tommy have reentered her life. And for the first time she is beginning to look back at their shared past and understand just what it is that makes them special—and how that gift will shape the rest of their time together. Suspenseful, moving, beautifully atmospheric, Never Let Me Go is modern classic.

Not many classics have left such a deep impression on me as The Bell Jar did when I first read it as a teenager. Although it’s gotten some flack for being “modern-sad-girl-core”, to me, suffering from genuine depression at the time of reading it, The Bell Jar put into words something I’d felt but hadn’t been able to put words to. Capturing the essence of not only depression, but an adolescent kind of Weltschmerz, this novel transcends decades and is still as relevant as it was when Plath penned it.

The Bell Jar chronicles the crack-up of Esther Greenwood: brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under—maybe for the last time. Sylvia Plath masterfully draws the reader into Esther's breakdown with such intensity that Esther's insanity becomes completely real and even rational, as probable and accessible an experience as going to the movies. Such deep penetration into the dark and harrowing corners of the psyche is an extraordinary accomplishment and has made The Bell Jar a haunting American classic.

Violets is an absolutely haunting exploration of unmet desires, infatuation, and the fear of being forever unseen and overlooked. This was such a layered experience, filled with motifs of flowers, Greek mythology, language and more, that grew on me with every following page and continues to live rent-free in my mind.

We join San in 1970s rural South Korea, a young girl ostracised from her community. She meets a girl called Namae, and they become friends until one afternoon changes everything. Following a moment of physical intimacy in a minari field, Namae violently rejects San, setting her on a troubling path of quashed desire and isolation.

We next meet San, aged twenty-two, as she starts a job in a flower shop. There, we are introduced to a colourful cast of characters, including the shop's mute owner, the other florist Su-ae, and the customers that include a sexually aggressive businessman and a photographer, who San develops an obsession for. Throughout, San's moment with Namae lingers in the back of her mind.

Where the Forest Meets the Stars is one of those rare women’s fiction novels that perfectly strikes the balance of being heartwarming and melancholic, but not sappy. It follows the story of a young woman slowly finding her way back to life, friendship, love and her job as an ornithologist in training, after the subsequent losses of her mother and her own health to breast-cancer.

After the loss of her mother and her own battle with breast cancer, Joanna Teale returns to her graduate research on nesting birds in rural Illinois, determined to prove that her recent hardships have not broken her. She throws herself into her work from dusk to dawn, until her solitary routine is disrupted by the appearance of a mysterious child who shows up at her cabin barefoot and covered in bruises.

The girl calls herself Ursa, and she claims to have been sent from the stars to witness five miracles. With concerns about the child’s home situation, Jo reluctantly agrees to let her stay―just until she learns more about Ursa’s past.

Jo enlists the help of her reclusive neighbor, Gabriel Nash, to solve the mystery of the charming child. But the more time they spend together, the more questions they have. How does a young girl not only read but understand Shakespeare? Why do good things keep happening in her presence? And why aren’t Jo and Gabe checking the missing children’s website anymore?

With the COVID pandemic as a significant and recent even within my personal life and early career in medicine, it’s likely not a surprise that at least one “pandemic-novel” made it on my list. Burntcoat stands out above the rest by a mile for me, for being so much more than just a pandemic-novel. With its intimate scope, it covers not only the lockdown, but a complicated relationship, a woman’s journey with her body, chronic illness, and cycles of caretaking. It’s a novel that was difficult to read on occasions, but grew stronger and stronger on me over time.

In the bedroom above her immense studio at Burntcoat, the celebrated sculptor Edith Harkness is making her final preparations. The symptoms are well known: her life will draw to an end in the coming days.

Downstairs, the studio remains lit - a crucible glowing with memories and desire. It was here, when the first lockdown came, that she brought Halit. The lover she barely knew. A presence from another culture. A doorway into a new and even darker world.

In this profound, brave, insightful, nuanced and at times frighteningly relatable novel Kate Elizabeth Russell explores the relationship between a precocious fifteen-year old and her charismatic but manipulative teacher, 46-years her senior. From the perspective of both teenage-Vanessa and her adult self, looking back, we explore the inner conflict, ruination and lifelong aftermath this affair brought.Not only the writing, but the character exploration in this novel make it impeccable, memorable and one of the most harrowing, yet compassionate and nuanced (towards the victim) explorations of grooming out there.

In this profound, brave, insightful, nuanced and at times frighteningly relatable novel Kate Elizabeth Russell explores the relationship between a precocious fifteen-year old and her charismatic but manipulative teacher, 46-years her senior. From the perspective of both teenage-Vanessa and her adult self, looking back, we explore the inner conflict, ruination and lifelong aftermath this affair brought.

Had this list been ranked purely on quality of writing, Ocean Vuongs works might have been a lot closer to the top. As a poet by trade, Vuong knows how to spin a phrase and does so to great effect in this heartwrenching coming of age novel. On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family's history that began before he was born — a history whose epicenter is rooted in Vietnam — and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation. At once a witness to the fraught yet undeniable love between a single mother and her son, it is also a brutally honest exploration of race, class, and masculinity. Asking questions central to our American moment, immersed as we are in addiction, violence, and trauma, but undergirded by compassion and tenderness, On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is as much about the power of telling one's own story as it is about the obliterating silence of not being heard.

Structurally brilliant, observant and written in beautiful prose, The Museum of You struck a personal note with its portrayal of a father-daughter relationship, and the way it’s shaped by the absence of the mother. A deserving favourite of 2020, and a book that stands the test of time for me, on both a personal and technical level.

We follow Clover, a young girl with a fascination for museums and a deep desire to know her mother, who passed away when she was very young. Her father took his wife’s death hard, and has locked his grief away (literally) by keeping all his wife’s possessions in a dedicated room and sealing the door. Unable to talk to her dad about her mother, Clover takes to the locked room to find her own answers about her mom’s life. Piecing together the bits, Clover curates her own museum filled with mundane objects of a woman she wish she’d got to know.

15.   The House of God – Samuel Shem Objectively, the writing of this book shouldn’t qualify it for a place on this list, but I cannot deny the impact this book has had on me and many medical doctors (in training) with me. It’s a cult-classic for a reason, and perhaps a testament to the exact points it critiques that it’s still as relevant to medicine today, as it was in 1978.

Six eager interns—they saw themselves as modern saviors-to-be. They came from the top of their medical school class  to the bottom of the hospital staff to serve a  year in the time-honored tradition, racing to answer the flash of on-duty call lights and nubile  nurses.

But only the Fat Man—the Clam, all-knowing resident—could sustain them in their struggle to survive, to stay sane, to love and even to be doctors when their harrowing year was done. An account of a first-year medical intern, written in humorous but scathing critique of the medical system as we know it.

This book belongs in that incredibly niche genre of truly-dark-but-strange-academia-books that I adore. It is tense, sexy, critical and filled with a slow-building rage that few authors convey so effectively. Relatable for anyone who’s ever been frustrated by academia or elitism in medicine, effective for anyone who’s ever felt out of place, and irresistible for anyone who enjoys some good dark-botanical-prose…  

Med school dropout Lena is desperate for a job, any job, to help her parents, who are approaching bankruptcy after her father was injured and laid off nearly simultaneously. So when she is offered a position, against all odds, working for one of Boston’s most elite families, the illustrious and secretive Verdeaus, she knows she must accept it—no matter how bizarre the interview or how vague the job description. By day, she is assistant to the family doctor and his charge, Jonathan, the sickly, poetic, drunken heir to the family empire, who is as difficult as his illness is mysterious. By night, Lena discovers the more sinister side of the family, as she works overtime at their lavish parties, helping to hide their self-destructive tendencies . . . and trying not to fall for Jonathan’s alluring sister, Audrey. But when she stumbles upon the knowledge that the Verdeau patriarch is the one responsible for the ruin of her own family, Lena vows to get revenge—a poison-filled quest that leads her further into this hedonistic world than she ever bargained for, forcing her to decide how much—and who—she's willing to sacrifice for payback.

Death Valley, for now, sits a little lower on my list, for two reasons. First, it’s one of my most recent reads and needs time to settle in my mind before I can tell if it deserves a spot closer to the top. Second, it’s a marmite-book that I realize not everyone will love in the same way I did.

In many ways similar to Ghost Music, this is a book filled with quite a bit of weirdness, framing themes that I deeply relate to and care about. That combination seems to be a winner for me…

In Melissa Broder’s astounding new novel, a woman arrives alone at a Best Western seeking respite from an emptiness that plagues her. She has fled to the California high desert to escape a cloud of sorrow—for both her father in the ICU and a husband whose illness is worsening. What the motel provides, however, is not peace but a path, thanks to a receptionist who recommends a nearby hike. Out on the sun-scorched trail, the woman encounters a towering cactus whose size and shape mean it should not exist in California. Yet the cactus is there, with a gash through its side that beckons like a familiar door. So she enters it. What awaits her inside this mystical succulent sets her on a journey at once desolate and rich, hilarious and poignant.

Honourable Mentions

  •  Rebecca - Daphne DuMaurier As I consider myself somewhat of a fan of gothic-style-literature, this list would'nt be complete without a mention of the quintessential Gothic-Godmother Rebecca. It doesn't make my true top, as it there are other (more modern) adaptations that have had a deeper personal impact on me, but for its impact on the genre as a whole, Rebecca deeply deserves to be at the top of my honourable mentions.

  •   The Secret History – Donna Tartt This book had a huge impact on me when I first read it, and stood as an all-time favourite for a while. That being said, I haven’t reread it in years and am not sure if it holds up to the test of time upon reread.

  • Snow Falling on Cedars – David Gutterson A literary court-thriller about a Japanese-American man, facing trial for the mysterious murder of a local fisherman. For similar reasons to The Secret History; this used to be an all-time favourite, dating back to my teen years, yet I haven’t read it recently so I can’t tell if it holds up to the scrutiny of my adult mind.

  • Where the Crawdads Sing – Celia Owens Another court-room narrative that combines themes of prejudice, forbidden love and coming of age under unusual circumstances, all pressed together under a dense atmosphere and lush nature writing.

  •  The Unseen World – Liz Moore In a very similar vein to The Museum of You, The Unseen World explores a young woman’s search of answers about the lives of a deceased or no-longer present parent, who they’ve never fully got to know. In this case, a daughter getting to know her brilliant computer-developer father, through the lens of his AI-project, after she gradually loses him to dementia.

  • The Lightkeepers – Abby Geni In this tense isolated narrative, we follow Miranda, a nature photographer who travels to the Farallon Islands, an exotic and dangerous archipelago off the coast of California, for a one-year residency capturing the landscape. Along the way we uncover elements of her own past, as well as those of the handful of people with her on the islands.

  • Aquarium – David Vann A harrowing literary look into a dysfunctional family through the eyes of a young girl with a fascination for the ocean and aquariums.

  • 10 Minutes and 38 Seconds in this Strange World – Elif Shafak A sensory reflection on a life on the streets of Istanbul, told through the perspective of a young woman's final moments between life and death after an attack on her life left her bleeding to death in a dumpster. Unforgettable.

  • Everything Under – Daisy Johnson A hallucinatory magical realist tale with hints of European folklore, exploring language, storytelling and the complex relationship between a mother and daughter living an isolated life on a houseboat on the canals of Oxford.

  • Yerba Buena – Nina LaCour A literary contemporary following the blossoming relationship between two women, on their journey to heal from past grief and trauma, and learn to trust and love again.

  • Mrs Death Misses Death – Salena Godden Walking the line between prose and poetry, this lyrical novel explores the perspective of Death, as a working-class woman, living her day-to-day life.

  • Sight – Jessie Greengrass A stunning homage to mother-child-relationships that managed to move me, resonate with me and break my heart at times… It's a marmite-read based on its format alone, but managed to completely charm me personally.

  • Latitudes of Longing – Shubhangi Swarub A book that feels like a journey: an exploration of different continents where you can feel, smell and taste the world around you through Swarub’s words. Along the way you meet characters that feel real enough to be actual encounters along your travels, where you get a glimpse of their personal lives as you pass through.


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