The question is simple: how should the end of the 21st century be written? It isn’t enough to just write a column in which you criticise an item that’s made the news. Your output should be a piece of literature. It also needs to tell a story. And it has to come from an eclectic, experimental, expertly crafted view of life, which tries to keep all the same nerves alive – the passion and fear, the alchemy of the high and the low.
So, here goes: Selected Essays
by Marina Warner
Magnifying glasses and short stories from 1995, and non-fiction plus poems from 2002-2012. (Future books include Illustrated Essays from 1987, 2000 and 2011.)
Children of a Lesser God by Anthony Burgess
Spillover, on the impact of “extreme urban deprivation” in Boston, describes a “kind of hell” in which the fact of death can be the first thing someone notices. It is wild, claustrophobic and compelling.
Atmosphere by Margaret Atwood
The world gets darker by the second. The darker things get, the more likely you are to forget that, outside the woods, at least, there is the world.
Murder & Mercy by Kazuo Ishiguro
A steady stream of psycho-lymphocytes makes a cheerful appearance in this portrait of a man doing push-ups in the cold.
Tender is the Night by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Hindu ritual can evoke devotion, but an exact opposite does not exist – reverence for God and death are at odds with each other.
Eight-Midnight-Lives by Margaret Atwood
Marie also distrusts God. In her mind, the gods are complicit in the multiple deaths of her murdered niece.
The Tiny Red Quill by Lori Gerard
An 80-year-old suffering from dementia tries to write. What starts as the purest expression of desire in her heart slowly turns into a dream like an hallucination.
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
The reader listens, putting her own heartbreak into Louisa’s voice. Louisa has recently seen Louisa’s deceased mother, but she avoids the other woman. An appealing, simple, metaphorical story.
Riddikulus by Margaret Atwood
The woman whose face is shown at the end of this book stops talking. It may be a trauma suffered by her youth. Or it may be an invasion of privacy by the man who follows her to her home.
Warrior Monk by Dean Koci Hernandez
The 13th century is known as the middle ages, but nothing much seems to have changed. An odd look at the future of the Christian church.
Sea Moon by Anthony Burgess
The threat of violence is embedded in a girl’s body during every winter night. This opening episode of a four-part serial is really just in Bayswater, but stands as an allegory for the world.
The Lotus Daughter by Rachel Kushner
An angry young man makes friends with an elderly man, and then his life takes a wrong turn. Fyodor Dostoyevsky meets Zola. A one-two punch.
Man on the Come by Anton Chekhov
Or at least it’s one of the dozen years in Chekhov’s masterpiece. Then, along came that rising star of the Man Booker longlist: Jeet Thayil. His novel is the sequel – and the influence it has had on what came after brings us to the present day.
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Arundhati Roy
What life has taught us and how we choose to deal with it.
New Statesman: A selection of collections by British writers and editors