Three years of my life as an EU student of English Literature at the University of East Anglia,England.
Although literature is still one of my passions, you can often hear me complain about having to read way too many books and being sick of literature. However, this semester has been amazing in a way thanks to the numerous wonderful books I discovered and that reminded me why I wanted to study literature in the first place.
Here is my Top 5 contemporary English novels! I discovered them (apart from Swimming Home) in the contemporary fiction module – which I can’t recommend enough.
The Gathering tells the story of a female protagonist whose younger brother just died. Enright’s story explores construction and that questions the reliability of memories – especially childhood memories – while the narrator tries to justify and understand his death. While this inward journey may not bring answers, it is a necessary step for the narrator to accept life as it is. Above all, it was an incredibly touching and moving novel that brought me to tears more than once.
Reading Swimming Home by Levy was a strange but amazing experience: it takes place where I live in France, which is probably the main reason for me loving this novel! Swimming Home is weird and sad. It is a group of English friends who rent a villa during the summer but they realise that a woman they do not know has invited herself to stay with them. The things you expect to happen do happen, but not to the people you thought. Reading about places I know such as Nice, La Promenade des Anglais, Grasse, Villefranche and even Valbonne (my town!!) felt really weird. When they mentioned Nice and its “beach down the road”, “the hotel Negresco”, “North African people”, or even the crickets, or “pine needles in swimming pools” I knew exactly what they meant, I felt like I was THERE, walking in Nice with the characters. It was a strange and nostalgic experience.
Don’t even ask me what Bennett’s Pond was about because I couldn’t tell you – and that’s the point, I’m not sure it’s about anything in particular. I’m not sure we could call it a novel, a novella or a collection of short stories. Of all the contemporary novels I have studied at university this year, it is by far the most contemporary in my opinion in the sense that it may seem pretentious, useless, you may say that nothing happens (nothing happens) and yet I was fascinated by it. Here is my favourite “chapter” in its entirety. There is so much to read and understand into this sentence: “I just threw my dinner in the bin. I knew as I was making it I was going to do that, so I put in it all the things I never want to see again.”
NW may be a plotless novel but there is so much to it. If I had to sum it up, I would say it is an incredibly touching and relatable story that invites us to think about what it means to live in the 21st century city and perhaps, more broadly, about life itself. I couldn’t help reading Zadie Smith’s brilliant piece as an existentialist novel: the author mentions Sartre and Camus among other 20th century philosophers, the absurd, freedom, suicide — which reminded me of Camus’s Myth of Sisyphus. Like in the great There But For The (…grace of God go I) by Ali Smith, justice is one of the main concerns of NW.
Remainder by McCarthy is one of these novels that you cannot put down until you’ve finished it. It’s one of these books that you devour in two days and after the final sentence, a little “Wow” escapes from your mouth. I wouldn’t exaggerate if I said it that Remainder is the best novel I’ve read in a long time! It is weird, crazy, hermetic… Remainder the story of an unnamed narrator who has suffered a traumatic experience we know very little about: as a compensation for his trauma, he gets 8.5 million pounds. In this novel, McCarthy plays with memory, understanding, and the concept of “the real”. The narrator is deeply concerned with artificiality, actions, copying and performance, but it is also a novel that deals with philosophy and art.