7 Immersive Novels for the Reluctant Reader

7 Immersive Novels for the Reluctant Reader

By Alys Marshall

We all go through phases where reading feels impossible. The evenings slip away in a haze of Netflix and irritating life admin. Before you know it, you’ve got 10 minutes to jump into bed or you’ll only get 6 hours sleep. Picking up a book requires the kind of concentration which a re-run of First Dates just doesn’t.  

Do you suffer from book panic? There’s an ever-growing pile by my bed. There are hard-hitting novels, poignant memoirs and essay collections I’ll never get around to, all lovingly recommended by friends or featured on podcasts. The problem is, when I’m craving a book, I want a big dollop of fiction. Something easy; a gateway into someone else who’s somewhere else. So here’s a list of 7 books that had me at the prologue…

1) How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

Wickedly funny from start to finish, How to Build a Girl is a coming of age romp with piles of awkward lust and plenty of misdirected rage.

In a crowded council house in Wolverhampton, Johanna (loosely based on Moran herself) falls smack into puberty with no one but her eccentric siblings to complain to. She emerges from a hormonal haze determined to “build a new girl”, one who drinks, smokes, and most importantly shags. Read this book to relive your terrible teen-hood with relish and horror.

2) Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

This book is everywhere this year, and deservedly so! Eleanor, an eccentric and intolerant alcoholic, is immediately relatable in the most unexpected of ways. Her striking vulnerability and complete disregard for social niceties make her a refreshingly candid protagonist.

We meet Eleanor as she attempts to recover from a past trauma. She begins a journey of transformation and self-discovery, tentatively building friendships and gaining perspective on her experiences for the first time. She is difficult, bizarre and utterly loveable. This book will warm your cockles.

3) The Regulars by Georgia Clark

Three girls, one preposterous beauty standard, and a serum that turns you into a Victoria's Secret model. That’s the premise for this unusually pithy and progressive piece of chick-lit. ‘Pretty’ is a millennial makeover drug that turns you into your ‘best self’ for 7 shiny, perfect days before the spell wears off; but this indisputable beauty changes everything.

With its painfully relatable commentary on early adulthood, The Regulars explores the parameters of female friendship, self-worth and Western beauty ideals. Prepare to ask yourself, “would I take it?”.

4) How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

We join Tom Hazard as he embarks upon his 436th year on earth. Blessed (or cursed) with a rare genetic condition which enables him to age one year to every fourteen he lives through, Tom is world-weary and deeply cynical, but nonetheless a romantic at heart.

He narrates his long life with vivid colour, fleshing out each century with specific smells, architecture and cultural phenomena. Along the way, we learn of his first love, his missing daughter and the mysteriously threatening Albatross Society, who seek out these semi-mortals and monitor their existence.

Somehow this novel is intensely introspective without painful self-indulgence. Haig expertly portrays an anxious mind with all the time in the world; it stirs up both solidarity and hope.

5) The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood

Somewhere in the Australian outback, ten women come around from a drugged sleep. Stripped of their belongings, heads shaved and chained to one another, they are swiftly plunged into a merciless patriarchal nightmare. Wood describes the filth and food they must endure with sensory genius. She creates an arena of neglect where women go unwashed and insane, kept in by electric fences. What sinister theme brings these women to this place? Each has been betrayed by a powerful man who wished to be rid of her.

Dubbed by many as the ‘Australian equivalent of The Handmaid’s Tale’, this book is neither optimistic nor uplifting, but its visceral tone and terrifyingly plausible plot make it inescapably immersive.

6) Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift

Jane Fairchild is an orphan maid in the throes of an affair with a wealthy neighbour. Through Swift’s intimate and enigmatic prose, we bear witness to a sudden tragedy which alters the course of her life forever.

From the wreckage of this tragedy, Jane carves out a new life. She strives to improve herself, to reach across the boundaries of class and gender to embark on a career she knows she is capable of. In a post-war period which was steeped in absence and foggy with grief, Jane’s fierce resilience is a reminder that we must learn to survive before we can live.

7) Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

This book is Gone Girl’s grizzlier older sister. Libby Day is the only survivor of a brutal family murder which took her mother and two sisters when she was only a girl. Years later, Libby makes her living as a notorious victim, selling off merchandise from the massacre.

When she is approached by a group of true crime fanatics called Wirth’s Club, Libby is forced to re-examine her old wounds, and her story as she believed it begins to unravel. Full of suspense, deeply cynical and morbidly fascinating, you will read this book through splayed fingers.

Happy reading, everyone!

Book covers from Waterstones. Title image by the wonderful Yelena Bryksenkova


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