White Teeth by Zadie Smith
Written while Smith was still a Cambridge student, this 2000 novel preceeded her other wonderful novel, On Beauty. Focusing on the lives of two wartime friends, one Bangladeshi and one British, as well as their families living in London, the characterisation of this novel is what stood out from the start. Winner of the 2000 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction, the 2000 Whitbread Book Award and the prestigious Guardian First Book Award, amongst others, it was clear from the start the 20-something Smith was a literary force to be reckoned with.
Money: A Suicide Note by Martin Amis
Listed by Time magazine as one of the 100 best English-language novels published between 1923 and the present day, this is just one of Amis' great literary tour de forces. Narrated by John Self, a commercial director with a love of booze, pornography, good food and of course money, he is invited to New York to shoot his first film. The plot that unravels is gripping and was based, in part, on Amis' own experience working as a scriptwriter on the film Saturn 3. It was also labeled the "best celebrity novel" by Time magazine in 2010.
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
A stunning and gentle novel famously made into a film starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson in 1993, The Remains of the Day elevated Ishiguro as one of our most celebrated contemporary novelists. The writer's third work, it won the highly acclaimed Man Booker prize for fiction in 1989. It is written from a first person perspective by Stevens, a butler, who reflects on his life through a diary, much of the novel focusing on the intriguing and very moving relationship he has with the former housekeeper, Miss Kenton.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J K Rowling
Whether you consider the Potter novels of any interest or not, the fact remains that they have been the biggest literary brand our country has seen. A global phenomenon, many universities now study the Potter series from a cultural perspective and, whether you think they are your thing or not, there is no denying they are insatiably readable.
The Child in Time by Ian McEwan
One of our most loved novelists, McEwan has written many a bestseller, though The Child in Time comes up time and again on favourite lists. Winner of the 1987 Whitbread Novel Award, it is set during Thatcher's reign, and the British Prime Minister's presence actually feaures in this stark novel, though it is not clear whether that person is male or female. It is based on Stephen, a children's author whose own daughter Kate was kidnapped two years before the novel is set. Gripping and dark in moments, it is a wonderful example of McEwan's brilliance as a writer.