When you spend your day looking from your laptop to your phone, then back to your laptop again, sometimes a screen detox is exactly what you need—enter the old fashioned novel. Now that the nights are getting colder and the days are getting shorter, it’s the perfect time to snuggle up with some of the best fiction books around. Whether you’re a classics fan, a thriller junkie or a walking literary lexicon, these are the best fiction books to read right now.
Conversations With Friends
By Sally Rooney
You might have read Rooney’s second novel Normal People and seen the series on Stan, but have you read her debut novel Conversations With Friends yet? The novel follows Dublin college students Frances and Bobbi and the strange relationship they form with a young married couple. The novel is being adapted into a series with the same director and casting crew used for Normal People—so you know it’s going to be good. This is one of the best fiction books to read right now in preparation for the next binge-worthy show.
Girl, Woman, Other
By Bernardine Evaristo
Joint winner of the 2019 Booker Prize, Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other tells the intertwined stories of multiple black women in the UK, putting untold stories into words. The novel is experimental, literary and powerful, with each chapter focussing on a different woman and her experiences. Evaristo doesn’t shy away from heavy topics like colonisation, racism, feminism, sexuality and assault. It’s a heavy book, but it’s one of the best fiction books of our time and so worth the read.
The Bass Rock
By Evie Wyld
Evie Wyld’s The Bass Rock is an emerging Australian classic, in fact it’s one of the best fiction books in Australia right now as it just won the 2021 Stella Prize. The novel weaves together three generations of women across four centuries. Sarah lives in the 1700s and is accused of being a witch, Ruth lives in the aftermath of WWII, and Viv finds herself in Ruth’s house decades later, piecing her belongings together to make sense of the present. It’s a story of sisterhood and generations of resilience—one of the best fiction books Australia has seen in recent years.
Pride and Prejudice
By Jane Austen
You’ve heard of this one right? It’s a damn classic. But don’t be fooled by the book covers doused in pretty fans and teacups and hats, Pride and Prejudice has stood the test of time because it remains relevant. Austen wrote about women’s rights before they were even a thing. She was a feminist before the word existed. And yes, there’s also the romance and Mr Darcy side of it too, who we can’t help but adore. Definitely one of the best fiction books of all time, and one to read (and re-read) in your lifetime.
You might hear the words ‘The Dry’ and think of Eric Bana. Rightly so. But the book came first folks, and it’s a ripper of a read. After winning the 2015 Victorian Premier’s Award for an unpublished manuscript, Jane Harper’s debut novel has since set off a whole wave of Australian desert mysteries and become an international success story. Read the book that started it all and see what all the fuss is about.
The Outline Trilogy
By Rachel Cusk
Is it cheating to throw a series in here? Surely not, you just get three recommendations instead of one. The Outline Trilogy—Outline, Kudos and Transit—has been widely regarded as redefining the modern novel, for Cusk’s dismissal of plot conventions and interweaving of herself through the books. The books follow the main character, a writer, through her travels through Europe and the repercussions of her marriage collapsing, while reflecting on the ways art and life intersect. This is some of the best modern writing from an author in her prime and if it’s not already, should be touted as one best fiction books of all time.
The White Girl
By Tony Birch
One of Australia’s literary national treasures, Tony Birch’s latest novel speaks to the trauma and countless untold stories of the Stolen Generations. As a First Nations writer and academic, Birch is personally connected to the story he tells, and while it is a fictional novel about a grandmother and her granddaughter, the stories are real. The White Girl is a book that will stay with you for a long time. Stock up on tissues before opening one of the best fiction books to read in 2021.
By Patrick deWitt
This New York Times bestselling novel by Patrick deWitt is currently in cinemas as a movie adaptation starring Michelle Pfeifer. So if you’re the type to want to read the book before you see the movie, get onto this one quickly before the movie wraps up in cinemas. French Exit follows the fall from grace of a widowed New York socialite and her son, as they drop everything and move to Paris to escape scandal and ridicule. It’s witty and charismatic, with a touch of crazy-cat-lady.
The Dictionary of Lost Words
By Pip Williams
A fictional story rooted in real events, this historical novel by Pip Williams details the origins of the first Oxford English Dictionary, and all the words that never made it in. The Dictionary of Lost Words is one of the best fiction books around today, featuring on bestseller lists almost everywhere you look. It’s a beautiful narrative that reflects on the power of words to both silence and dominate, while analysing whose words are most important.
By Charlotte Brontë
One of the lesser known novels by a Brontë sister, Villette isn’t necessarily the easiest read, but it’s fascinating once you get into it. It follows the story of Lucy Snowe, a young English woman who goes to a small French town following a family disaster to teach at a girls’ school. First published in 1853, Brontë essentially depicts a young woman struggling with depression and anxiety without the aid of the terminology we have today. Give this one time, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine
By Gail Honeyman
This debut novel by Scottish author Gail Honeyman won the 2017 Costa Debut Novel Award in the UK, and for good reason. The protagonist, Eleanor Oliphant, is not completely fine. You’ll love her and you’ll hate her, you’ll want to slap her at times and hug her at others, but you’ll need to read the book to find out why. Watch out for one of the best plot twists and endings—definitely one of the best fiction books to add to your list.
All Our Shimmering Skies
By Trent Dalton
Trent Dalton is back. The bestselling author of Boy Swallows Universe is now gifting you with All Our Shimmering Skies—a glorious novel which will no doubt go down as another Aussie classic. Set in Darwin during WWII, motherless Molly Hook, a gravedigger's daughter, is looking to the skies and running for her life. Inside a duffel bag, she carries a stone heart, alongside a map to lead her to Longcoat Bob, the deep-country sorcerer who she believes put a curse on her family. It’s completely ridiculous and wholesome at the same time, which makes it one of the best fiction books to kick back with on a Sunday afternoon.
For more reading inspo, check out our list of the best sex-positive books to read this year.
Image credit: Kate Mason
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