Book clinic: recommended literary page-turners

This week, our expert suggests a selection of books to rekindle the joy of reading in even the most battle-hardened litterateur

Q: Having completed my MA in creative writing, I can’t read with pleasure any more because I am too busy analysing how the book I am reading is put together. Can you recommend books I can get lost in – page-turning literary fiction (or is that an oxymoron)?
Colette Hill, Bath

A: from Nicci Gerrard, whose most recent novel is The Twilight Hour; with her husband Sean French she writes psychological thrillers under the name of Nicci French.

Your question will chime with many readers who have studied literature because they love it, and then have lost that love because they’ve studied it, analysed it, dismantled it to see how it fits together…

But page-turning literary fiction is not an oxymoron! You need books, for a while at least, that lack literary self-consciousness, that don’t draw attention to their own style but feel like clear water, and that offer pleasures which don’t lie in form or technique. In order of age, here are six novels (it could have been 60) that I love for their fresh and vivid voices, their utterly compelling stories, and the sheer oomph they deliver. I hope they can drag you under again and give you back that joyous, magical immersion, when the rest of the world disappears.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
Kim by Rudyard Kipling
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

(And don’t forget Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, which, Angela Carter once wrote, came as close to being alluring trash as a masterpiece could.)

Looking for the next Philip Roth? Or maybe you loved Helen Macdonald’s H Is for Hawk and want to discover more nature memoirs. If you’ve got a question for Book Clinic, submit it below or email


Nicci Gerrard

The GuardianTramp

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