Born OTD in 1883, Bohemian novelist and short-story writer, widely regarded as one of the major figures of 20th-century literature, Franz Kafka. Like Orwell, Kafka has given his name to a world of nightmare, but in Kafka’s world, it is never completely clear just what the nightmare is. The Trial, where the rules are hidden from even the highest officials, and if there is any help to be had, it will come from unexpected sources, is a chilling, blackly amusing tale that maintains, to the very end, a relentless atmosphere of disorientation. Superficially about bureaucracy, it is in the last resort a description of the absurdity of ‘normal’ human nature.

Still more enigmatic is The Castle. Is it an allegory of a quasi-feudal system giving way to a new freedom … More

‘To Sir, With Love’, is a 1959 autobiographical novel by E. R. Braithwaite set in the East End of London. The novel is based on true events concerned with Braithwaite taking up a teaching post in a school there. In 1945, Rick Braithwaite, a smart, highly educated ex-RAF pilot, looks for a job in British engineering. He is deeply shocked to realise that, as a black man from British Guiana, no one will employ him because of the colour of his skin..

.. In desperation he turns to teaching, taking a job in a tough East End school, and left to govern … More

Author of The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead, brilliantly dramatizes another strand of American history through the story of two boys sentenced to a hellish reform school in 1960s Florida. Elwood Curtis has taken the words of Dr Martin Luther King to heart: he is as good as anyone. Abandoned by his parents, brought up by his loving, strict & clear-sighted grandmother, Elwood is about to enroll in the local black college. But given the time & the place, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy his future, & so Elwood arrives at The Nickel Academy, which claims to provide ‘physical, intellectual & moral training’ which will equip its inmates to become ‘honorable & honest men’. In reality, the Nickel Academy is a chamber of horrors, where physical, emotional & sexual abuse is rife, where corrupt officials & tradesmen do a brisk trade in supplies intended for the school, & where any boy who resists is likely to disappear ‘out back’.

Stunned to find himself in this vicious environment, Elwood tries to hold on to Dr King’s ringing assertion, ‘Throw us … More

A scarlet wheel on a blue and green flag, bright against the grey sky. Gisela leaned against the stone balustrade, tired after the journey. She’d forgotten how hectic London was, and wondered how she’d ever managed to cope with the daily commute… But she was glad she’d come. Glad she’d brought Andrej. It was important for her young son to know his roots.

Spokes is made up of stories from across the Traveller world featuring British Gypsies, settled and still travelling; Irish Travellers; … More

Both devastating & funny, The Lonely Londoners is an unforgettable account of immigrant experience – & one of the great 20th-century London novels. At Waterloo Station, hopeful new arrivals from the West Indies step off the boat train, ready to start afresh in 1950s London. There, homesick Moses Aloetta, who has already lived in the city for years, meets Henry ‘Sir Galahad’ Oliver & shows him the ropes. In this strange, cold & foggy city where the natives can be less than friendly at the sight of a black face, has Galahad met his Waterloo?

But the irrepressible newcomer cannot be cast down. He and all the other lonely new Londoners – from shiftless Cap … More

An unnamed narrator, recently bereaved, travels to Olevano, a small village south-east of Rome. It is winter, & from her temporary residence on a hill between village & cemetery, she embarks on walks & outings, exploring the banal & the sublime with equal dedication & intensity. Seeing, describing, naming the world around her is her way of redefining her place within it. Written in a rich & poetic style, Grove is an exquisite novel of grief, love & landscapes.

‘The language and atmosphere is again redolent of Kinsky‚Äôs compatriot WG Sebald, the much-missed psychogeographer. With Grove, she has reached … More

Soon come, pre order here, David Quantick’s ‘Night Train’, is a science-fiction horror story like no other. A woman wakes up, frightened and alone – with no idea where she is. She’s in a room but it’s shaking and jumping like it’s alive. Stumbling through a door, she realizes she is in a train carriage. A carriage full of the dead. This is the Night Train.

A bizarre ride on a terrifying locomotive, heading somewhere into the endless night. How did the woman get here? Who … More

Doggerland is a superbly gripping debut novel about loneliness & hope, nature & survival – set on an off-shore windfarm in the not-so-distant future. ‘His father’s breath had been loud in the small room. It had smelled smoky, or maybe more like dust. He had knotted & unknotted a strap on the bag he was holding – he must have been leaving to go out to the farm that day. ‘I’ll get out,’ he’d said..

  ..’I’ll come back for you, ok?’ The boy remembered that; had always remembered it. And, for a time, he’d … More

First published OTD in 1949, George Orwell’s, Nineteen Eighty-Four. Thematically, 1984 centres on the consequences of government over-reach, totalitarianism, mass surveillance, and repressive regimentation of all persons and behaviours within society, The story takes place in an imagined future, the year 1984, when much of the world has fallen victim to perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance, historical negationism, and propaganda.

Winston Smith works for the Ministry of Truth in London, chief city of Airstrip One. Big Brother stares out from … More

Possibly the definitive fictional account of the experiences of the Empire Windrush generation, it was recently selected by the BBC as one of its ‘100 Novels That Shaped Our World’. It is 1948, and England is recovering from a war. But at 21 Nevern Street, London, the conflict has only just begun. Queenie Bligh’s neighbours do not approve when she agrees to take in Jamaican lodgers, but Queenie doesn’t know when her husband will return, or if he will come back at all..

What else can she do? Gilbert Joseph was one of the several thousand Jamaican men who joined the RAF to … More