Sudden Rain by Maritta Wolff

Now that "Sudden Rain" has come out of its hiding place -- in Wolff's refrigerator, found after her death -- it remains gloriously frozen in time. Set in the fall of 1972, the novel perfectly captures, with expansive emotion and cinematic detail, the domestic trends of three generations of middle-class couples living in suburban Los Angeles. A brilliant portrait of its burgeoning era, "Sudden Rain "also offers striking cultural commentary on our everyday notions of love and marriage; individuality, equality, and community; and the promise and pursuit of the American Dream."

Annabel by Kathleen Winter

In 1968, in a remote part of Canada, a mysterious child is born: a baby who appears to be neither fully boy nor girl, but both at once. Only three people share the secret - the baby's parents and a trusted neighbour. Together the adults make a difficult decision: to go through surgery and raise the child as a boy named Wayne. But as Wayne grows up within the hyper-male hunting culture of his father, his shadow-self - a girl he thinks of as 'Annabel' - is never entirely extinguished, and indeed is secretly nurtured by the women in his life. As Wayne approaches adulthood, and its emotional and physical demands, the woman inside him begins to cry out. The changes that follow are momentous not just for him, but for the three adults that have guarded his secret.

The Surgeon of Crowthorne by Simon Winchester

The making of the Oxford English Dictionary was a monumental 50 year task requiring thousands of volunteers. One of the keenest volunteers was a W C Minor who astonished everyone by refusing to come to Oxford to receive his congratulations. In the end, James Murray, the OED's editor, went to Crowthorne in Berkshire to meet him. What he found was incredible - Minor was a millionaire American civil war surgeon turned lunatic, imprisoned in Broadmoor Asylum for murder and yet who dedicated his entire cell-bound life to work on the English language.

Stoner by John Williams

William Stoner enters the University of Missouri at nineteen to study agriculture. A seminar on English literature changes his life, and he never returns to work on his father's farm. Stoner becomes a teacher. He marries the wrong woman. His life is quiet, and after his death his colleagues remember him rarely. Yet with truthfulness, compassion and intense power, this novel uncovers a story of universal value. Stoner tells of the conflicts, defeats and victories of the human race that pass unrecorded by history, and reclaims the significance of an individual life. A reading experience like no other, itself a paean to the power of literature, it is a novel to be savoured.

A Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Wilde's only novel, first published in 1890, is a brilliantly designed puzzle, intended to tease conventional minds with its exploration of the myriad interrelationships between art, life, and consequence. From its provocative Preface, challenging the reader to believe in 'art for art's sake', to its sensational conclusion, the story self-consciously experiments with the notion of sin as an element of design. Yet Wilde himself underestimated the consequences of his experiment, and its capacity to outrage the Victorian establishment. Its words returned to haunt him in his court appearances in 1895, and he later recalled the 'note of doom' which runs like 'a purple thread' through its carefully crafted prose.

The Magnetic North by Sara Wheeler

Smashing through the Arctic Ocean with the crew of a Russian icebreaker, herding reindeer across the tundra with Lapps and shadowing the Trans-Alaskan pipeline with truckers, Sara Wheeler discovers a complex and ambiguous land belonging both to ancient myth and modern controversy. The Magnetic North is a spicy confection of history, science and reflection in which Wheeler meditates on the role of the Arctic: fragmented lands which fed imaginations long before the scientists and oilmen showed up (not to mention desperado explorers who ate their own shoes). The Magnetic North tells of all this, plus gulag ghosts, old and new Russia, colliding cultures and bioaccumulated toxins in polar bears.

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

With this intensely moving short novel, Edith Wharton set out ‘to draw life as it really was’ in the lonely villages and desolate farms of the harsh New England mountains. Through the eyes of a visitor from the city, trapped for a winter in snowbound Starkfield, readers glimpse the hidden histories of this austere and beautiful land. Piecing together the story of monosyllabic Ethan Frome, his grim wife, Zeena, and Mattie Silver, her charming cousin, Wharton explores psychological dead-lock:frustration, longing, resentment, passion. First published in 1911, the novella stunned its public with its consummate handling of the unfolding drama, and has remained for many readers the most compelling and subtle of all Wharton’s fiction.

The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West

Rose Aubrey is one of a family of four children. Their father, Piers, is the disgraced son of an Irish landowning family, a violent, noble and quite unscrupulous leader of popular causes. His Scottish wife, Clare, is an artist, a tower of strength, fanatically devoted to a musical future for her daughters. This is the story of their life in south London, a life threatened by Piers's streak of tragic folly which keeps them on the verge of financial ruin and social disgrace . . .

The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West

The soldier returns from the front to the three women who love him. His wife, Kitty, with her cold, moonlight beauty, and his devoted cousin Jenny wait in their exquisite home on the crest of the Harrow-weald. Margaret Allington, his first and long-forgotten love, is nearby in the dreary suburb of Wealdstone. But the soldier is shell-shocked and can only remember the Margaret he loved fifteen years before, when he was a young man and she an inn-keeper's daughter. His cousin he remembers only as a childhood playmate; his wife he remembers not at all. The women have a choice - to leave him where he wishes to be, or to 'cure' him. It is Margaret who reveals a love so great that she can make the final sacrifice.

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

Brideshead Revisited is Evelyn Waugh's stunning novel of duty and desire set amongst the decadent, faded glory of the English aristocracy in the run-up to the Second World War. The most nostalgic and reflective of Evelyn Waugh's novels,Brideshead Revisited looks back to the golden age before the Second World War. It tells the story of Charles Ryder's infatuation with the Marchmains and the rapidly disappearing world of privilege they inhabit. Enchanted first by Sebastian Flyte at Oxford, then by his doomed Catholic family, in particular his remote sister, Julia, Charles comes finally to recognise his spiritual and social distance from them.