Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1818)
The novel is engrossing as a story, but it is also a debate about the conflict between science and humanity.
A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens (1843)
All of Dickens’ genius for creating memorable characters is deployed in this story of how Ebeneezer Scrooge recovers his humanity.
Tales of Mystery and Imagination, by Edgar Allen Poe (1845)
Bizarre and incredibly imaginative stories from a troubled 19th century American genius.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll (1865)
A mind-blowing story of what Alice did in a world where logic no longer seems to exist. You can tell it was written by a famous mathematician.
The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James (1898)
A governess. A creaky old mansion. Two children. Two ghosts. A supremely artistic tale of the supernatural.
The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells (1898)
Martians attack. The world sinks into terror and despair. And salvation comes from an unexpected source. A classic.
The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame (1908)
An enchanting picture of the adventures of Mole, Ratty, Mister Toad and Mister Badger in the English countryside. Full of memorable characters and wisdom.
Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka (1915)
A travelling salesman wakes up one day and finds that he has become a gigantic cockroach. One of the seminal works of 20th century literature.
The Day of the Triffids, by John Wyndham (1951)
A post-apocalyptic novel about aggressive plants which take over the world after most people are blinded by meteor shower.
Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury (1953)
The title signifies the temperature at which paper ignites. In a dystopian future, television rules and books are banned and burned. How will civilised values survive?
The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien (1955)
Too long for this list, but too good to be omitted. Nothing more to be said.
The Third Policeman, by Flann O’Brien (1940/1967)
This loopy novel defies description, so I won’t try. But we won’t spoil the plot if we disclose that it involves three policeman, bicycles, and a narrator obsessed with de Selby, whoever he was.