Fiction to make you engage (not escape)

Plenty of people use books as a way to escape from the world and so seek out stories that transport them to other places. But for others, books are a way to be more present in the world – to engage with and reflect on what’s happening around them. Here are eight books for those readers.


Supper Club by Lara Williams

Supper Club is a secret society for hungry women. Women who are sick of bad men and bad sex, of hinted expectations to be thinner, smile more, talk less. So they gather at night to feast and drink and dance, seeking the answer to a simple question: if you feed a starving woman, what will she grow into? This is a story about friendship, food and female rage.


Expectation by Anna Hope

Cate, Hannah and Lissa are young, vibrant and inseparable. Living on the edge of a common in East London, their shared world is ablaze with art and activism, desire and revelry – and the promise of everything to come. But ten years on, they are not where they hoped to be. Amidst flailing careers and faltering marriages, each hungers for what the others have. And each wrestles with the same question: what does it take to lead a meaningful life?


Wolfe Island by Lucy Treloar

Kitty Hawke, the last inhabitant of a dying island sinking into the wind-lashed Chesapeake Bay, has resigned herself to annihilation, until one night her pregnant granddaughter rows ashore, desperate, begging for sanctuary. For years, Kitty has kept herself to herself. But blood cannot be turned away in times like these. And when trouble comes following, no one is more surprised than Kitty to find she will protect them as fiercely as her name suggests…


Women Talking by Miriam Toews

Eight women, all illiterate, suffering sexual abuse, without any knowledge of the world outside their colony, meet secretly. ‘How should we live? How should we love? How should we treat one another? How should we organise our societies?’ These are questions the women in Women Talking ask one another – and Miriam Toews makes them the questions we must all ask ourselves.


Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

All over the world, doors are appearing. They lead to other cities, other countries, other lives. And in a city gripped by war, Nadia and Saeed are newly in love. Hardly more than strangers, desperate to survive, they open a door and step through. But the doors only go one way. Once you leave, there is no going back. This is a thought-provoking novel about seeking asylum, and what human beings owe to one another.


Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

Evolution has reversed itself, affecting every living creature on earth. Woman after woman gives birth to infants that appear to be of a primitive species of humans. Thirty-two-year-old Cedar Hawk Songmaker is as disturbed as the rest of America around her. But for Cedar, this change is profound and deeply personal; she is four months pregnant. A chilling dystopian novel both provocative and prescient, Future Home of the Living God is a startlingly original work: a moving meditation on female agency, self-determination, biology, and natural rights that speaks to the troubling changes of our time.


The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy

In 1989, Saul is hit by a car on the Abbey Rd crossing. He is fine; he gets up and goes to see his girlfriend, Jennifer. They have sex and then break up. He leaves for the GDR. In 2016, Saul is hit by a car on the Abbey Road crossing. He is not fine at all; he is rushed to hospital and spends the following days in and out of consciousness, in and out of history. Deborah Levy presents an ambitious, playful and totally electrifying novel about what we see and what we fail to see, about carelessness and the harm we do to others, about the weight of history and our ruinous attempts to shrug it off.


Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann

An Ohio mother bakes pies while the world bombards her with radioactivity and fake facts. She worries about her children, environmental disaster, and the best time to plant nasturtiums. She regrets most of her past, a million tiny embarrassments, her poverty, the loss of her mother, and the genocide on which the United States was founded. But in Lucy Ellmann’s scorching indictment of American barbarity comes a plea for kindness. Ducks, Newburyport is a heresy, a wonder, and a revolution in the novel.