Literature

What’s the Big Deal? 5 Classic Novels that Deserve Their Hype

Photo by Nicole Rees-Williams.

Maya Deane on Lord of the Flies

To many students, Golding’s Lord of the Flies was one of those books that you were forced to study when you were around 15 years old. Whilst covering themes such as human nature, religion and social hierarchy, the book mostly serves as a fantastic introduction to how society fails to provide young men with skills such as empathy and civility. Whilst I wasn’t personally one of those students, never experiencing reading aloud the gory extracts detailing the traumatic circumstances of the characters to my horrified classmates, I still found the book extremely captivating and recommend it to anyone who will listen.

The classic is criminally underrated, serving as a damning critique of the way society socialises young boys. It is just as relevant today as it was in 1954, providing poignant social commentary, focusing on the thin line that stands between civilisation and savagery. Some see Golding’s novel as a critique of the British upper class – suggesting that the attitudes of the elite are detrimental to society, demonstrating the damage that an “all for one” attitude can cause. Similarly, Golding’s remote island setting deliberately features no female characters, focusing entirely on how the boys choose to maintain their society. The book may leave you wondering whether the chaotic events of the novel would have unfolded if the society was instead comprised of solely young girls.

It is an absolute must-read for those who are interested in the inner workings of a patriarchal society, and how class and gender intertwine to place toxic expectations upon young children. It often slipped my mind that the characters were no older than twelve, making their gradual descent into savagery far more disturbing. Often challenged, and sometimes even banned, it can be argued that this controversial novel is an unmissable classic, with the topics raised within being more relevant than ever before.

Lydia Tomkinson on The Great Gatsby

Widely heralded as one of the greatest novels of American literature, studied in schools and universities all across the world and with four film adaptations, The Great Gatsby is a hugely popular classic and definitely deserves the hype it gets for a multitude of reasons, for me it was one of the first classics I ever read and ever since I have loved the novel rereading it multiple times.

When discussing what makes The Great Gatsby so ‘great’, we have to begin with the plot. F Scott Fitzgerald weaves an enchanting story of hope, love and tragedy, set to the background of New York in the midst of the roaring 20s. The plot centres around the story of the books titular character Jay Gatsby, his mysterious past and his quest for a love he cannot have.  On the surface level this sounds like a pretty basic romance novel, however, the story remains captivating and intriguing till the end and this is partly due to the vibrant, vivid characters and setting that Fitzgerald has created: characters like the unassuming Nick Garraway who acts as the narrator of the novel and through whose eyes we see the story unfold, Tom Buchanan who we come to resent for his bigoted views and behaviour and of course Gatsby for his theatrical nature and belief in the possibility of his dreams.

The way that the novel is written is also what makes it so worth the hype for me, the writing is so descriptive and flows off the page as you read it, in dialogue, it feels like you are sitting with the characters talking to them yourself and when describing the settings, from Gatsby’s lavish, glittering parties to the desolate ‘valley of the ashes’, they seem almost tangible.

Rhian Lock on The Grapes of Wrath

After weeks of binging Netflix and living in pyjamas, I decided to use lockdown as an excuse to catch up on some of the books that, shamefully, have been stacked in the corner of my bedroom since I began my English Literature degree, and thus no longer had the time to read for fun. One of those books was John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Like most other people, I’d read Of Mice and Men in school, but I had never bothered to read anything else that Steinbeck had written. After rifling through the Classics section in my local bookstore and learning that it was what won Steinbeck his Nobel Prize for Literature, I decided to pick it up on a whim. I hadn’t really expected to enjoy it, but it ended up being by far the best novel that I have ever read.

TGOF centres around the Joads, a family of Oklahoma farmers who, like real-life migrant farmers during the Great Depression, were forced to abandon their homes and livelihoods and embark on a 1500 mile journey to California, in the hopes of finding shelter, stability, and a way to feed their families. It’s a story about family, desperation, perseverance, and the human instinct to survive against all odds. It sounds cliché, but Steinbeck has a way of making even the most mundane of situations compelling, and his writing is so wonderful that it brought me to tears more times than I can remember. It broke my heart, kept me up reading till the early hours, and convinced me to buy three other Steinbeck novels the moment that I finished the last page.

TGOF manages to be both ugly and beautiful at the same time, and there’s no way to describe the magic of Steinbeck’s prose and do it justice. It’s a long read but trust me – it’s worth it.

Katie Waits on In Cold Blood

I can safely say that In Cold Blood by Truman Capote is one of my favourite classic books. Despite having to read it twice for A-level English, I found that I enjoyed reading it, and would definitely recommend it!

A ‘non-fiction novel’, published in 1965, In Cold Blood details the real-life 1959 murder of four members of the Clutter family, a well-liked religious family from Kansas. If you’re a fan of mystery and true crime, In Cold Blood may be the perfect book for you. Graphic descriptions of the murder, vivid accounts of setting, as well as Capote’s exploration of each person (including victims, murderers, police, and locals) makes this classic especially intriguing.

Capote’s ability to humanise the murderers, Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, is extremely unsettling. By uncovering their childhoods and lives before the murder, we are invited to see the other, everyday sides of them. Disturbingly, you can’t help but almost feel sorry for Perry, following his difficult childhood and his painful injuries.

It’s fascinating to delve into the aftermath of the murders, witnessing the reaction of the townspeople, as well as the work of the police detectives and lawyers involved. Upon further research, it’s not difficult to uncover how much the writing process of this book affected Truman Capote. Determined to employ his ‘New Journalism’ approach, Capote threw himself into research and interviews, along with his friend Harper Lee, to write hundreds of pages of notes. He became so immersed in the case, to create a highly successful book, at the detriment of his wellbeing.

The themes of In Cold Blood are dark and controversial, and the context is incredibly compelling. In Cold Blood is a brutal, realistic classic that I believe is completely worth the hype.

Molly Govus on Of Mice and Men

I have never been more grateful for my GCSE’s than when I was introduced to Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. It was the most perfect book to study in an English class, with a million life lessons hidden inside the pages. The metaphors and symbolic features have continuously stayed in my mind, and it is for that reason that it is the most well-deserved classic in my mind. 

The book itself holds a ridiculous amount of important history. From covering George and Lennie’s lack of stable work after the Dustbowl period of the 1930s to the inherent societal racism against Crooks on the ranch. There could be a history essay pulled from this book alone, despite the brilliant excess of linguistic analysis that could be discussed.

What I love most about this classic is the way in which the literary features weave between the context of the story, enhancing each and every aspect in order to create an emotional response from the reader. For instance, Curly’s wife in her red dress with pig-tail curls symbolises her passion, danger, and sexual prowess – these metaphors, all symbolic in her physical stance. Once you look deeper into her character, she is forever framed. Forever framed by the door-frame she stands in whenever she speaks, thus forever framed by a sexist society. 

I will never forget the nerdy excitement I felt when all of these layers came together, and trust me, there are many. It is that feeling that drives us to read more and learn more.

On a basic, but still important level, the storyline is that of unbroken friendship and the love between George and Lennie.  The camaraderie between the two is unmatched and it summarises male friendship in the rawest form. 

It is impossible to speak about the book without the mentioning of the ending. As shocking as it may be, whether you know it’s coming or not, your heart will always ache. The stillness of the scene is described to perfection, and there is no way you can read the pages without feeling suddenly moved.

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