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Kathryn Harrison's 6 favorite books featuring parentless protagonists
The author of The Kiss recommends classics by Vladimir Nabokov, Charles Dickens, and Edith Wharton
 
Kathryn Harrison's seventh novel, "Enchantments," recounts the fall of the Romanov dynasty through the eyes of one of Grigory Rasputin's daughters.
Kathryn Harrison's seventh novel, "Enchantments," recounts the fall of the Romanov dynasty through the eyes of one of Grigory Rasputin's daughters.
Joyce Ravid

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (Dover, $3.50). A plucky orphan determined to find the love her childhood lacked, a brooding Byronic suitor, a mad woman locked in an attic, dark secrets, vengeance, just desserts: This is a Gothic romance with a feminist twist. Jane may not be beautiful or wellborn, but she stands in the company of literature's greatest heroines.

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (Dover, $5). Narrated by a male Cinderella with a wicked stepfather, this bildungsroman is my favorite among Dickens' novels. Dickens elevated and enriched the Gothic romance through humor and wild flights of fancy, and by creating a world that is often surreal in its rendering of very real social problems.

The Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (Wordsworth, $15). There's no better place to find an orphan than in a collection of fairy tales. I find Andersen's work chilling and irresistible. In "The Red Shoes," a girl falls in love with a pair of beautiful dancing shoes and is punished for her inability to put anything, even God, above them.

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (Dover, $3). The story of Lily Bart reads like the proverbial car wreck. It's going to turn out badly; human mistakes — even small ones — accrue to create dire traps. But we can't stop watching and hoping for the reversal that will save Lily.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (Vintage, $15). An unreliable narrator confesses his erotic fixation on a fatherless girl whom he spirits away, at the death of her mother, on a tragicomic road trip across America. Flamboyant in style, sharp in wit, cruel, comic, and morally ambiguous, this is no cautionary tale but a suspenseful examination of the complexity of human personality and the power of forbidden desire.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (Vintage, $15). The scientifically engineered orphans in this suspenseful, dystopian novel discover the purpose of their lives slowly — agonizingly so. Yet the reader, while following their search for understanding, becomes ever more invested in the characters' welfare, while being pulled through a landscape at once strange and familiar.

Kathryn Harrison's seventh novel, Enchantments, recounts the fall of the Romanov dynasty through the eyes of one of Grigory Rasputin's daughters. 

 

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