Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (Dover, $3.50). The adulterous Emma Bovary and her downfall. In the mid-19th century, this “realist” story about a character disillusioned with love and marriage caused a national scandal. Someone had dared tell the truth
of a woman’s feelings.
Restoration by Rose Tremain (out of print). Set in 17th-century England during the restoration of Charles II, this 1989 novel follows Robert Merivel, a young physician in Charles’ court who is trapped between the longing for wealth and power and the emptiness that these desires can bring. I will read anything Rose Tremain writes.
Perfume by Patrick Suskind (Vintage, $14). A surreal account of a hyper-olfactory genius-murderer on his quest for the perfect perfume. Suskind makes an unbelievably inhuman monster utterly believable, but I like this book mostly for its sensual writing and the fabulously original and evocative atmosphere he creates.
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (Vintage, $15). A retired butler recounts his life in service. Because the reader is empowered with greater understanding and insight than the story’s own narrator, we begin to comprehend the personal sacrifices that he made in the call of duty.
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (Norton, $10). The story of Okonkwo—one of the greatest Ibo warriors in all of West Africa—and his subsequent decline as Africa is dragged into the modern world by Christian colonialists. Achebe doesn’t judge, never preaches, and delivers the most powerful ending I’ve ever read.
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (Penguin, $15). Brilliant romantic storytelling. It opens with the young sailor, Edmond Dantes, framed in an evil plot, and wrongly imprisoned for 14 years. There follows more than 1,000 gripping pages and a vast cast of characters. As with all the best fairy tales, this is a story of love, despair, revenge, misfortune, evil, and, of course, treasure.