A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr (NYRB Classics, $14). In this slim 1980 novel, a young man just back from the First World War is hired to restore a wall painting in a Yorkshire church. Carr writes of love, humor, and redemption — in quirky prose unlike anything you've read before.
Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad (Dover, $4.50). Speaking of quirky prose...Conrad's colonial Far East is depicted in inch-thick layers of dark and luscious colors. Jim, the fallen, enigmatic hero, remains fascinating yet unknowable as moral study overlaps with high-seas adventure.
The Rack by A.E. Ellis (Valancourt, $19). I distrust anything deemed a cult classic, often a polite term for a book no one enjoys. But this very moving novel set in a TB sanatorium in Switzerland delivers grueling descriptions of primitive treatments and a powerful love story. When The Rack was published, in 1958, it was tipped for immortality and compared with Mann and Proust. Instead, it slid quietly into the shadows.
The House on Moon Lake by Francesca Duranti (Delphinium, $15 as an e-book). This is the story of a translator, Fabrizio, who goes in search of a German novel and its author. His obsession causes him to invent what he cannot discover. Then, as the division between the real and the fictional begins to crumble, he is overwhelmed by his own inventions. Part fable, part ghost story, and immensely thrilling.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark (Harper Perennial, $14). Spark's most famous novel is justly celebrated for the cunning way it tells its tale from different angles. Jean Brodie, a charismatic schoolteacher, has a powerful grip on her credulous teenage pupils. The extent of her dangerous self-deceit is laid bare with cruel humor and precision.
Endpoint by John Updike (Knopf, $25). John Updike kept writing even as he lay dying in the hospital: the man as pen. In his last poems, he gives thanks for his life and his ability to write in verses that are unsentimental and at times deeply moving. An Updike character once said that in death what he would most miss was not being alive, but being American. A wonderful farewell to his readers.
—Sebastian Faulks is the author of the novels Birdsong, Human Traces, and Charlotte Gray. In Where My Heart Used To Beat, his latest work of historical fiction, a psychiatrist reckons with his father's past and his own memories of World War II.