Novels between chick lit and highbrow

(69 Posts)
DoItTooJulia Mon 06-Jan-14 19:59:07

I hate chick lit and stuff that's too highbrow too, so what do I read?

I love Atwood, Kingsolver, Barnes, Allende. I don't mind a historical novel, never really ventured into fantasy, but I like a ripping good read!


Just finished reading this, which might meet your requirements:

snugglesnook Mon 06-Jan-14 20:08:58

Penelope Lively - especially How It All Began.

EugenesAxe Mon 06-Jan-14 20:09:28

I kind of think Jane Austen is old fashioned chick-lit... dunno if that's 'highbrow'.

The Pillars of the Earth (Follett) is ripping good. Daphne du Maurier? Jilly Cooper is well written (I think - read 20 years ago) borderline chick lit. Also not just Bridget but Helen Fielding's other novels are pretty good - Cause Celeb for example. Could just try plain old Agatha Christie; Body in the Library and Murder in Mesopotamia being two of my favourites.

Oh I have this feeling too sometimes, great question

Some things I read in the last year...

Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Good Squad

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian (sorry forgot author)

Surprisingly: War and Peace. Not a heavy read at all.

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson -- also his Baroque trilogy

Sharon Penman does some nice historical novels -- Sunne in Splendor is Edward IV/Richard III, and her Eleanor of Aquitaine trilogy is pretty good.

The Night Watch by Sarah Waters

A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel

Oh and a classic -- the Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. Really nice read.

Back2Two Mon 06-Jan-14 20:28:55

Patrick gale books
The book of human skin
Gone girl
The unlikely pilgrimage of Harold fry

DoItTooJulia Mon 06-Jan-14 20:29:17

Some great recommendations, thank you.

EugenesAxe, sorry, we've got crossed wires. I don't like chick lit. I want books somewhere between them and highbrow literature. I like a bit of highbrow every now and again. And I can cope with some of the more chick lit end of the scale every now and again.

KipperTheFish Mon 06-Jan-14 20:30:18

Hiw about Tracy Chevelier? She has written some fantastic 'not chick lit but not high brow' books: The Last Runaway, Girl with a Pearl Earring, Remarkable Creatures are all brilliant.

I also agree Sarah Waters books are excellent. Try Fingersmith, Affinity, The Night Watch.

Back2Two Mon 06-Jan-14 20:30:53

"Room"is an easy read too (a little bit grim but an excellent book)

DoItTooJulia Mon 06-Jan-14 20:30:57

Interestingly, I've read some of the things being suggested.

I should say I don't mind the odd bit of non fiction either!

Helpyourself Mon 06-Jan-14 20:31:55

Zola grin
I always recommend Zola as not only is he fantastic, there are dozens of them!

Helpyourself Mon 06-Jan-14 20:32:33

William Boyd?

PiratePanda Mon 06-Jan-14 20:33:51

Sharon Penman, Susan Howatch and Georgette Heyer. You might also like Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel.

AttackOfTheKillerMonsterSnowGo Mon 06-Jan-14 20:35:20

Any Patrick Gale or Helen Dunmore, Susan Hill.

Individual books, The Collector by John Fowels is on of my all time favourites.

Will bebackwhen not being strangled loved by toddler.

blackandwhiteandredallover Mon 06-Jan-14 20:36:41

Maggie O'Farrell?

LadyGreenTea Mon 06-Jan-14 20:38:45

Great books that I have read in recent years or that have stuck with me, that I think fall into your "inbetween" category...

Wolf Hall (Mantel)
Capital (John Lanchester)
Middlesex (Jeffrey Eugenides)
The Glass Room (Simon Mawer)
Freedom (Jonathan Franzen)
The Children's Book (Byatt)
One Hundred Years of Solitude (Garcia Marquez)
The Northern Clemency (Philip Hensher)
Unless (Carol Shields)

I'd second Edith Wharton and also recommend House of Mirth; anything by Scott Fitzgerald (ok, maybe not the short stories); and I really love Anita Brookner's books, mostly her earlier ones.

I'm sure these are v predictable suggestions... but I'd be interested to see what others recommend along this line. Good post OP.

NigellasGuest Mon 06-Jan-14 20:39:04

Daphne du Maurier all the way!

alternatively, Alice Thomas Ellis?

MrsOakenshield Mon 06-Jan-14 20:41:49

Elizabeth Jane Howard's Cazalet chronicles.

Penny Vincenzi did a very good series about a publishing house, half my books are in the loft so I can't remember what it was called.

I Capture the Castle
Cold Comfort Farm

Ken Follet's Pillars of the Earth

William Boyd is great.

Annie Proulx's Shipping News

will keep thinking!

MrsOakenshield Mon 06-Jan-14 20:42:51

oh, absolutely Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies (the 2nd in the series), I always thought Hilary Mantel would be too highbrow for me but they are fantastic!!

exexpat Mon 06-Jan-14 20:43:13

I can think of several contemporary north American writers who might fit the bill: Anne Tyler, Ann Patchett (Bel Canto) or (veering more towards the popular fiction end) Elizabeth Berg. Have you read any Carol Shields?

notnowImreading Mon 06-Jan-14 20:43:44

Cazalet chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard, starting with The Light Years. Absolutely limpid clarity and interesting characters. I love them but there is no way on earth if have picked them up had I judged them by their covers: they look like real old-lady books. They're much sharper than that, though. They're about a large extended upper middle class family living in Sussex in the 30s and 40s with multiple narrators. Lovely on relationships and forensic about emotion.

MrsOakenshield Mon 06-Jan-14 20:44:22

Sarah Walters? Fingersmith, Tipping the Velvet.

notnowImreading Mon 06-Jan-14 20:44:37

Ooh, cross-posted with Mrs Oakenshield.

DoItTooJulia Mon 06-Jan-14 20:45:13

Ok, so I've read Room, Gone Girl, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Freedom, Tracey Chevalier and Sarah Waters, Harold Fry, The Hundred Year Old Man....,A Short History of Travtors in Ukranian.

I tried Wolf Hall and couldn't get on with it. I felt sure I'd love it, but no. I'd even bought Bring Up The Bodies to read straight after!

Interesting suggestions though, they're in my amazon baskets!

marlene4boycie Mon 06-Jan-14 20:47:09

I have enjoyed Jonathan Franzen, Karl Ove Knausgaard, and Stuart Nadler (their books smile) recently.

BikeRunSki Mon 06-Jan-14 20:48:01

Iain Banks

The Paris Wife - Paula Mc ? Was excellent.

DoItTooJulia Mon 06-Jan-14 20:48:05

I read Cold Comfort Farm and it was a bit odd. Not unenjoyable, mind.

I've never heard of the Cazalet Chronicles....will be looking into them! I bed the Chalet school and Trebizon growing up and they sound like grown up versions??

EasterHoliday Mon 06-Jan-14 20:50:31

Special topics in calamity physics - Marisha Pessl
all Donna Tartt
everything Maggie O' Farrell or Esther Freud has written.
Evelyn Waugh
F.Scott Fitzgerald

MrsOakenshield Mon 06-Jan-14 20:53:08

no, no I wouldn't say that, in fact that comparison would never have occurred to me (I've read them Chalet School and Trebizon). I'm rereading them right now as I got the final one for Christmas (and she died just after Christmas which felt like a weird coincidence).

yegodsandlittlefishes Mon 06-Jan-14 20:56:53

Haha, I hated Cold Comfort Farm because I was given it as a joke while in a phase of loving the likes of Precious Bane and Silas Marner.

I've been reading Josephine Tey books and have found them to be a refreshing alternative to Agatha Christie. Have just started reading An Expert in Murder by Nicola Upson which is very clever and thoroughly readable. It has Josephine Tey as the main character, and it was well worth reading some of Tey's books first. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of Upson's books too now.

DoItTooJulia Mon 06-Jan-14 21:04:03

I'd love to reread the Chalet school (and Trebizon)!

MrsOakenshield Mon 06-Jan-14 21:07:48

I have nearly all the Chalet School books and to be honest, once you get past them shifting to Wales they become incredibly formulaic and the girls are the dullest bunch of goodytwoshoes you could ever wish for.

Oh, I loved CCF and Rufus Sewell was perfectly cast as the slutty Seth. I'd tumble is his hayloft without a second thought.

MrsEricBana Mon 06-Jan-14 21:15:45

Lionel Shriver - in descending order We Need to Talk About Kevin; So Much for That; The Post Birthday World
Donna Tartt - The Goldfinch; The Secret History
Kate Atkinson - Life After Life
The Road - Cormac McCarthy
Half of a Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

Ghanagirl Mon 06-Jan-14 21:18:59

Zadie smith

YesAnastasia Mon 06-Jan-14 21:25:51

I have a kindle (and a wish list) full of stuff I believe to be in this category.

I like to read the recommendations in The Sunday Times, that always gives me ideas.

These look interesting (to me at least...)

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

The Infatuations by Javier Marías

Under Your Skin by Sabine Durrant

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson & The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman are also 99p atm - I'm so glad I looked on my wish list now!!

Tell us what you go for smile

I couldn't deal with Wolf hall either, but Place of Greater Safety is one of my favourite books, so would still recommend it.

For non-fiction, how about Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London? A great read and totally relevant for today's world too.

highlandcoo Tue 07-Jan-14 09:50:53

Yy to Ann Patchett. If you like Barbara Kingsolver I'm sure you would enjoy her writing. Especially recommend Bel Canto and State of Wonder.

I've recently rediscovered Steinbeck and thought Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden were fantastic reads.

I don't think anyone's mentioned Rose Tremain? The Colour, Music and Silence and Restoration are all excellent. (Merivel, the sequel to Restoration, is now out but I haven't read it yet).

magimedi Tue 07-Jan-14 10:01:08

The Map of Love - Ahdaf Souief

Any Angela Huth - Wives of the Fishermen is my fave

Jewel in The Crown Quartet - Paul Scott

The Museum of Innocence - Orhan Pamuk

Sea of Poppies - Amitav Gosh

tumbletumble Tue 07-Jan-14 10:21:31

Many of the ones I'd recommend have been mentioned already (Maggie O'Farell, Anne Tyler, Penelope Lively, I Capture the Castle, Wolf Hall).

I also love Sarah Moss and Joanna Trollope (although she may be a bit too close to chick lit for you). Jojo Moyes ditto.

Have you ever tried Nancy Mitford? Fab.

How about Ian McEwan (Atonement and Sweet Tooth are my favourites), Khaled Hosseini or The Book Thief?

In 2013 I really enjoyed The Night Circus and Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (a lot funnier than I expected).

For non fiction, I like Bill Bryson and recently enjoyed The Worst Journey in the World.

CQ Tue 07-Jan-14 10:33:31

Some great suggestions here, you mentioned upthread that you'd look at non-fiction & historical too.

My Dear, I wanted to Tell you is a great wartime novel, can't remember the author. It was recommended on MN ages ago and I loved it. Bereft when I finished it.

I love reading tales of people's amazing achievements, so I'm currently engrossed in Ranulph Fiennes' autobiog, Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know. That man has done SO MUCH in his life, I wasn't even aware of half of it.

Also have on my 'to-read' pile The Last Fighting Tommy by Harry Patch. V relevant with the WW1 centenary kicking off now.

Schindler's Ark (List) by Thomas Keneally - harrowing and nerve wracking - he trod a brilliantly fine line between playing the Nazi's game and looking after his Jewish workers. I've never seen the film but really want to now.

Loved Bill Bryson's I'm a stranger here myself, about him returning to live in the USA after decades in England. I'd just returned to live here after 11 years abroad, so it really struck a chord with me.

SamU2 Tue 07-Jan-14 14:17:20

Just quickly looking at my goodreads list.. some of these might have already been mentioned.

The Weird Sisters- Elanor Brown
We are Water- Wally Lamb
State of Wonder- Ann Patchett
Rules of Civility - Amor Towles
The Spoils of Time series which was mentioned above about the publishing company by Penny Vincenzi
Necessary lies- Diane Chamberlain
Madame Tussaud- Michelle Moran
Daddy Long Legs- Jean Webster
Alice I have been- Melanie Benjamin
The Paris Wife- Paula Mclain

EasterHoliday Tue 07-Jan-14 14:42:38

yes Dreamingbohemian - Orwell! all of the novels are fantastic and there's some great comedy in Burmese Days / coming up for air.

Crowler Tue 07-Jan-14 15:44:59

OP did you like Tractors in the Ukraine?

Crowler Tue 07-Jan-14 15:45:18

I loved the Paris Wife.

SarahAndFuckTheResolutions Tue 07-Jan-14 17:04:43

I quite liked The Innocents by Francesca Segal, which is a modern day interpretation of The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. It's set in the London Jewish community and it was a good read.

And I would highly recommend A Kind of Intimacy by Jenn Ashworth, it's very good. Annie moves into a new house and becomes more interested than she should be in her neighbours, with some terrible results. If you take just one of my recommendations, make it this one smile

Similar but not quite so good is Kiss Me First by Lottie Moggach. Leila knows everything about Tess, even though they have never met, as she is about to take over her identity.

Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller might also fit the theme, it's well worth a read if you haven't already.

DoItTooJulia Tue 07-Jan-14 18:14:48

Oh my word! Look at all of these responses!

There's plenty for me to trawl through here!

I really enjoyed the Amercan Wife. The Tractor one, not so much. It was ok, but readable!

I love 1984 (hence the bastardised nick name!) but have never read any of his other stuff, so will probably check out the NF one recommended above!

Thanks so much!

Campaspe Tue 07-Jan-14 18:50:10

Another vote for Penelope Lively and SUsan Hill here.

Also Sue Gee.

Campaspe Tue 07-Jan-14 18:50:47

And both of Grace McCleen's novels.

Louise Doughty, particularly Apple Tree Yard. And have you read The Goldfinch by Donna Tart yet? Beautiful writing but easy to read- don't be put off by the length. Do you like Julian Barnes? David Mitchell?

Nonfiction is difficult to recommend as you don't mention your interests but I like popular science and can recommend Gulp by Mary Roach - it's about the alimentary canal, disgusting but hilarious, and the disgustingness isn't gratuitous. Also recommend the Epigenetics Revolution. And if you like cats, A Street Cat Named Bob is not exactly an intellectual heavyweight but is interesting and will make you smile.

Oops sorry you mentioned Julian Barnes in your OP. how about Isabel Losada For Tibet with Love - a nonfiction book suggestion based on your appreciation for Barbara Kingsolver.

Random stuff have read recently:

Oliver Sacks - The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat (really interesting neuropsychology case studies)

New Bill Bryson (if you haven't, just read ALL his books, now!)

Kate Long - sort of above chick lit, well written, evocative of place, Mothers and Daughters was rather poignant

A Million Little Pieces - addiction memoir by James Frey

Ian Macewan is good as serious but eminently readable Booker type fiction

Daphne du Maurier's nice for an indulgent read

Hilary Mantel as above - once you get into the rhythm of Wolf Hall (and the fact EVERYONE is called Thomas!) it's great

Garcia Marquez

Any Khaled Hosseini or whatever he's called - Kite Runners, 1000 Splendid Suns (made me physically sick though) and the new one

DoItTooJulia Tue 07-Jan-14 20:26:49

I thought it was just me with the everyone is called Thomas thing!!!

Non fiction wise, I love a bit of popular science. I think it was Mary Roach's Stiff that I enjoyed, all about what happens to dead bodies.

I like historical science too. Galileo's Letters was good. I also quite like the history of religion and have read extensively about the Prophet Muhammad the beginnings of Christianity in Britain and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Quite an eclectic mix, but basically, I'll read anything if its good!

notnowImreading Tue 07-Jan-14 20:42:44

Oh, I've just thought of Patrick Gale. Try Notes from an Exhibition or A Perfectly Good Man.

Alternatively, Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day is sweet and funny.

MiddleAgeMiddleEngland Tue 07-Jan-14 21:27:42

Penelope Lively, certainly. Margaret Forster is also really good. Keeping the World Away and Shadow Baby are my favourites, I've read them both several times.

John Fowles, Julian Barnes, Alice Thomas Ellis, Iris Murdoch (especially The Bell) would all be worth exploring.

Poppy Adam's The Behaviour of Moths is another favourite.

Happy reading smile

KurriKurri Tue 07-Jan-14 22:00:12

Things I've read fairly recently that fit your criteria :-

This Thing if Darkness - Harry Thompson (brilliant book, I found it fascinating)

The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath

Affinity - Sarah Waters

The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga

The Blue Afternoon - William Boyd

The Thirteenth Tale - Diana Setterfield - real page turner (but was recently on TV so you may have seen it)

doittoo Eleanor rocked didn't she! The BBC4 series on the She Wolves was it if you didn't.

Alfonso1 Wed 08-Jan-14 11:44:30

Natascha Solomons - Mr Rosenblums list and The gallery of vanished husbands

Liane Moriarty - The husbands secret and What Alice forgot

BranchingOut Wed 08-Jan-14 18:32:47

Noting some of these reads for hol next week.

marilynmonroe Wed 08-Jan-14 18:48:28

We read where'd you go Bernadette by Maria semple. V good

Also read silent wife by Asa Harrison

I'm nearly finished the goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Loving it so much I don't want it too end even though its a huge book!

Good behavior by Molly Keane v funny.

Beautiful ruins by Jess Walters. A lovely love story set in America and Italy.

Non fiction

Mitford sisters by Mary Novell

Maggie and me by Damian Barr

Misadventures by Sylvia smith.

littlerach Thu 09-Jan-14 21:31:35

Margaret Forster, Barbara Kingsolver, Anne Tyler, Ann Pratchet, Doris Lessing.

januarysunsetfire Fri 10-Jan-14 22:42:53

Seconding The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry - and Perfect by the same author is very touching.

Lisa Jewell - not all are 'highbrow' but her recent The House We Grew Up In is a real personal favourite of mine.

DuchessofMalfi Sat 11-Jan-14 04:49:52

Has anyone mentioned A M Homes? I'm reading May We Be Forgiven atm. Nearly finished it. It's certainly not chick-lit, but is very readable, very dark and satirical. I'm enjoying it a lot. Very quirky.

ShanghaiDiva Sat 11-Jan-14 05:00:19

Maggie o'farell
Kate Atkinson
Jonathan Coe
Philip hensher
David lodge
Where d'you go Bernadette
May we be forgiven
Cutting for stone
Little bee
Unexpected lessons in love
Marriage material
Big brother

timtam23 Sun 12-Jan-14 23:03:35

Barbara Trapido?
I liked "Sex and Stravinsky" and "Frankie and Stankie"

Eucalyptus - Murray Bail

Trumpet - Jackie Kay
Also, Red Dust Road - the true story of Jackie Kay's journey to find her father in Nigeria

Non-fiction - I have read and re-read all of Dervla Murphy's travel books

wiltingfast Mon 13-Jan-14 21:13:49

Any of the Rabbit books by John Updike?

Have you tried 1Q84? V intruiging, really enjoyed it.

overtheHillsandcomingtostay Tue 14-Jan-14 17:53:14

For me anything by Anita Shreve (left of middle ground!) but
definitely Patrick Gale (in the middle!) and William Trevor (right of middle ground). Definitely agree about Carol Shields esp. The Stone
Very grateful for loads of suggestions: I will try Sue Gee next.

overtheHillsandcomingtostay Tue 14-Jan-14 17:54:48

Oh yes Barbara Trapido - is 'Juggling' ? one of hers?

ItsATIARA Tue 14-Jan-14 18:06:36

Dorothy L Sayers (middlebrow Agatha Christie)
John Le Carre (truly great writer)
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (Susannah Clarke)
Neil Gaiman perhaps?

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