Arlette Gold's Top Ten Autumnal Reads

The long, dark nights of autumn are designed for reading books. Curling up in a corner, wind and rain howling outside a window, with a mug of hot chocolate and a satisfying book is one of the joys of the colder seasons.

Here are our top ten autumnal reads. Do not disturb until May.

The Lessons by Naomi Alderman

This dark tale of student life is set at Oxford University. James is disillusioned by his physics studies, and in thrall to a rich and mercurial co-student. We find out about his group of friends’ life of parties, culture and booze, all set in the a crumbling mansion paid for by the friend's trust fund. When a terrible thing happens after they leave it has an impact that reverberates for years.

Autumn by Ali Smith 

Set in Autumn 2016, this is the first instalment of a seasonal quartet – four stand-alone books. Autumn was written in the aftermath of the UK’s European Union membership referendum – it’s a post-Brexit novel dealing with the thorny issues raised by voters’ decisions. Daniel is 101 and lives in an care home, regularly visited by his former next door neighbour, Elisabeth, who is 32 and looking to the future.  There’s a thread of art that runs through this simmering story that examines mortality and hope. 

Thousand Autumns of Jacob Zoet by David Mitchell

Long-listed for the Man Booker prize 2010 and described by one publisher as “one of the best books ever published”, this is set at the end of the 18th century, on the tiny outpost of Dejima. The island is the Dutch East India Company’s remote trading post in Japan, otherwise closed to the outside world.  This is a love story about a European trader’s love for a Japanese midwife, and an examination of the two, very different, worlds of East and West.

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

This surreal, otherworldly book is the first in the series about the adventures of Peter Grant, a young constable police officer in the Metropolitan Police, who unexpectedly encounters a ghost whilst taking a witness statement in a murder enquiry.  He’s recruited as an apprentice wizard into a small branch of the force set up to deal with the magic and supernatural. Think vampires in Purley, goddesses of the Thames and the lingering dead. 

The Unit, by Ninni Holmqvist

‘I liked The Unit very much. I know you will be riveted, as I was.’ If it’s good enough for Margaret Atwood, it’s good enough for us.  The Unit is a dystopian tale about a society in the future where men and women deemed economically worthless are sent to a retirement community called The Unit. It seems idyllic; apartments set in lush gardens with amazing facilities, gourmet meals, wonderful music and art, and no financial worries. Except for one thing. The residents must donate their organs, one by one… 

The Real Lolita by Sarah Weinman

Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita is one of the most famous novels of all time (if you haven’t read it you’ve seen the film), yet not many know that the novel was inspired by a real-life case; the 1948 abduction of eleven-year-old Sally Horner.  The Real Lolita is a fascinating investigation into the abduction and how it inspired Nabokov’s fiction.

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

From the best-selling author of Big Little Lies, this story is about nine strangers (all characterised beautifully) on a secluded retreat to transform their complex lives. But as well as the secrets they’re keeping from each other, there’s also a sinister secret about the retreat itself. What a pity they’ve had to surrender all their electronic devices. 

Animal: The Autobiography of a Female Body by Sarah Pascoe

“Reader, here is everything I've learned from science about love, sexuality, infidelity, boobs, periods, pubes, broodiness, and clever old fat. Merry Christmas and Hallelujah, suddenly being a woman doesn't look like such a minefield after all.” Comic Sarah Pascoe is hilarious. 

Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny

An old-fashioned, feel-good, easy-to-read story, this tells the tale of  the marriage of Graham and his wife Audra. Audra is chatty, cheerful and popular, Graham uncommunicative, cynical, sarcastic. The live with their Aspergers 10 year old son, Matthew.  We find out about their social life, the parent network, and their marriage – full of temptations and regrets.

Milkman by Anna Burns

This might be hard to penetrate, but it’s so worth it. We follow 18-year-old Middle sister growing up in an unnamed city in Ireland during the Troubles. She is being harassed and stalked by an older man while trying to keep her mother from discovering her maybe-boyfriend.  An examination of how gossip and selective silence can be as dangerous as deliberately making trouble.