Comfort me with novels
January 28, 2015 8:09 AM   Subscribe

I'm entering a period in my life that's going to be, shall we say, a little challenging. I'm looking for novels that will get me so engrossed that I'll forget everything outside them for a least a little while.

I have a lot going on at the moment, none of it all that good, unfortunately. The last time I was freaking out about life events, one of the only things that really got me through was that I was reading "The Goldfinch" by Donna Tartt. Luckily for me, it was long and took me quite a while to finish, because it was the only thing that could stop me from completely imploding; I would just lose myself in the book.

I'm thinking now would be a good time to find at least two or three (and preferably more) novels that are somewhat similar to "The Goldfinch" in style. To be more specific: I'm looking for novels that have a very strong and engrossing narrative but are well-written, or at least competently written. Examples I can think of, but that I've already read: "Stone's Fall" by Iain Pears; "An Instance of the Fingerpost," also by Iain Pears; "The Bone Clocks" by David Mitchell; "Wolf Hall" and "Bring Up The Bodies" by Hilary Mantel; "The Slap" by Christos Tsiolkas; "David Copperfield." Although a couple of the books I've mentioned are very long, the ones I choose don't have to be, although it would help.

I think certain essays would also work -- not very theoretical essays or the type that muse on some phenomenon, but again, a more narrative type. I'm thinking, say, David Foster Wallace's "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again."

I don't care for mysteries too much, so that probably won't work. In general, I'm not looking for mass-market type fiction like James Patterson or Michael Connelly (not criticizing it, but it won't serve my purposes just now). I guess I'm looking for literary fiction with a strong narrative.

I'll also give some examples of stuff that would be the polar opposite of what I'm looking for: "The Gathering" by Anne Enright; "Out Stealing Horses" by Per Petterson; "The Waves" by Virginia Woolf; "To Wake Again at a Decent Hour" by Joshua Ferris. Although they're all literary fiction, they have basically no narrative but are all about style and tone (IMO, of course).

Thanks, everybody!
posted by holborne to Media & Arts (73 answers total) 169 users marked this as a favorite
You could dig into an epic series like The Lord of the Rings, Dune, or even Harry Potter. Herbert got me through my senior year of high school, Tolkien helped me survive the first trimester of pregnancy, and JK Rowling saved me from my first year teaching.
posted by SamanthaK at 8:20 AM on January 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

Hilary Mantel has written more than the Cromwell books - I just finished Beyond Black, and it was also gripping.

Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy and her other WWI books are also engrossing. (I really like The Century's Daughter, one of her earlier novels, but it's not written in that same "intelligent, engaging but very flowing and not obtrusive" voice that the ones you're referencing are.

I would also recommend Margaret Drabble's novels, especially The Radiant Way and her other mid-period work.

Have you read Bleak House? If you could get into David Copperfield, you can totally get into Bleak House, and it's absolutely fantastic. "Brimstone chattering parrot!" has been a term of abuse at my house for years because I got everyone to read it.

I personally find Doris Lessing's Golden Notebook very gripping, also her creepy dystopian novel Mara and Dan. I like Diary of a Good Neighbor a lot and found it the most moving and personal of her novels, but it is much less epic.

Actually, also, you might find Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace and The Robber Bride suitable.
posted by Frowner at 8:21 AM on January 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

The Crimson Petal and the White.

It's a hefty book, completely engrossing, beautifully written, it's funny and tragic and spirited and vulgar and eloquent. I re-read it over the holidays and liked it even more this time. May be a nice complement to Dickens.
posted by mochapickle at 8:22 AM on January 28, 2015 [6 favorites]

I'm not familiar with the novels you mentioned but Rohinton Mistry's books fit your description of having a very strong and engrossing narrative and being well-written.
posted by beau jackson at 8:22 AM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

A few of my plot-driven favs:
Special Topics in Calamity Physics
Lonesome Dove (ignore the fact that it is a "western" - it is absolutely terrific)
The Adventures of Kaviler and Clay
Empire Falls

For shorter reads, check out the Alex Award winners, which are adult novels picked as crossover teen reads, and tend to be a good combination of easily engrossing/well-written.
posted by susanvance at 8:24 AM on January 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and 1Q84 are pleasurably meaty and pretty engrossing literary fiction.
posted by Quilford at 8:25 AM on January 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey Maturin series got me through very dark times. Luscious writing, terrific evolving characters, humor, and importantly for you, compelling narratives have me coming back for re-reads again and again. Every time I recommend it I get jealous because some lucky cuss is getting to experience the books for the first time.
posted by firstdrop at 8:25 AM on January 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

The Count of Monte Cristo.
posted by HandfulOfDust at 8:26 AM on January 28, 2015 [8 favorites]

I loved The Lonely Polygamist and Empire Falls - I think they fit your criteria.
posted by lyssabee at 8:27 AM on January 28, 2015

This is what Dickens is for. I'd recommend starting with Nicholas Nickleby or Martin Chuzzlewit if you have a good sense of humor, Bleak House, David Copperfield or Great Expectations if you don't. A Tale of Two Cities if you've got a high tolerance for melodrama/ outsize events.
posted by Bardolph at 8:28 AM on January 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

George Eliot's "Middlemarch" holds a special place in my heart for its combination of compelling stories about individuals, broad political/economic trends, and the ways in which residents of a small town exist apart and together. Bonus: the BBC adaptation (perhaps available on Hulu?) is gorgeous and moving.
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:30 AM on January 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

I read ...And the Ladies of the Club years ago but remember so clearly the terrible sense of loss when it was over. I LOVED those ladies.

I also always recommend Outlander in this situation. I have read them countless times and am sucked into the world completely every time. They are not as stupid as the description will make you think they are.
posted by something something at 8:32 AM on January 28, 2015 [7 favorites]

1000 years of solitude
east of eden
posted by jander03 at 8:34 AM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis are perfect for this, I think, as is The Doomsday Book, which is set in the same world.
posted by MeghanC at 8:38 AM on January 28, 2015 [7 favorites]

I've been having some mixed luck with Sarah Waters for this purpose. Fingersmith was absolutely perfect and I'd suggest you start there. The Paying Guests did a pretty good job of distracting as well. I keep trying and failing to start The Little Stranger so maybe not that one.

MeghanC's on point about Connie Willis, too.
posted by Stacey at 8:40 AM on January 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

Seconding Beyond Black
I find most Neal Stephenson books (Cryptonomicon, in particular) scratch that itch for me, and they tend to be very long (Anathem takes about 250 pages to warm up, though, so I wouldn't start there if you're not already a fan).
Pretty much any Margaret Atwood would be good too. I love her MaddAddam trilogy.

For essays, I like George Saunder's The Braindead Megaphone (his fiction is great too, but tends to be pretty short).
posted by snaw at 8:41 AM on January 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Seconding the Outlander books - they are smarter than descriptions make them seem, especially if you love period details. The author has a PhD in some biological field and really has an eye for details.

Also Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell might fight the bill.
And/or The Bone Season was terrifically engrossing -- but maybe not your thing if you're averse to dystopian fantasy stuff.
posted by pantarei70 at 8:42 AM on January 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

I think The Book of Strange New Things by Michael Faber would be an excellent choice considering you enjoyed The Bone Clocks.
posted by hazyjane at 8:43 AM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Q by Luther Blissett.
posted by biffa at 8:50 AM on January 28, 2015

Definitely cosigning the East of Eden recommendation. Thoroughly engrossing.
posted by obfuscation at 8:53 AM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. So so good.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:54 AM on January 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

I have found these to be engrossing narrative-strong page-turners in recent months...

- Colum McCann, Let the Great World Spin
- I also found the Atwood MaddAddam books very compelling (particularly the 2nd and 3rd ones)
- Richard Powers, Orfeo (and would also recommend Echo Maker, Generosity, and The Time of Our Singing)
- Michael Chabon, Telegraph Avenue
- Neal Stephenson, Reamde (a real page-turner in contrast with his other more idea-heavy books)
- J. Robert Lennon, Castle (and Familiar as well)
- if you liked The Bone Clocks then you would probably like David Mitchell's earlier books
- maybe also Paul Auster's last book Sunset Park (and maybe also his earlier ones The Brooklyn Follies and Moon Palace, which are much less meta than most of his novels)
posted by aught at 8:55 AM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

I would suggest A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth, and The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst. Both are kind of riffs on 19th-century novels of manner. Absorbing, long, multi-faceted good yarns.
posted by feste at 8:55 AM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver. So good, so engrossing.
Fall on your Knees, by Ann-Marie MacDonald.
posted by sabotagerabbit at 8:58 AM on January 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

Oh, dude, The Line of Beauty is so depressing. But that, and also Hollinghurst's The Swimming Pool Library, which is, I think, a finer novel but on the other hand the manners/non-upper-class-character-at-parties bits in The Line of Beauty are really good.
posted by Frowner at 9:00 AM on January 28, 2015

The Gone-Away World
posted by Ragged Richard at 9:11 AM on January 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Seconding Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. It very much lived in the space you describe, for me.
posted by tchemgrrl at 9:14 AM on January 28, 2015

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, definitely.
Ken Follett -- either his Century trilogy or the two books about building a cathedral. (They're compelling! A bit less literary than the stuff you mentioned, except Tsiolkas.)
posted by jeather at 9:22 AM on January 28, 2015

I suggest this book a lot: A Song for Arbonne, by Guy Gavriel Kay. It's fantasy-ish, and gorgeously written.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:27 AM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seconding Poisonwood Bible, which was the only book that I've ever reread immediately upon finishing.

Also, I just finished The Orphan Master's Son, it's very long and very engrossing. One of the best books I've read in a long time. Good luck with your challenging situation.
posted by Gusaroo at 9:32 AM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

I don't know if you've read Tartt's other novels other than The Goldfinch, but they are in the vein of what you're looking for. I loved The Little Friend, and people rave about The Secret History, which I have not read.

If you liked Mantel you might also enjoy the Shardlake series by C J Sansom, also set in Tudor England, and definitely fitting your criteria.

I found Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell overwritten and mindnumbingly tedious, in no way a book to lose oneself in. Stick to real Victorians if their schtick floats your boat.
posted by mymbleth at 9:32 AM on January 28, 2015

The Balkan Trilogy by Olivia Manning might fit the bill. It's a very detailed, evenly-paced narrative about a cast of characters in the British ex-pat community in Bucharest at the start of WWII. To me it has the comforting qualities of being engrossing without necessarily being challenging, i.e., your whole worldview won't be rocked by what happens. Sounds like you don't need that right now. :-) Like you I adored The Goldfinch, and while I wouldn't exactly say the stories are similar, I did engage with them in the same manner, for the long haul.
posted by Otter_Handler at 9:36 AM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Books I couldn't put down:
Life After Life
The Magicians
Never Let Me Go
Geek Love

Seconding Dickens, and Middlemarch, but for Eliot the one I can't let go of is The Mill on the Floss.
posted by Mchelly at 9:39 AM on January 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

Forgot to mention The Quincunx. If you like Dickens, you'll like this one.
posted by Gusaroo at 9:41 AM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seconding Harry Potter. If you like fantasy, start on Tamora Pierce's Tortall universe, which I did when I moved and wanted to keep my mind occupied, and have something to read for a few weeks/months. It's young adult, but it's first and foremost feminist fantasy and while the writing is still developping in the first few books, I have grown to really care for the characters. It's so nice to have familiar names popping up all over the series, it feels like meeting old friends.

There's also a Japanese genre called iyashi bungaku or soothing literature, with authors like Banana Yoshimoto. I recommend Kitchen, which is available in English.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 9:49 AM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

ALong the lines of the Aubrey-Maturin rec above, which I second without reservation, is Naomi Novik's Temeraire series, which is also a napoleonic war epic but with dragons. I realize you did not mention anything about fantasy series but I recommend this to all humans who know how to read because it is glorious.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:54 AM on January 28, 2015

Rather than the endless Harry Potter recommendations, how about the other Potter series?

AS Byatt's beautiful books about Frederica Potter and her life are superb: The Virgin In the Garden, Still Life, Babel Tower and A Whistling Woman. Stand-alone Byatt books are the real gems, though. Possession is the stand-out among all her books, but I also loved The Children's Book.

Seconding Atwood & the MaddAddam books. Literary speculative fiction doesn't come much better than them - although China Mieville's Embasssytown comes close. There's a twinge of David Mitchell to it which I found interesting.

Also thumbs up for Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (you might also really, really like Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy) and the Kavalier & Clay and Pat Barker + Sarah Waters love.
posted by kariebookish at 9:59 AM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seeing your question on the main page, my first thought was The Goldfinch and The Bone Clocks. But I see you have already had the pleasure of reading those books!

I recommend Donna Tartt's The Secret History. Also Stephen King's 11/22/63. I don't love everything that Stephen King has written, but I really enjoyed 11/22/63.

You might also enjoy Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I liked it a lot, although I thought it had a tiny bit of a chick-lit vibe. Finally, I found An Untamed State, by Roxane Gay, to be completely engrossing, although it is dark and disturbing.
posted by merejane at 10:00 AM on January 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Previously: "I am a bit picky about my books - they absolutely must be well-written, and in this particularly, addictive."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 10:21 AM on January 28, 2015

This is a great thread!

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert reminds me somewhat of the Goldfinch.

Forever Amber, published in 1944, is a ROLLICKING good read and like 900 pages long. It's about a young village woman who runs off with a nobleman, get pregnant, gets dumped, ends up in prison, works as a prostitute, becomes an actress, and basically experiences the entirety of late Elizabethan society from the very bottom all the way up to being the king's mistress. It was both the best-selling and most-banned book of the 1940s.

The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B by Sandra Gulland is the first book in a trilogy about Josephine Bonaparte's life. First of all her life was CRAZY and secondly it's really engrossing. My mother stole the second book out of my hands.

The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold (high fantasy, not SF) I just finished a re-read of and holds up so well.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:29 AM on January 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think we might have fairly similar taste based on the books you've listed. I love Murakami as "escape from real life" reading. I think Kafka on the Shore is a nice starting point. I buried myself in 1Q84 for a month after a breakup. It's good beautiful absorbing writing.
posted by chatongriffes at 10:30 AM on January 28, 2015

Lucky Us by Amy Bloom
posted by kmr at 10:47 AM on January 28, 2015

I really surprised myself by liking A Visit From the Goon Squad. It's a novel told as interconnected short story segments, but the interconnectivity really works in a way that I've seen other writers fail at, so it's never gimmicky except for maybe in the (short) last segment. Very human characters over a big time span. The Margaret Atwood Maddadam trilogy (Oryx and Crake, In the Year of the Flood, Maddadam) is definitely gripping and there's a lot of it.

Seconding Bleak House but I really liked Our Mutual Friend too, so that tells you all about me and long books. Though I really thought 1Q84 was weak on the narrative, I'd recommend any other Murakami over it (Hardboiled Wonderland at the End of the World is my favorite, but The Wild Sheep Chase/Dance Dance Dance go together and I actually felt uplifted at the end, which is unusual for me and Murakami books).
posted by theweasel at 10:51 AM on January 28, 2015

If you're into fantasy (not wizards-and-dragons fantasy; more subtle than that) I would very highly recommend Jacqueline Carey's "Kushiel" series. It begins with "Kushiel's Dart." Each book is 700-900 pages long, and the story was, to me, absolutely 100% engrossing. She draws very heavily upon history, and especially world religions, to create her story. The first book is sort of a really long introduction to the rest of the series; it's good on its own, but it pales in comparison to the rest of the books.
posted by Urban Winter at 10:56 AM on January 28, 2015

The Eight by Katherine Neville
posted by fingers_of_fire at 11:13 AM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Cryptonomicon, mentioned above, is not for everyone, but if you're one of the people who like it, it would be outrageously perfect for your needs. My tastes line up with yours pretty well, and I also agree with the recs for the MaddAddam series and other Atwood, and other Mantel (her book on the French Revolution, A Place of Greater Safety, is another long one you can really sink into). Also consider Sacred Games, by Vikram Chandra, which I've read and loved a couple of times and is nice and long.

For essays, I too am a big fan of Wallace, and I really enjoyed The Undertaking, Life Studies from the Dismal Trade, and Chuck Palahniuk's book of essays, Stranger than Fiction, which I like much better than his novels.
posted by janey47 at 11:40 AM on January 28, 2015

I know exactly what you mean about The Goldfinch, and I have been trying to find books that evoke that same feeling as well. The Bone Clocks did the trick for me but I see you have already read it. Here are a few books I've also found very engrossing, though they are very different from The Goldfinch in subject matter and writing style:

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling
Nobody's Fool by Richard Russo
The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

And I enthusiastically second all the recommendations for Atwood's MaddAddam trilogy. I liked The Year of the Flood (the middle book) the best, but if you're so inclined, do read all three. I think TYOTF can function perfectly well as a standalone, though.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:53 AM on January 28, 2015

I'm going to nth Donna Tartt's other books -- I just finished The Little Friend and was a little wary going in, as I'd heard it's not that great, but I think it holds up just as well as The Secret History and The Goldfinch. I'd also suggest Gone With The Wind, if you've never read it. I didn't read it until a few years ago and was SO SAD when I was done with it. It's one of those books that feels like it's going to go on forever and then suddenly (1000 pages later!) you find yourself wondering how it ended so quickly.
posted by jabes at 12:40 PM on January 28, 2015

Seconding Rohinton Mistry, my favorite book by him is A Fine Balance.
posted by amf at 12:44 PM on January 28, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks so much for all the great answers, everyone! I actually have a few of the books you all recommended on my bookshelves at home (my husband is a book editor and book blogger, so we get a fair amount of free stuff). I've also read some of the suggestions here (e.g. Alias Grace, The Line of Beauty, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle), and they're all spot on.

Haven't marked this as answered because I hope to get more suggestions!
posted by holborne at 12:47 PM on January 28, 2015

Oh and Sometimes a Great Notion
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Both of which are beautifully written, but depending on your mood, might be a bit sad.

Also, Wilbur Smith's novels of ancient Egypt which include River God. I fell deep into this series while on a long sailing trip.
posted by Gusaroo at 1:39 PM on January 28, 2015

I loved The Goldfinch and The Line of Beauty, too. So now I'm guessing you may have already read my recommendations, but just in case:

Any of the Robertson Davies trilogies...Cornish, Deptford, or Salterton
Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Yiddish Policeman's Union
I, Claudius, Robert Graves
Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections, Freedom
If you like Dickens, you might like Trollope...
Another vote for the Aubrey/Maturin novels, too.

Finally, though it doesn't fit the "plot" requirement, the next books after The Goldfinch that I read obsessively were Karl Ove Knausgard's My Struggle, Vol. I and II.
posted by hiker U. at 3:01 PM on January 28, 2015

Man I love book threads!

Some additional that I haven't seen mentioned that I really enjoyed and fit the bill:
* The Keep is another novel by Jennifer Egan (I would recommend all of her novels).
* The Golem and the Jinni and The Night Circus are both literary novels with fantastical, romantic aspects
* Station Eleven is probably the least depressing post-apocalyptic novel I've ever read.
posted by prex at 3:20 PM on January 28, 2015

The Secret History, absolutely. A strangely similar book is A Fatal Inversion by Barbara Vine-- who is also Ruth Rendell. If you don't care for mysteries, you probably want to stay away from most Rendells, but several of the Vines are really just novels in which there is some sort of crime, and they are very engrossing.
posted by BibiRose at 5:32 PM on January 28, 2015

Came here to second Kate Atkinson. Life After Life is what you want.
posted by sideofwry at 5:51 PM on January 28, 2015

I recommend Islandia by Austin Tappan Wright. Never read anything else like it.

Also, The Catch Trap by Marion Zimmer Bradley is completely different from any of her other work.
posted by Altomentis at 6:39 PM on January 28, 2015

Hi. I would go for the following:

The Discovery of Heaven. This is a great novel by Harry Mulisch. It's got physics, metaphysics, sex, religion and fantasy —all in one.
The Procedure. Also by Harry Mulisch. I found it easy to get lost in this little novel.
I agree with previous comments that classics such as Lord of the Rings are a great way to loose yourself in a story.
The Catcher in the Rye always makes me smile.

Hope you have a good time.
posted by gaston.garcia at 7:28 PM on January 28, 2015

Paul Scott's Raj Quartet about the British in India in waning days of the Empire

Philip Pullman's wonderfully written fantasy trilogy: His Dark Materials

Seconding Trollope--particularly the Palliser series and The Way We Live Now
posted by vicambulist at 10:57 PM on January 28, 2015

Also Norman Rush's Mating and Lian Hearn's series Tales of the Otori which is set in feudal Japan.
posted by vicambulist at 11:11 PM on January 28, 2015

I loved The Elegance of the Hedgehog and Water For Elephants for just good-old light reading. Also Dakota by Martha Grimes.

The Stephanie Plum books are a kick - they're by Janet Evanovich and there are a whole bunch of them. Fun stuff - will make you laugh out loud.

Speaking of which, some of us adore Terry Pratchett's books - have you read any of his Discworld series? Again, there are loads of 'em and they're all outstanding.

I liked the Harry Potter books, love Tolkien beyond all measure.

But what you want is the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini. There are four books, each of which is about 800 pages long, and once you begin, you won't be able to put them down. When you finish, you'll have a little spot inside you that's always warm and makes you feel good when you go there.

And I too LOVE the book threads!

May you be very happily distracted for as long as you need to be.
posted by aryma at 12:11 AM on January 29, 2015

Can't believe I forgot The Name of The Wind and The Wise Man's Fear - absolutely sucks you in, the only problem is there's still no sign of the third book in the series coming out and ithe waiting is maddening.
posted by Mchelly at 3:32 AM on January 29, 2015

I see that nobody has recommended Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra! A fat sprawling utterly engrossing cop-versus-gangster epic set in a very noir-feeling Mumbai. How can you lose?
posted by mylittlepoppet at 9:18 AM on January 29, 2015

Another older one that was spectacular:
At Play in the Fields of the Lord
posted by Gusaroo at 10:52 AM on January 29, 2015

James Michener, The Source
Ken Follett, Pillars of the Earth
both did this for me in the same Donna Tartt way.
I also find anything Ann Patchett wants to write supremely engaging and wonderful.
posted by loolie at 12:24 PM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Some of Donald Westlake's novels might be just the ticket. He has written many mysteries, but he also writes non-mystery fiction. Two of my favorites are Kahawa and High Adventure. I wish I had not already read them, and could look forward now to reading them for the first time!
posted by merejane at 1:45 PM on January 29, 2015

Possibly Little, Big by John Crowley?
posted by kristi at 9:40 AM on January 30, 2015

Oh! On non-preview, seconding Colum McCann, Let the Great World Spin, and also adding McCann's Trans Atlantic.
posted by kristi at 9:41 AM on January 30, 2015

I was never able to get all the way through Sacred Games, but I keep meaning to try again, and it's 1000 pages long, so if you get into it, nice and long to keep you occupied. I need to do something with the glossary section so it's easier to flip back and forth, and I think that will do the trick.

Don't know if you've ever read much Robertson Davies, but I love that he wrote in trilogies, so you get to keep going with the characters. I'd say do them in this order:

The Deptford Trilogy (the most famous, and very rich with saints, carnivals, and Jungian analysis)
The Cornish Trilogy (the one I think I actually enjoyed even more, because of its focus on art and academia)
The Salterton Trilogy (the lightest, but really fun and focused on amateur Shakespeare theater and a young opera singer)

I personally could never get through Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell but maybe you can. Nice and long. I preferred the Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman.

In that kind of mood, I also like to go on a tear through one of any number of prolific mystery writers. Not too heavy, but fun and engrossing when you find a good one. I can recommend a few if you want to go that way.
posted by gateau at 10:09 AM on January 30, 2015

How about Umberto Eco? I couldn't really get in to his later ones, but I loved The Name of the Rose and Foucault's Pendulum.
posted by rjs at 1:10 PM on February 1, 2015

You can't get bigger and engrossier than The Pillars Of The Earth.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:57 PM on February 1, 2015

+1 Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
+1 Secret History

Would add:
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
Bel Canto by Ann Pratchett
posted by noonday at 10:39 AM on February 3, 2015

I would add to the earlier poster who recommended several Doris Lessing novels,
Four Gated City is the fifth in a pentology, a big book covering the post- WWII period to the late 1960's , mostly London and England. For me, it is fascinating and insightful, on so many issues, including schizophrenia and mental illness, Bristish society and classes, and so much more. I've read it many times. It stands on it's own, well, though I have gone back to the earlier novels, Martha Quest and a proper marriage, several times too. I would want to take breaks if I read all five, but YMMV.
posted by judybxxx at 2:35 PM on February 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Just wanted to come back one more time and thank everyone for all the great suggestions. I'm not marking any best answers because this is going to be an ongoing project, but I will say I started "The Little Friend" (it was one of the ones I had on my bookshelves) and it's doing the trick nicely. Thanks again!
posted by holborne at 8:32 AM on February 6, 2015

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