A truly great book is more than just a fantastic read; the story stays with you long after the final page has been turned and its prose has the power to change how you look at and view the world. The books we read (or were forced to read, in some cases) as a teen take on a new lease of life upon the second reading as an adult. You’re older, wiser and have begun to write your own life chapters, so each story takes on a deeper meaning. Below are five novels are which are well worth reading again through the eyes of your adult self for their thought-provoking, insightful and often devastating details. Make sure these are on your reading lists.
1. Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood
Atwood’s profound seventh novel sees Elaine, a Canadian painter of some renown who, at 50, has returned to her childhood city of Toronto for a retrospective of her work. A chance meeting with a former friend and eventual tormenter forces her to relieve the often painful, traumatic times of her youth as we learn she has never forgotten her childhood bully. Her world is lonely and, at times, terrifying, more so as an adult reader. This is classic, unmissable Atwood.
2. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
The Bell Jar (published originally under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas in 1963), remains Plath’s only novel and is a dark, yet brilliant read. It centres around protagonist Esther Greenwood, a college student from Massachusetts, who travels to New York to work on a renowned magazine for a month. She feels bleak and unaccomplished and slowly descends into mental illness. Her struggles are hugely relevant in society today, and it’s only through experiencing her story as an adult you can truly grasp the boundaries Plath attempted to break in the sixties. It’s a mesmerising read.
3. Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy
This beloved classic was of its time, but the central themes of friendships and first loves remain relevant at any age. You rooted for Benny and Jack, admired Eve’s loyalty and likely despised scheming Nan, but a more mature eye might view the story slightly differently, or sympathise more with the less-likeable characters for each was trapped in their own way, each wanting to break free of life’s restraints in Ireland at that time. This nostalgic, coming-of-age tale is always worth another read.
4. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
This was American author Eugenides first novel, and it made a lasting impact. It is a book not so much about suicide – although as the title suggests the five teenage Lisbon sisters do kill themselves – but about unrequited love and the unknowable hurt of any action. Our narrators are now middle-aged, and two decades later the exotic sisters still haunt them, as they did in their teenage years. It’s beautifully written, and the haunting theme of loss and wasted youth has twice the impact once read a second time.
5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Jay Gatsby is the enigmatic host of many a grand party who harbours a lustful, dark secret. It’s easy to be drawn into his life of wealth, beauty and luxury the first time around (Gatsby exudes a boyish charm), but as you mature the undercurrents become apparent; all the money in the world can’t give anyone in the story what they truly desire, and the hollowness of the world inhabited by the flamboyant characters is clear; Gatsby is a flawed individual and Daisy remains cold and selfish, and suddenly, their universe looks less enticing.