The Big Jubilee Read

Big Jubilee Read

To celebrate the Platinum Jubilee, The Big Jubilee Read gathers together ten works of fiction for every decade of the Queen’s record-breaking reign. BBC Arts and The Reading Agency have announced the titles for The Big Jubilee Read, celebrating authors from across the Commonwealth to coincide with Her Majesty The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. The books were chosen by an expert panel of librarians, booksellers and literature specialists from a ‘readers’ choice’ longlist.

Seventy books might seem like a lot to tackle before the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Central Weekend  (2nd – 5th June), or even this year, so we’ve selected fourteen books from exceptional women that we’ll be reading from The Big Jubilee Read.

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

A good place to start, one of the BBC’s ‘100 Novels that Shaped the World’, Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys was first published in 1966. Set against the lush backdrop of 1830s Jamaica, Jean Rhys’s powerful, haunting masterpiece was inspired by her fascination with the first Mrs Rochester, the mad wife in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.

The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch

First published in 1978 and described as one of Murdoch’s most moving and powerful novels. It follows the story of Charles Arrowby, a man of the theatre, to whom illusions (and delusions) are more important than reality.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

An instant classic, first published in 1985, The Handmaid’s Tale follows Offred’s story, a handmaid in the Republic of Gilead, a religious totalitarian state. She has only one function: to breed. A dystopian novel with a critically acclaimed TV adaptation, this is a fantastic and chilling story.

The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields

First published in 1993,The Stone Diaries is an ordinary woman’s story of her journey through life. A subtle but affective portrait of an everywoman reflecting on an unconventional life, this multi-award-winning story deals with everyday issues of existence with an extraordinary vibrancy and irresistible flair.

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Set in Kerala in both the present and 1969, The God of Small Things tells the compelling tale of fraternal twins Rahel and Estha, whose lives are shattered by the ‘Love Laws’ that dictate who should be loved and how much. A powerful story of forbidden cross-caste love and what a community will do to protect the old ways. First published in 1997.

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

The international bestseller, first published in 2000, is a modern classic of multicultural Britain. Set against London’s racial and cultural tapestry, venturing across the former empire and into the past as it barrels toward the future, White Teeth revels in the ecstatic hodgepodge of modern life, embracing the comedy of daily existence.

Small Island by Andrea Levy

Winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2004

Published in 2004 and told in four voices, Small Island is a courageous novel of tender emotion and sparkling wit, of crossings taken and passages lost, of shattering compassion and of reckless optimism in the face of insurmountable barriers.

The Secret River by Kate Grenville

In 1806 William Thornhill, an illiterate English bargeman, steals a load of wood and, as a part of his lenient sentence, is deported, along with his beloved wife, Sal, to the New South Wales colony in what would become Australia. Here they fall in love with their small, exotic corner of the new world. Thus begins the first novel in the Thornhill Family series, first published in 2005.

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Epic, ambitious and triumphantly realised, Half of a Yellow Sun is a remarkable novel about moral responsibility, about the end of colonialism, about ethnic allegiances, about class and race – and the ways in which love can complicate them all. First published in 2006, winner of the Women’s Prize in 2007 and crowned your ‘winner of winners’ in 2021.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

In 2010 Hilary Mantel began her Thomas Cromwell trilogy, breathing life into a familiar yet distant period of English history. England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Enter Thomas Cromwell: a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people, and implacable in his ambition.

The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna

In contemporary Sierra Leone, a devastating civil war has left an entire populace with secrets to keep. A work of breathtaking writing and rare wisdom, The Memory of Love seamlessly weaves together two generations of African life to create a story of loss, absolution, and the indelible effects of the past.

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

2013 – Richly evoking a mid-nineteenth-century world of shipping, banking, and gold rush boom and bust, The Luminaries is a brilliantly constructed, fiendishly clever ghost story and a gripping page-turner that won the Man Booker Prize in 2013.

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

From Newcastle to Cornwall, from the birth of the twentieth century to the teens of the twenty-first, Girl, Woman, Other follows a cast of twelve characters on their personal journeys through this country and the last hundred years.

How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee

Singapore, 1942. As Japanese troops sweep down Malaysia and into Singapore, a village is ransacked, leaving only two survivors and one tiny child. In the year 2000, twelve-year-old Kevin is sitting beside his ailing grandmother when he overhears a mumbled confession. He sets out to discover the truth, wherever it might lead, setting in motion a chain of events he never could have foreseen.

Don’t worry if you’re already in the middle of reading the Women’s Prize shortlist, this list will be here to revisit whenever you have time. Happy reading!

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