Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy (1895). Hardy’s protagonists are souls ahead of their time, who dare to aspire and love in defiance of Victorian class structure and social mores. In this bleak but moving novel, class barriers stymie Jude, a self-educated stonemason and would-be scholar, while convention damns his lover Sue, a pagan protofeminist.
Kaputt by Curzio Malaparte (1944). Troubled by corruption in Rome, Malaparte embraced fascism as a young man. He soon wised up, and his Italian newspaper reports on the eastern front during World War II led the fascists and Nazis to imprison him.
Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886). A coming-of-age story filled with high adventure and Scottish history, this is the story of David Balfour, an orphan sent in 1751 to live with his greedy uncle. To steal David’s inheritance, his uncle has him kidnapped and taken aboard a ship to America to be sold into slavery. David and another captive escape the ship.
King Lear by William Shakespeare (1605). Considered one of Shakespeare’s four “core tragedies”—with Hamlet, Othello, and Macbeth—King Lear commences with Lear, having achieved great age but little wisdom, dividing his kingdom among his three daughters in return for their proclamations of love for him.
Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset (1920–22). The Norwegian author’s vast trilogy depicts its eponymous heroine’s life: Kristin’s impetuous union with a dangerously unstable suitor; her arduous marriage and motherhood, endangered by her husband’s political activities; and the willed serenity of her later years, when her youthful folly yields to a commitment to spiritual growth.
La Bête Humaine (The Beast Within) by Émile Zola (1890). The seventeenth novel in the Rougon-Macquart series, is one of Zola's most violent and explicit works.
La Flor de Lis by Elena Poniatowska (1988).
Appreciation ofElena Poniatowska’s La Flor de Lis by Sandra Cisneros
Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges (1964). Simultaneously philosophical and nightmarish, this collection of short stories, parables, and essays popularized both Latin American magic realism as well as metafiction.
Lanark: A Life in Four Books by Alasdair Gray (1981). In the maverick Scottish author’s testy allegory, four (eccentrically illustrated) “books,” which are presented nonsequentially, trace the lives of two protagonists who are a single frustrated artist. Grim naturalism depicts Glaswegian painter Duncan Thaw’s losing battles with public indifference and chronic illness.
Last Exit to Brooklyn byHubert Selby, Jr. (1957). This stylistically uncompromising and innovative, gritty and notorious novel is a famously bleak, foul-mouthed and frank collection of six linked stories set in the violent neighbourhoods of Brooklyn. Selby brings out the dope addicts, hoodlums, prostitutes, workers, and thieves brawling in the borough’s back alleys of Brooklyn.