Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (2004). At the dawn of the nineteenth century, two very different magicians emerge to change England's history. In the year 1806, with the Napoleonic Wars raging on land and sea, most people believe magic to be long dead in England—until the reclusive Mr Norrell reveals his powers, and becomes a celebrity overnight.
Joseph Andrews by Henry Fielding (1742). The comic trouble starts when a naive footman rejects the advances of his employer, Lady Booby, and her servant, Slipslop. Cast out, he and the saintly Parson Adams hit England’s rough roads in search of Joseph’s beloved, Fanny Goodwill. Like Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, the world rewards their goodness with violent complication.
JR by William Gaddis (1975). This formally unique, dense, National Book Award–winning novel is composed almost entirely of dialogue and reads like a stream of conversation.
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.