A Suitable Boy - Vicram Seth
Put on here in faith as I am still reading it (p1025, only 449 pages to go!) but am already convinced it will be a firm favourite (and I didn't want to feel left out! Perhaps we should change the name of this reading group to A Suitable Book?!). Love the sense of place that Seth evokes and the discerning way he describes the Indian identity: religion, caste, geography, history, family etc. Not to mention wonderful character portrayals.
Challenged to tackle it after seeing it sitting on Valerie's shelf.
Middlemarch - George Elliot
I'm not really a 'classics' person but I did love this. Also epic but worth it for the well-meaning but flawed characters it contains. Essentially I saw it as being about marriage (I read it just after getting married myself, which is maybe why I liked it so much); expectations, failures, joys etc. First introduced to it by the BBC adaptation which is superb (and can now be bought on DVD!)
Wild Swans - Jung Chang
A wonderful, factual portrayal of Communist China told through the eyes of four women covering four generations of the one family. A beautiful weaving of history, politics and personalities, as well as a fascinating insight into Chinese culture.
Recommended by my hubby. Her latest novel is a biography of Mao; probably well worth reading but a pretty weighty tome.
Barchester Towers - Anthony Trollope
A must for anyone who has ever had any contact with the Church of England. A very wry, comic portrayal of the Victorian C of E Church set in the fictional county of Barsetshire. Some wonderfully odious characters and some very amusing asides and puns by Trollope.
First heard it as a BBC Radio drama starring Simon Russell-Beal as Mr Slope – wonderful! The prequel, ‘The Warden’, is also well worth a read although a much more subtle tale.
Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver
A fascinating tale of a fictional missionary family in Africa. The father typifies all that was wrong with the traditional, colonial attitude to missionary work and how the remaining members of the family come to terms with his mistakes and re-discover Africa for themselves. Another fascinating look at African culture and the changing fortunes of that continent during the twentieth century.
Recommended by a friend in Oxford.
These are the 'favourites' that spring to mind, although ask me a different day and I will have a different five!