Avni Doshi's Top Ten Reads
Avni Doshi is an American novelist based in Dubai. Her first novel, Burnt Sugar—titled Girl in White Cotton in India—was shortlisted for The Booker Prize 2020. She is also the recipient of the Tibor Jones South Asia Prize 2013. Her writing has appeared in Granta and The Sunday Times
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Maple Classics, Rs 195
I read this book in middle school for the first time and immediately wanted to read it again. I picked up on something in Austen’s writing that I couldn’t articulate back then—something sly, sardonic and irresistible.
The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, Wordsworth Classics, Rs 235
I did an independent study about Henry James in high school with an English teacher I adored. Through a close reading of this book, she explained to me that by excavating the mind of his heroine, James had done something revolutionary with his novel. I realized that I found this interiority thrilling to read.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, Penguin Books, Rs 399
Reading Lolita was game-changing for me. It introduced me to the idea of unreliability in a story. I didn’t know a narrator could be both repugnant and persuasive. It was the first time I read a novel where I had to question my reactions and assumptions.
Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill, Vintage Contemporaries, Rs 699
Jenny Offill writes breathtaking sentences. They are clean, sometimes clipped and get to the heart of the matter with emotion and honesty. The style of this novel struck me more than its subject. When I read it, I was inspired by the fragmentary form, by the white space around her words.
The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson, Melville House UK, Rs 999
There’s a kind of bravery in the way Nelson approaches writing. She claims various forms as her own and brings them together in a way that is unexpected and illuminating. In The Argonauts, Nelson marries myth, personal accounts and academic study to suggest that pregnancy can be understood as a queering of the body. This book is radical and beautiful.
Light Years by James Salter, Penguin Modern Classics, Rs 499
This novel was effortless to read, and there is a lightness of touch in Salter’s writing. For me, his books are pure pleasure. I don’t like to think too much when I come to his work—I just let the beauty of his prose wash over me. He is an absolute master.
The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante, Europa editions, Rs 934
I love the Neapolitan Quartet, but this book is remarkable for its brevity and intensity. It’s the story of a woman whose husband leaves her, and Ferrante starts the novel with a masterful first sentence. I read the book in one sitting— it’s tightly composed and meticulously edited.
S.S. Proleterka: A Novel by Fleur Jaeggy, translated by Alistair McEwen, New Directions, Rs 2,876
I was introduced to Jaeggy recently and felt betrayed that no one had led me to her sooner. Her books are short and remarkable. This novella, which tells the story of a young girl on a cruise with her father, weaves in and out of different perspectives and walks a tenuous line between the real and surreal. On a syntactic level, it’s just perfect.
Family Life by Akhil Sharma, Penguin Books, Rs 399
This book haunted me for a while after I read it. Sharma’s writing is economical and determinedly unsentimental. In the mind of the narrator, the everyday is ferocious and the tragic is mundane.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh, Vintage, Rs 650
How do you write an entire novel about sleeping? I wondered this when I opened Moshfegh’s brilliant book. She tells the story of our world through our disengagement with it. This was probably my favourite read in 2019.
—Compiled by Saptak Choudhury
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