"Read a classic novel" is one of the categories in C-SPL's Great Reading Challenge. I decided it was time to read Light in August by William Faulkner, which my son has been urging me to read. So I read it and I'm not sure I'll ever recover.
Light in August may be the grimmest, darkest, most harrowing novel I have ever read. Written in 1932, it examines issues of race, gender, religion, and social class in the American South -- and not in any way that makes you want to re-locate. It's Southern Gothic on steroids. I'm not sure I can recommend it except to say that Faulkner is brilliant, he writes like some higher order of angel (a dark angel, that is), and if you like Cormac McCarthy, you may very well like Faulkner.
If you'd like to check off the Classic Novel box but don't want anything that makes you lose the will to live, here are a few more-upbeat suggestions:
Middlemarch, arguably the greatest novel in the English language,
is George Eliot's masterpiece. The novel examines the lives, struggles,
failures, and redemptions of a fascinating network of characters inhabiting the Midlands town of Middlemarch as the industrial age approaches. Its centerpiece is Dorothea Brooke, a beautiful and intelligent young woman seeking a life of significance at a tough time for women. (George Eliot, by the way, was a woman.) At 800-plus pages, this one is not for the faint of heart but it's worth every minute of the effort.
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, who was Charles Dicken's good friend, is often called the first detective novel in English. The Moonstone's crime is the theft of the Tippoo
diamond after the fall of Seringapatam in India in 1799. The Indian element imbues this very British, very Victorian novel, told by way of letters, with an exotic and sinister atmosphere. There's a great cast of characters and as with all good Victorian reads, romance is definitely in the air (or will be once the villain is identified).
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte, is surely one of the world's most beloved novels. It's one of those classics nobody gripes about having to read. That's because it's got everything: a Gothic atmosphere, an evil orphanage, a clever, bright, unconventional heroine (she's neither gorgeous nor splendidly wealthy), a brooding lord of the manor, a romantic competitor who is lovely and rich, a catastrophic fire, something sinister and creepy in the attic, and more! The intelligent and witty dialogue between Jane, a mere governness, and Mr. Edward Rochester, master of Thornfield Hall, makes for some wonderfully gripping (and, dare I say, romantic?) reading.
~Ann, Adult Services