Throughout the history of print, some fiction and non-fiction books have become the subjects of major controversies and various debates. Whether it is sexuality, religion, politics or something more mundane, banned books come in their plenty and have equally fallen into the hands of censorship. Interestingly however, many of the novels found in banned book lists also feature heavily on lists such as The Guardian’s ‘The 100 Best Novels’, highlighting the importance and popularity of supposedly dangerous books.
With that in mind, here is a selection of some of our favorite banned books:
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
First published in 1955 by a pornographic press in France, Lolita quickly gained attention for its controversial content. The novel became banned in France, England, Argentina, New Zealand and South Africa, with French officials noting it as “obscene”, while the editor of the Sunday Express called it “the filthiest book I have ever read”. Lolita follows the story of Humbert Humbert, a scholar and romantic who’s love and lust for “nymphets” namely pubescent Dolores “Lolita” Haze, leads him to obsession and the unforgivable act of murder.
It’s often studied at school, and although many condemn it for its subject matter, it’s actually a great read. It’s a good introduction into an unreliable narrator. Available here
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Burgess’s nightmare vision of the future is illustrated through the eyes of A Clockwork Orange’s central character Alex, a violent Beethoven-loving brute who is eloquent in Nadsat and leads his gang of “droogs” on a rampage of vicious exploits.
This brilliant but sinister novel opens with the “ultra-violence” undertaken by the discontented youth and settles on Alex’s subsequent incarceration and the experimental behavior modification therapy inflicted upon him by the authorities. At its core, the dystopian novel explores corruptions of state power while debating the ideas surrounding free will and human responsibility. Available here
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Nobel Prize laureate Toni Morrison published her award-winning novel Beloved in 1987. The novel is a powerful and heartbreaking recount of slavery and race relations in post-civil war nineteenth century America.
In depicting a tale of love, haunting, death and motherhood, Morrison has composed a spellbinding novel ripe with bitter poetry and suspense. Beloved has been challenged numerous times by school boards in the U.S for its depictions of graphic violence and sexual references. Available here
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Plath’s only novel is a shocking and intensely emotional account of its protagonist Esther Greenwood who slowly deteriorates and falls into the grips of insanity. This semi-autobiographical novel channels deeply into the darkest and most harrowing recesses of the human mind to explore one character’s struggle of developing a mature identity as a woman while rejecting prescribed societal norms. The Bell Jar is regarded as a founding text of Anglo-American feminism. Available here
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Set in future America where an anti-feminist dictatorship rules, Atwood portrays a new world where women lead a life of submission and sexual servitude. It’s a seriously interesting novel about femininity, the future and what could happen. The novel was challenged for it’s sexual explicitly and its anti-Christian sentiments. Available here.
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