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Classics you can read in one sitting (and you'll want to)

Classics don’t have to be weighty tomes. Discover six enduring novels all under 250 pages long.

War and Peace is wonderful but it’s undeniably lengthy. If you’re in the mood for the great writing, timeless characters and emotional pull of a classic but short on time (or space in your bag!) here’s our edit of first-rate novels you can read in one go.

Agnes Grey

by Anne Brontë

Book cover for Agnes Grey

Anne Brontë was the youngest of the six Brontë children and certainly less well-known than her sisters Emily and Charlotte of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre fame. However, Anne’s novel Agnes Grey is an absolute gem – succinct and beautifully observed, she drew on her own experiences to craft the story of Agnes, a governess first to two thoroughly spoilt children and then to the scheming Rosalie, who tries to scupper her chance at love. This is a beautifully crafted book about the gap between the haves and the have nots, and an idealistic young woman navigating the often precarious world of work in the nineteenth century, as well as being a touching love story.

Siddhartha

by Hermann Hesse

Book cover for Siddhartha

This short, fable-like novel was a huge hit in the 1960s – its mystical story and characters, the search for the meaning of life and the Indian setting made it just the book for the emerging counterculture movement.  What those sixties hippies may not have known was that Hermann Hesse was a Nobel Prize-winning writer – no wonder then that his mythical-like book is still a bestseller around the world. It tells the story of Siddhartha, who leaves behind the security of his wealthy family to go in search of spiritual enlightenment and peace. Offering food for thought and a balm for our troubled times, the novel follows Siddhartha as he travels through a rich landscape and meets all different kinds of people, each one contributing to his journey of self-discovery. 

Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands

by Mary Seacole

Book cover for Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands

Jamaican-born Mrs Seacole: what an amazing woman. Everyone should read her rip-roaring account of her astonishing life.  She was an entrepreneur, an adventurer, a healer, a nurse and a businesswoman.  When she was turned down for a nursing role in the Crimea War she was so determined to do her part that she travelled there anyway. She set up her famous hotel for the wounded, providing care, food and respite, and she risked her own life to tend to soldiers on the front. Never one to be knocked back, Mrs Seacole’s action-packed account of her dramatic life is an inspiration to us all.

Diary of a Provincial Lady

by E. M. Delafield

Book cover for Diary of a Provincial Lady

We all know about Bridget Jones, the famous diary-keeper who has us all howling with laughter through the books and films. Well, she owes a lot to E. M. Delafield and her wonderfully witty fictional diary, published in the 1930s, in which our unnamed protagonist charts the ups and downs of her provincial middle class life as a wife and mother. Whilst Bridget worries about her wine intake, her boss and finding true love, our Provincial Lady worries about her unruly children, her less than energetic husband, her snobbish neighbour, Lady Boxe, and having to keep up appearances on an ever-tighter budget. Both books are brilliant at poking fun at just about everything and giving a fabulous female perspective on navigating the world around us. And both have that wonderful sense that something could go wrong at any minute.

The War of the Worlds

by H. G. Wells

Book cover for The War of the Worlds

The first and definitely one of the best ‘man versus machine’ novels ever written, The War of the Worlds has inspired countless other novels, stories and films. The reportage style works brilliantly to deliver an impossibly dramatic story: a gigantic artificial cylinder descends from Mars and lands near London. It throws out murderous rays and the terrifying machines that come out of it destroy everything in their path. An adventure story that has you on the edge of your seat from start to finish – will the planet be destroyed by monsters?!?

The Wind in the Willows

by Kenneth Grahame

Book cover for The Wind in the Willows

Now for something far gentler, Kenneth Grahame’s timeless story of Mole and Rat, who love nothing more than ‘messing about in boats’ on the river they call home. Yes, it’s a book for children, and you’ll remember its much loved characters, like wise Mr Badger and outrageous Mr Toad, from childhood. But curl up with this much-loved classic as an adult and you’ll also realise that it’s not just a terrific story full of adventure, humour and poignancy, it’s also a book in praise of wonderful things: friendship, solidarity and the magical beauty of the English countryside.