Studying English at Queens: Top 5 Texts


A sample of literature explored at university. Photo Source:

Niamh Wallace, Lifestyle Editor.

The fact that the 3 years of my English degree are almost over is terrifying and also sort of sad. I will miss being able to sit and read for hours on end and call it “work”. Maybe I will feel more like lamenting over it once assignments are finished. Sometimes this required reading has been quite enjoyable, and sometimes it has been quite frankly painful. This course really is a broad introduction to what is out there, and odds are you are not going to like all of it. I found myself way more interested in both Gothic literature and contemporary Irish fiction; but one more novel about the Victorians and I was going to scream. We get it, they were pale, rich and emotionally repressed. Anyway, here are my top 5 books from the past 3 years of reading non-stop.

5. Lanark by Alasdair Grey (Contemporary Irish and Scottish Fiction, Stage 3)

This book freaked me out in all the best ways. I loved this module all round, but this book gave me a great introduction to it. Lanark is written in four-parts, oddly beginning with part three. It tells the story of Lanark, a man who doesn’t know his past and arrives in this postmodern surrealist dystopia (a thinly veiled Glasgow) where there is no sunlight and everything is a bit weird. It also tells the story of Duncan Thaw, an emotionally confused art student who is suggested to be Lanark before his death. It critiques capitalism, explores postmodernism and is all round filled with strange and poignant imagery (like a giant mouth that swallows him into the ground). Weird and wonderful, 10/10.

4. A Cold Spring by Elizabeth Bishop (Stevens and Bishop, Stage 3)

I’m not normally a huge poetry fan but I loved studying the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop this semester. Devoid of pretension and superficiality, her earthy nature poetry inspired the likes of Seamus Heaney and deals with issues across the poetic spectrum. Poems such as Insomnia, The Prodigal and The Shampoo are most famous from this collection and her writing is so lovely and self-reflective, you can’t not love her. Also 10/10.

3. The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber (Televising the Victorians, Stage 3)

Okay I know this is technically about Victorians but hear me out. This book is amazing and deals with the gritty underbelly of Victorian society, following a

Church Lane prostitute called Sugar as she rises through society and her interactions with Agnes, an upper class woman suffering with mental health issues. It deals with issues of womanhood in Victorian society and has a really interesting narrative style that will get you hooked, 10/10.

2. Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh (Contemporary Irish and Scottish, Stage 3)

Getting the chance to study this cult-favourite book academically was a pleasure, even if the Scottish dialect was difficult to understand at times. Chances are you’ve seen the movie or at least heard about some of the horrific things that happen in it. The novel follows a group of friends in Edinburgh, Renton, Spud, Sick Boy and Begbie, and showcases the highs and lows of drug subculture (remember the infamous toilet scene). It is comedic at times and devastating at others, and explores what it means to be autonomous under capitalism. Would recommend 10/10.

1. Breakfast on Pluto by Patrick McCabe (Contemporary Irish and Scottish, Stage 3).

We love an Irish author! Patrick McCabe also wrote the Butcher Boy and never fails to truly tear into our society and critique our social landscape at any cost. Breakfast on Pluto follows Patrick (or Pussy) Braden, a trans-woman from a fictional border town in Ireland blinded by the glamour of American culture and obsessed with finding her birth mother. It chronicles her ferocious attempt to protect her identity amidst the upheaval and trauma of the Troubles. This novel is refreshing in so many ways, and offers an alternative point of view to the hyper masculine war-like narratives that usually document the Troubles (similar to Milkman). The movie stars Cillian Murphy rocking red lipstick and flares, a must watch and a must read, 10/10.

Going to miss Junction breaks in the PFC, never remembering which room my class is in despite being there several times and walking around campus thinking how pretty Queen’s is. I won’t miss the McClay though.

Published by The Gown Queen's University Belfast

The Gown has provided respected, quality and independent student journalism from Queen's University, Belfast since its 1955 foundation, by Dr. Richard Herman. Having had an illustrious line of journalists and writers for almost 70 years, that proud history is extremely important to us. The Gown is consistent in its quest to seek and develop the talents of aspiring student writers.

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