A selection of recommended Fiction books for anyone on the path to awakening and self-knowledge. These are some of the novels I’ve particularly enjoyed that centre around spiritual themes or the quest for self-knowledge…
Peter Carey – Bliss
Harry Joy recovers from a heart transplant convinced he has died and is now in Hell. He begins to take notes and compare the behaviour of family and friends to when he knew them before he apparently died. Everybody seems to be acting strangely, and him most of all. Is he really dead? Or is he just having the mother of all mid-life crises? The story follows his quest for redemption and love as he comes to terms with the consequences of his past life. Gripping and hilarious.
Anne Cushman – Enlightenment for Idiots
Amanda is a yogini-wannabe who writes ‘For Idiots’ travel guides and has an unreliable boyfriend. She’s nearly thirty and thought she’d be someone by now. When she gets a new assignment to write a guide to the ashrams of India, she’s sure it will change her life. But what she finds isn’t what she expects, and Amanda must accept a big change to the life she had planned. Closely observed, funny and illuminating. A story that makes fun of New Age nonsense while also being wise and moving.
David Guy – Jake Fades: A Novel of Impermanence
Jake is a Zen master who fixes bicycles and teaches meditation out of his shop in Maine. Hank is his long time student, and the aging Jack hopes that Hank will take over teaching for him. But commitment phobic Hank doesn’t feel up to the job, and Jake is starting to show signs of having Alzheimer’s disease. This is a gentle tale about family and change, filled with an assortment of endearing characters in a setting that feels real. It also shows how Zen works in a down-to-earth way. A beautiful book. Full review here.
Patrick Harpur – Mercurius: The Marriage of Heaven and Earth
In a remote house in the country, Eileen becomes obsessed with the research of the previous occupant, the Reverend Smith, when she discovers his manuscript on alchemy. Eileen and Smith appear to be bound across time, and as the story jumps back and forth between them, their lives become increasingly intermingled. Has the Reverend discovered the alchemical secret of the Philosopher’s Stone and attained immortality? Mercurius closely details the alchemical process and asks important questions about the perfectibility of man. An extraordinary novel and unlike anything else I’ve read.
Hermann Hesse – Siddhartha
Siddhartha, son of a Brahmin, finds the Buddha but isn’t content to serve as a simple disciple, so he sets out to find his own destiny. He has many adventures along the way, has a sensual love affair with a beautiful courtesan, is tempted by success and riches, and experiences emotional conflict with his own son, but grows into wisdom and a final renunciation. This is a classic and Hermann Hesse’s greatest novel. A simple and beautiful tale of the search for self-knowledge and enlightenment. You’ve probably read it, but it’s always worth reading it again.
David Kherdian – Monkey: A Journey to the West
This is the story of the adventures of the rogue-trickster Monkey and his encounters with a strange cast of characters as he travels to India with the Buddhist pilgrim Tripitaka in search of sacred scriptures. It’s a profound allegory of the struggle that must by undergone before spiritual transformation is possible. Part spiritual pilgrimage, part historical epic, this folk novel is the most popular of classic Asian literature. Written in the 16th century, this is a masterful retelling that brings the original to life without losing any of its depth. Simply fantastic.
Ben Okri – Astonishing the Gods
The main character in this bewitching tale believes he is invisible. He can’t find himself in any of the history books so sets off to search for the secret of visibility. He finds himself on an enchanted island where all the inhabitants are also invisible. He must learn their ways and struggle to adapt to his new home with its strange laws where everything seems to work backwards. This is a modern fable about the relationship between love, suffering and creativity, and the search for identity. Enigmatic and beautifully written.
Robert M. Pirsig – Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
This isn’t technically fiction, but I include it here because it feels like fiction (if that makes any kind of sense). The narrator sets out on a road trip with his son, but he’s searching for answers to something forgotten and hidden in his past. A philosophical adventure; a ghost story; a man slowly unravelling as he goes mad; a study of the relationship between a father and a son. Make of it what you will. But it’s not about motorcycle maintenance. Or Zen. Full review here.
Jessica Davidson – Addled: Adventures of a Reluctant Mystic
Zoe Popper is a reluctant mystic and has visions at the most inconvenient moments, like when picking up good-looking guys in a bar. Perhaps she’s going crazy. But when a mysterious gentleman offers to become her teacher, she must confront the truth about her past and find out who she really is. This story explores the fine line between mysticism and madness and follows Zoe on her quest to discover the ultimate reality, assisted or hindered by her family and friends.
(Yeah, I know. It’s my book, but why wouldn’t I recommend it?!)
Missed any good ones? Recommend a book in the comments section below…