Novels About Appearances | Illusion vs Reality

These novels have characters who find that appearances can’t always be trusted and things aren’t always as they seem.

Sometimes the characters miss this point but it is apparent to the reader.

For novels where the gap between illusion and reality is more related to an abuse of authority or power see Corruption | Hypocrisy

Theme: Appearances or Illusion and Reality

Foreign Affairs | Alison Lurie

Vinnie, a professor of children’s literature is going to London for six months on a grant to study children’s folk-rhymes. On her flight, she meets Chuck, a sanitation engineer who she finds coarse and uneducated. Meanwhile, Fred, an assistant professor at Vinnie’s university, is also in London researching an eighteenth-century writer. While in London, Vinnie and Fred each begin a separate romantic relationship while working and interacting with their social circles.

The Day of the Locust | Nathanael West

Tod Hackett moves to Hollywood and works as an illustrator and set designer. He is planning a painting called “The Burning of Los Angeles.” He lives in the same building as Faye Greener, an aspiring actress who uses her good looks to tease men and make money. Homer is a middle-aged man who falls in love with Faye. Through Faye, Tod meets a motley assortment of unscrupulous and disconnected people.

Surfacing | Margaret Atwood

The narrator is traveling with her married friends, David and Anna, and her boyfriend, Joe, to look for her father. At her family’s cabin, she finds some drawings by her father that cause her to question his sanity. She is also dealing with the mental strain from an abortion she had. Her friends’ marriage is troubled, and her relationship with Joe isn’t warm.

The Age of Innocence | Edith Wharton

Newland Archer is engaged to May Welland. Her cousin Ellen is in town, causing some scandal due to her leaving her husband in Europe. Newland finds her interesting, partly because she flouts society’s conventions.

“In reality they all lived in a kind of hieroglyphic world, where the real thing was never said or done or even thought, but only represented by a set of arbitrary signs;”

Read “The Age of Innocence”

Democracy | Joan Didion

Inez Christian marries Harry Victor, a prominent politician, and supports his career to the detriment of her own goals. At seventeen, she meets Jack Lovett, a CIA operative, and begins a love affair with him.

Body and Soul | Frank Conroy

Claude Rawlings is the young son of a single mother living in New York. The owner of a music store starts teaching Claude after finding he is a natural. Claude is introduced to some of the finer things in life while expanding his musical instruction. His mother, Emma, is under pressure because of some ties to the Communist Party, bringing on some mental problems.

Scoop | Evelyn Waugh

William Boot, a nature columnist, is mistakenly sent to Ishmaelia, East Africa, as a war correspondent.

The Phantom of the Opera | Gaston Leroux

When the directors of an opera house are retiring they turn the place over to new owners, and tell them about the phantom living there and his demands – Box 5 is not to be rented, and he is to be paid 20,000 francs a month. A former understudy, Christine, gives a powerful performance. Raoul, a young man from a prestigious family, is in love with her. The new owners get a letter from the phantom when they ignore his instructions.


Read “The Phantom of the Opera”

The Great Gatsby | F. Scott Fitzgerald

The narrator, Nick Carraway, tells the history of his friend Jay Gatsby. Gatsby is mysterious, has new money, and regularly throws lavish parties at his West Egg mansion.

(On Gatsby’s smile) “It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.”

Read “The Great Gatsby”

Lord of the Flies | William Golding

A plane crashes on a tropical island, killing all the adults. A group of children survive and have to explore the island and find a way to live. When one boy blows a conch shell, they all gather to figure out what they will do and what roles they will play.

Read “Lord of the Flies”

Wise Blood | Flannery O’Connor

Hazel Motes spends four years overseas in the army. After his release he goes back to his hometown in Tennessee with the intention of doing things he has never done. His religious upbringing enters his thoughts, leading him to follow a preacher down the street. When the preacher talks about Jesus, Hazel says he is also a preacher and is going to start The Church Without Christ.

Moby-Dick | Herman Melville

Ishmael signs on to a whaling ship, the Pequod, run by the vengeful Captain Ahab. After they set sail, Ahab stays in his cabin for a few days before showing himself to the crew. He tells them the sole purpose of their mission is to find the whale that cost him his leg on his last trip, Moby-Dick. He offers a reward to the first man who spots the whale. Ahab’s actions become increasingly unsettling.

“Call me Ishmael.”

Read “Moby-Dick”

And Then There Were None (Ten Little Indians) | Agatha Christie

Ten people receive invitations to an isolated island. When they arrive the butler informs them that the owner has been delayed, but they will be well cared for in his absence. After a nice dinner, a voice announces to the group that each of them has been responsible for a death. They proclaim their innocence and become concerned about their host’s intentions.

The Prince | Niccolo Machiavelli

Machiavelli sends his book to Lorenzo de Medici, a member of an Italian ruling family. Its purpose is to teach the most effective ways to rule and stay in power. It covers the various types of principalities and their merits, how to organize an army and keep them loyal and focused, how to deal with subordinates, and encouragement to be vigilant and leave nothing to chance.

“Men will not look at things as they really are, but as they wish them to be—and are ruined.”

Read “The Prince”

Cat’s Eye | Margaret Atwood

Elaine Risley is a successful painter returning to Toronto for a retrospective of her work. She walks around the city preparing for the opening. She has many flashbacks to her schooldays and early adulthood, especially her interactions with three friends, Cordelia, Grace, and Carol. They mistreat Elaine, often criticizing her and physically punishing her for supposed offenses. As she gets older, Elaine returns some of the bad treatment.

Adam Bede | George Eliot

Adam is a carpenter who loves Hetty, a beautiful but vain woman. His brother Seth loves Dinah, a kindly preacher. Arthur Donnithorne is a wealthy, dashing man. When he and Hetty meet, they feel an immediate attraction.

Read “Adam Bede”

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer | Mark Twain

Young Tom is a troublemaker and has an active imagination. Tom and his friend Huck are in the cemetery one night when they witness Injun Joe stab and kill a man.

Read “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”

Memoirs of a Geisha | Arthur Golden

Through interviews, Sayuri, a retired geisha, tells her life story. When she was nine, she was sent to a geisha house to work. She deals with the extensive politics of this life, and tries to pay off the expenses related to her training. She gets separated from her sister at an early age and tries to find her.

Never Let Me Go | Kazuo Ishiguro

Kathy H, thirty-one, tells the story of her life, particularly her time at Hailsham, a private English school. Now she is a “carer” who works with “donors”, but she doesn’t explain what these terms mean. Her friend Tommy had temper tantrums in school and was teased for it. She had an up and down relationship with her other friend Ruth. Tommy and Ruth become a couple in their teens. The students are occasionally visited by Madame, a woman who reacts to them like she might be afraid. The students aren’t told what their role is.

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