Reading lists

Must-read debut novels, as chosen by our readers

From historical fiction to horror, iconic classics to contemporary bestsellers, these are the first novels you need to add to your reading list.

collage of book covers

There's something uniquely enticing about a debut novel, so when we asked Penguin readers on social media to tell us about their favourites, we were quickly inundated with recommendations.

From iconic murder mysteries to literary takes on modern Britain, weepy love stories to spine-chilling horror, we’ve rounded up the most popular picks below.

And if you fancy stocking your to-read-pile debut voice from 2024, we have just the selection to suit all tastes – check out our essential edit here.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke (2004)

We said: In her genre-bending, award-winning debut, Susanna Clarke weaves a wonderfully convincing alternate history of Georgian England, imbued with magic.

You said: It’s hard to believe it was her debut. Complex, fantastical historical fiction that reads like a cross between Charlotte Brontë and Harry Potter.

Erin B on Facebook

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (2011)

We said: Author of lockdown favourite A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles’ first novel is a slick, coming-of-age story set in the upper echelons of New York society, 1937.

You said: Every word is perfect. You'll be dying to know what happens and, as soon as you've finished it, you'll go back to the start to revel in the language.

Sarah M on Facebook

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (1997)

We said: A lyrical meditation on growing up amid political turbulence in Kerala, The God of Small Things won the 1997 Booker Prize and transformed Arundhati Roy into a literary sensation.  

You said: A brilliant debut novel. She pretty much created her own language in that book.

@the_perksofbeingareader on Instagram

Carrie by Stephen King (1974)

We said: Known to many as ‘the father of modern horror writing’, King’s macabre novel about a teenage outcast with paranormal powers is as legendary and chilling as the cult slasher film it inspired. 

You said: Narrative brilliance right out of the gate, with so much more to come.

@randall_perry on Instagram

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