AL Kennedy appeared on the Granta best young British novelists lists of 1993 and 2003. The author of uncompromising, stylistically inventive and emotionally charged novels and short stories, her books include So I Am Glad, Everything You Need and On Bullfighting. Her most recent book is Indelible Acts.
"Taking offence at books is a centuries old tradition. This may concern a question of personal taste, political expediency, or a desire to guard the malleable from dreadful things that they might take to. Plato wanted Homer kept from immature readers, Caligula was keen to suppress The Odyssey in case the Greek style freedoms it suggested caught on. What follows is a list of books which trouble, which are awkward, and many of which have offended at some point - although, Lord knows, not one of them leaped into an unwilling reader's hand and forced them to study every line. My aim is not to offend but to illustrate that freedom of the imagination is something we sacrifice only at great risk and that sometimes we may be prepared to resist real evil by meeting its fictional self. So, in no particular order."
1. The Dark by John McGahern
An astonishing study in power, fear, sexuality and religion. Staggeringly well written and heartbreaking in every possible way. Famously banned for a time in Ireland.
2. Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 by Hunter S Thompson
Insanity, obscenity, profanity, illegality and reptilian paranoia - but which is more distressing, HST's lunatic chemical life and Gonzo prose style, or Richard Milhous Nixon and co taking a whole country for a nasty ride? And where, by the way, is the energy of Gonzo now when we need it?
3. That Hideous Strength by CS Lewis
Dreadful title, wonderfully savage book. This fantasy anticipated the postwar decline in British education with ghoulish clarity. No fauns and witches (they're banned in some US schools, by the way), only very adult evil, moral weakness and the kind of unremitting justice that unsettles the soul.
4. Sergeant Getulio by Joao Ubaldo Ribeiro
A stunningly written, unflinching journey with a man we should find appalling. And the sergeant does indeed horrify, but also emerges as terribly familiar, a monster we can feel under our skin. Not for the fainthearted, but worth it - a lovely, angry, truthful book.
5. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Great for a kneejerk banning, even today. A different monster here, in paedophile Humbert Humbert, but one who is equally unnerving and, ultimately, just as close at hand. A faultlessly crafted work without prurience and with considerable knowledge of human nature. Also rather more use than a lynch mob on the lookout for paediatricians.
6. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Lambasted when it came out as irredeemably perverse and, I quote, as practically "French".
7. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
This appears consistently on the American Library Association's list of "most frequently challenged books". Apparently the fact that it evokes the dreadfully disinterested havoc of war is offensive, rather than necessary. It also uses bad words and black humour, unforgivable in time of war, and employs phrases like "The gun made a ripping sound like the opening of the fly of God Almighty." Dear me.
8. The Confidence Man by Herman Melville
A rarely appreciated masterpiece by a writer pushing the boundaries of his craft. It's also subtly and very deeply alarming in its examination of personality, compromise and evil.
9. Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes
Placed on the Index in Madrid for the sentence "Works of charity negligently performed are of no worth." Justifiably a classic of world literature and one a remarkable number of people have never actually read.
10. The Beach at Falesa/ The Ebb Tide/ Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by RL Stevenson
They're all published together in at least one edition. Mr Hyde, of course, didn't fit with the image of everyone's favourite children's author and the two late stories didn't appear unedited until long after the author's death; implying, as they did, that the British Empire might not have been an entirely altruistic enterprise. For burning moral certainty and deep understanding of human frailty and hypocrisy, see all the above. For an additional savage attack on economic violence, abuse of power and the insanity of capital, The Ebb Tide can't be beaten.