1. Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath (1963)
Famous writer and poet Plath’s only novel, it is often seen as a roman à clef (French for “novel with a key”, a novel about real life, overlaid with a façade of fiction) with the protagonist’s painful battle with mental illness paralleling Plath’s own experiences of severe depression.
2. Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger (1951)
3. Spider, Patrick McGrath (1990)
A compelling read, with haunting prose, Spider is the story of Dennis Cleg, and draws you into his psychotic and paranoid visions and memories of the world unremittingly. Made into an excellent film with Ralph Fiennes and Miranda Richardson.
4. Regeneration, Pat Barker (1991)
Part of a fantastic trilogy on the First World War, the novel is inspired by the real-life experiences of army officers being treated for shell hock and PTSD at Craiglockhart Was Hospital in Edinburgh, and features poets Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves and Wilfred Owen.
5. Affinity, Sarah Waters (1999)
One of my favourite novels to date, the protagonist’s voice so clearly articulates how it feels to be powerless and battling with yourself.
6. About a Boy, Nick Hornby (1998)
Best known as a film released in 2002, About a Boy not only includes the character Fiona, struggling with her own demons, but also Clive, Marcus’ father, questioning the meaning of life, and a whole host of characters questioning their place in the world.
7. Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffinger
Not only deals with grief, but also features a character whose OCD is so severe that life has become intolerable.
8. The Illustrated Mum, Jacqueline Wilson (1999)
Although she writes children’s books – like all good authors for the genre – that doesn’t mean Wilson’s books lack gritty realism, tackling a wide range of issues (also see Girls Under Pressure for a fantastic exploration of eating disorders). In this story it is Dolphin’s life with her bipolar mum, Marigold, which we follow, including her traumatic breakdown and hospitalisation.
9. Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky (1999)
Depicting battles with suicide, schizophrenia and adolescent sexuality, this was also adapted into a successful film with Chbosky as director in 2012.
10. Hamlet, William Shakespeare (1601)
Cheating slightly, as this is a play not a novel, but since it includes the most famous of all literary and psychological questions I thought it needed to join the list. To be or not to be, that is the question.