David Levenson/Getty Images

By Charlotte Bronté

Almost everything I know about first-person narration comes from this novel. Its plot lacks the clean lines of Jane Eyre, but this is the richer, more daring achievement. What looks at first like laughably flowery language steadily builds into one of the most extraordinary narrative voices in literature. Lucy Snowe is a lonely young Englishwoman teaching in a provincial Belgian boarding school. What she relates has almost the texture of a diary in its patient attention to the everyday, but seethes with unspoken love— and almost indistinguishable from it, a yearning for a fuller, freer life. The ending is a heartbreaker.

Ishiguro's next pick: Right Ho, Jeeves