My first choice here is The Life of Pi. It should be obvious that the story of Pi and Richard Parker cannot possibly be true. A boy in a boat with a Bengal tiger, obviously it could not happen. But the skill of Martel’s writing means that you are completely drawn into the situation. You never doubt it for a moment and in fact, if you are like me, you want to believe in the story that Pi spins even when you know the truth.
As this is a story about faith and belief, it is fitting that belief wins over the rational, logical version of events. For me, before this book, I never really understood the impulse towards religion but this book suggested how it was a solace in difficult times and how it helped people cope with terrible events. I wouldn’t say that I am now religious but I at least understand why you might be.
My second choice is The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks. This is a disturbing book with one of the most unsympathetic narrators I think I have ever come across. This is a bildungsroman like no other, although you could say it follows in the tradition of books such as The Catcher in the Rye and A Clockwork Orange. The violence is gruesomely inventive and unlike anything else I have ever read. Even the horrors of the book could not prepare me for the ending. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t read it but it is cruel, humurous and wonderfully inventive. It puts the rest of the story in another light.