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100 of the best classic poems in English, at your fingertips for easy reference and reciting. Sometimes, there are special occasions where we'd love to have a commemorative video file to remind us of that particular event or happy day. SKIA is a unique social app that automatically detects people that have attended the same event as you.
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I play my own quiet game of Humiliation every time another a€?100 best books of all time evera€™, a€?10 best books this yeara€™, a€?the must-reads of the summera€™ article appears.
100 titles later and a€“ full Humiliation disclosure here a€“ I counted 18 that Ia€™d never even heard of. The central issue I have with it is the relationship between the title a€?Greatest Novelsa€™ versus the content of the list, which is full of wonderfully personal favourites and some really splendid oddities that I will add to my a€?To Reada€™ list.
On the Irish side, I might argue for the raw vitality of The Dark to represent John McGahern over the smoother, more polished (but undeniably brilliant) Amongst Women. I saw this over the weekend and thought it was terrific, if a little weighted towards the middle decades of the 20th century.
The author seems determined not to be swayed by modern culture a€“ you suspect it would have made his life easier had he included A Game of Thrones. Ita€™s difficult to argue over a list such as this too much, particularly when ita€™s been written by one person rather than a committee. For me though, the greatest omission is The Three Musketeers a€“ still the greatest and most joyful narrative of all! Lists are so ten a penny these days that Ia€™m listing over from trying to take them all on board. A chronological approach means that it is very hard to avoid beginning predictably with the big daddies. Still and all, my list would not include Wodehouse, however successfully he rehabilitated himself from his wartime attachments. Impossible to go wrong with the likes of Moby-Dick, Middlemarch and Ulysses, but the list is a huge success because it has got so much else wrong.
Ita€™s too big a subject; for every writer chosen there are at least three sulking in the background.
One of the good things about this compilation is that, unlike most such taxonomical exercises it doesna€™t simply reflect the tastes and ephemera of the last 10 years.
Given that the novel was disparaged as a a€?female forma€? in its infancy there is a strange paucity of females on the list. Thrilled to see the inclusion of Wilkie Collins, Conan Doyle, Chandler and Hammett as well as Wodehouse, acknowledgment for those of us whose brows are low. I was bitterly disappointed not to see Kurt Vonnegut Jr a€“ Slaughterhouse Five is one of the greatest novels in any language a€“ John Irving or John Fowles cited and surprised at the omissions of Robert Graves (Goodbye to All That or I Claudius would have been worthy contenders), Huxleya€™s Brave New World or almost anything by Ian McEwan and Cormac McCarthy. Are certain canonical writers, who had to be included, actually represented by their best work? Do Max Beerbohm, Patrick White, Elizabeth Taylor, Henry Green, Sylvia Townsend Warner and Frederick Rolfe really merit inclusion on a list of the 100 greatest novels in the English language? Had he not chosen to recognise the genius of Joseph Heller I would have tossed my iPad out the window. Most dismaying for some will be the 4:1 ratio of men to women writers, a position lustily assailed by Rachel Cooke in a Guardian response piece.
As the former publisher at Faber in its 1980s heyday, McCrum is to be commended for only including three Faber classics in Ishiguro, Carey and McGahern.
What is this insane ambition for an absolute conclusion of Amen on 100 Greatest Novels rather than uncovering whata€™s not read or known and might yet be. I did come across this quote yesterday on Nassim Nicholas Taleba€™s website which made me chuckle and seems apt. As Robert McCrum admits in the thoughtful supplementary article he has written about his hundred favourite English-language novels, there will always be something ridiculous about such a list.
From subjectivity to statistics a€“ 21 female authors on the list, 67 novels from the 20th century, with 28 of these from America, nine Irish titles, one female in Elizabeth Bowen. Robert McCruma€™s 100 best novels, selecting English language fiction from 1678 to 2000, must have been a bit of fun to do, knowing there could be a bit of a storm at the close of play. But with one to two million readers online, according to his post-list reflections, thata€™s serious business too. As an Irish reader I cana€™t quibble with Robert McCruma€™s inclusion of Joyce, Beckett, Swift et al. Ia€™d query McCruma€™s John McGahern inclusion, too: The Barracks (1961) is a grittier and more influential book than Amongst Women. I would argue strongly for the inclusion of Brian Moorea€™s exquisitely-observed portrait of Belfast life, The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne (1955).


The a€?100 Besta€¦a€? has been soundly a€“ and rightly a€“ smacked for its paucity of women writers.
I cana€™t argue with the list a€“ he has all the gigantic English-language novels there and a smattering of more out-of-the-way (eg, Hadrian the Seventh) or less-obvious ones (eg, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) which are no doubt treasured personal favourites. McCruma€™s list obviously includes many Irish novelists with Joyce, Bowen and John McGahern happily all included.
I cana€™t get mad at the omissions (although seriously, no Atwood, Edna Oa€™Brien, Achebe or Infinite Jest?) because McCrum is upfront about the lista€™s subjectivity and talks elsewhere about the ones that didna€™t make the cut a€“ ita€™s only 100 out of a pretty big back catalogue in fairness. In an inevitably subjective list of great books, I think the most disappointing omission is McCruma€™s fanaticism. Ita€™s a sad truth that major writers like Chekhov, Frank Oa€™Connor, Mary Lavin, Eudora Welty and countless others miss out when it comes to lists because they focussed on the shorter form. Criticising someonea€™s personal choice of the 100 best English-language novels feels churlish, a bit like going through someonea€™s bookshelves and complaining about their collection.
Proportionally, Irish writers are pretty well-represented, claiming eight of the hundred spots (nine if you count Sterne, who was born and spent his early childhood here), though Ia€™d have liked to see Roddy Doylea€™s vividly hilarious Barrytown Trilogy on the list. As for women, while ita€™s nice to see one Irish woman on the list (Elizabeth Bowen), McCruma€™s fellow Observer columnist Rachel Cooke has already pointed out that just 21 of the list are women, which is particularly odd given that the majority of books are from the 20th century. The first point is that the title is misleading a€“ ita€™s actually the 100 best novelists in the English language, with a single novel chosen from each, a criterion which McCrum admits is somehat ridiculous. Having given him credit for his choice of novelist, his choice of novel sometimes borders on the perverse. Poets include: Lord Byron, Robert Burns, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Shakespeare and many more.
That's 1050 each and every week that you clap eyes on that ugly default homescreen background. If you connect with them, both of your stories will converge together, and the pictures will appear your respective timelines: no need to do anything else. With this application you can enter detailed files of your movies, you can search the film by them by category, title etc..
After installing the application can work offline and does not require an Internet connection. No doubt others will say more coherently what I would say anyway, which in a nutshell is this: Two years to compile the list and in that time he finds just 21 out of 100 that are written by women?
It is such a slight book, so deceptively simple, and so emotionally powerful by the end, yet without manipulation, without show. Also thrilled, as McCrum moves through the decades and centuries, that he rates Louisa Alcotta€™s Little Women (I just love to picture the crusty McCrum curled up under an apple tree, on a hammock, reading this most girly of all novelsa€¦ One wonders when he read it?) Glad to see Elizabeth Taylora€™s Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont, a brilliant novel which I came across quite recently.
As Rachel Cooke has pointed out, only about a quarter of the novels selected are written by women, although the bulk of the list is 20th century (ie lots and lots of women to consider!) The endless prejudices endure. Gaps in my educationa€¦ or entertainment a€“ which I plan to eradicate soon will be filled by Penelope Fitzgeralda€™s Beginning of Spring (her The Blue Flower is generally rated higher, but I trust McCrum on this one), and Anne Tylera€™s Breathing Lessons. Ita€™s a good exercise for a reader, however: identify a hundred, or two hundred, works of fiction that you love.
Yet despite only scoring five (oh alright, four) in the first 10 of Robert McCruma€™s a€?the 100 best novels written in Englisha€™ I kept going, beguiled by a timeline beginning with John Bunyana€™s The Pilgrima€™s Progress in 1678 and ending with Peter Careya€™s True History of the Kelly Gang in 2000.
The idea of a canon, the notion that there are these works of imperishable value, is innately conservative, exclusionary and reductive, so ita€™s no surprise this list is too.
Responses to it will always be partial, claiming that the author has left out your favourite (the swine!) or has made an unforgivable choice. This asks the question of what we want a great novel to be, whether it is formally innovative, stylistically brilliant or speaking to a particular social moment. I could live without Roth and Amis, and instead would have had White Teeth, Middlesex, Kafka On The Shore, A Visit from the Goon Squad, The Gathering and The Line of Beauty. And it may be my northern chauvinism which regrets the absence of Brian Moore: he may not have produced a towering masterpiece, but his extraordinary fertility and range a€“ from close-up portraits of individuals in crisis, to parables of the church in an alternative Ireland, to political thrillers a€“ deserves recognition. I read through it almost wanting to be annoyed by an omission of a favourite, only to find it there.
Even when I see a good one my first reaction is that ita€™s just another case of listing-mania. And I suppose my notion of the novel doesna€™t incline to the bijou, so no Elizabeth Taylor for me. Reading itself is a great game of give and take, after all, even if all youa€™re reading is a list.
Heart of Darkness is one of Conrada€™s weaker works, and Rabbit Redux is the weakest of Updikea€™s four Rabbit novels. We are still in the middle of the Great War and McCrum has exhausted almost half his choices. He could have included James Baldwina€™s Go Tell it on the Mountain, Ralph Ellisona€™s The Invisible Man, Maya Angeloua€™s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings or Alice Walkera€™s The Color Purple.
Literary lists are either innocent a€?parlour gamesa€? or, in the words of one tetchy UK critic, a€?elaborate headstones for a defunct way of thinking about literature.a€? In his introduction to The Guardian Best 100 Novels, Robert McCrum inclines towards the former so ita€™s hard to get too censorious about choices. Ralph Ellisona€™s Invisible Man could certainly replace Theodore Dreiser whom nobody reads, nor should they. It is worth reading that piece before flying off in indignation about what got left out: he explains why he couldna€™t fit everyone on there even if he felt they deserved it, and the reasons are primarily logistical.
Good man), though I confess Ia€™ve never gotten on John McGaherna€™s wavelength, and it hasna€™t been for the lack of trying.
If we got going on whether I thought, say, DeLilloa€™s Underworld is really worthier than Libra, or whether McCrum is right to dismiss Iris Murdoch (born in Ireland too, by the way) because her stuff is a€?contrived and artificiala€™, then wea€™d be here all night. This is particularly true of the Guardian series, with its short and insightful summaries of each book. Rules, boundaries, whoa€™s in and whoa€™s out: ita€™s all very neat, tidy and, at its best when in the flush of bloom, admirable.
And on the subject of glaring omissions, Edna Oa€™Briena€™s The Country Girls (1960) should have been a no-brainer. And Ia€™m sorry, but you really cana€™t have a list of the best novels written in English without JG Farrella€™s peerless Troubles standing proud for 1970. For 1971 he nominates Elizabeth Taylora€™s Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont, which Ia€™ve never heard of, and am going to seek out pronto because it sounds brilliant. It was kind of hard to avoid a€“ juicy clickbait on the Guardian Onlinea€™s Culture home page. If I was to compile my own ita€™d be the same sort of mix a€“ Ia€™d self-indulgently find slots for David Markson or Nathanael West or Alasdair Gray or Bret Easton Ellis or The Little Grey Men by BB.
As an Irish person, I was looking out for Donleavy, Edgeworth and Oa€™Briens Kate and Edna. Robert McCruma€™s 100 best novels list is surprising for the fact that there are no real surprises in it.
If it were my list and lists are if nothing else utterly subjective, I would have included Maria Edgewortha€™s Castle Rackrent which is truly subversive as a novel with its myriad voices and competing perspectives. Owner Rob makes a top five list of records so predictable and conservative that his colleague Barry berates him for obviously hating music. And therea€™s no real point in complaining that this list isna€™t doing what it sets out to do a€“ the headline says a€?besta€™, the byline says a€?greatesta€™ and McCrum elsewhere talks about the definition of a a€?classica€™. This was my first thought, yet I had hardly begun reading the list when I found myself instantly soothed, nodding and commenting, remembering past pleasures and anticipating new ones. I would have included more novels by female writers such as Willa Cathera€™s Death Comes to the Archbishop, The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West and Christina Steada€™s The Man Who Loves Children. Ia€™ve read Robert McCruma€™s selections every week in the Observer over the past two years and, inevitably with such a list, agreed with some, disagreed with others (Ia€™d have chosen Great Expectations over David Copperfield, and A Handful of Dust over Scoop) and was pleasantly surprised by quite a few a€“ it was great to see the hugely underrated Sylvia Townsend Warnera€™s wonderfully strange Lolly Willowes and Anita Loosa€™s irresistibly jazzy Gentlemen Prefer Blondes on the list. What is striking but unsurprising is the comparative lack of both female writers and postwar genre fiction. To me, the most obvious omissions are Elizabeth Gaskella€™s Wives and Daughters, Love in A Cold Climate or The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford, both of which are sad, dark, elegant, and very funny, The Magic Toyshop or Wise Children by the groundbreaking and hugely influential Angela Carter, and Old Filth by Jane Gardam, a writer with a truly unique and irresistible voice.
Scoop rather than Brideshead Revisited or the Sword of Honour, Underworld rather than White Noise, The Rainbow rather than Sons and Lovers, Jude the Obscure rather than Tess of the da€™Urbervilles or the Mayor of Casterbidge, David Copperfield rather than Great Expectations or Bleak House, The True History of the Kelly Gang rather than Illywhacker? However, much as I love some of John McGaherna€™s work, Ia€™m not sure if his novels justify a place on this list. I invited a broad range of Irish writers, academics, critics, publishers and booksellers to have their say. Arguing that it leaves out science fiction, or fantasy, or some rather good Scottish or Irish or Indian or American writers (many of them with ovaries), or writers above or below a certain height (where are the Watusi? I might have selected other novels by certain of the authors, but he restricts himself to one per author, which means some of a€?the besta€? (in my opinion) are necessarily left out. But where is Edna Oa€™Briena€™s The Country Girls, one of the most significant of all Irish novels? I would use that term a€“ beloved books, or favourite books a€“ rather than a€?the besta€?. Even if we agree with the names, it seems to me barmy, for example, to choose Waugha€™s Scoop instead of A Handful of Dust, the book which taught me that Babel wasna€™t joking when he said that a€?no iron can pierce the heart with the force of a period put at just the right placea€?. And is now the time to admit that, despite loving her stories, Ia€™ve never been able to finish a novel by Elizabeth Bowen? Personally I would swap Of Mice and Men for The Grapes of Wrath as ita€™s a tale of simple morality that only Animal Farm comes close to. The classics speak for themselves, though honest to God Ia€™d rather cross the Sahara in a boat than have to face Clarissa again. Instead, Ia€™d make a very strong case for Christina Steada€™s The Man Who Loved Children (1940), an unsparing, overwhelming saga of a familya€?s trail of wreckage.
If anything the last three and a half decades (with 10 citations) may be under-represented. No Edith Nesbitt or JK Rowling despite his praiseworthy nod towards childrena€™s literature.
Yes, you could get worked up about some of them if you had the energy, but broadly speaking ita€™s the sort of canonical list you might expect from a middle-aged Eng Lit journo.
I seem to remember the same debate when Germaine Greer wrote The Obstacle Race on women painters but Cooke has a point with Eudora Welty and Margaret Atwood, both of whose omissions seem perverse. He chooses the wrong Faulkner and Roth too; Sound and the Fury and American Pastoral would have been better picks. That said in his defence, Ia€™m an oddball and Ia€™ve never been told what to read so my reading is eclectic and often accidental.
While this is a list that expresses, despite its definitive-sound title, the preferences of one man (as McCrum admits), it seems to pretty much reinforce what I understand to be the anglophone canon. So Ia€™ll tentatively suggest booting him out and reeling in John Banvillea€™s The Book of Evidence a€“ an intense depiction of consciousness adrift in the void. Plenty of great literature in McCruma€™s 100 a€“ Austena€™s Emma, Steinbecka€™s The Grapes of Wrath, Greenea€™s The End of the Affair, Whartona€™s The Age of Innocence.
South Africa features, but where are the contemporary African authors writing in English, or even the past greats like Chinua Achebe? But there are those of us who have a sneaking preference for blurred edges, and the exuberance of the wildflowers which spring up there. How about Patrick Kavanagha€™s Tarry Flynn (1948) alongside Elizabeth Bowena€™s The Heat of the Day? I made a mental note to read Party Going by Henry Green and The Beginning of Spring by Penelope Fitzgerald, as I hadna€™t paid any attention to them before and was intrigued by McCruma€™s descriptions. And if I was to use McCruma€™s list as a template to tinker with, Ia€™d maybe bump Orwella€™s Nineteen Eighty-Four off for the same authora€™s Keep the Aspidistra Flying. This is very much directed toward the classic work of fiction, or what we used to call the canon. Another inclusion would have been Lady Morgana€™s The Wild Irish Girl which shows that while Austen can focus on the intimacies of the private world of manners, the Irish writer at the same moment in the 19th century is compelled to tell the public story or history of Ireland. Ita€™s funny because Rob loves music and Barry is a belligerent live action internet commenter.


The best thing you can say about Frankenstein could be more impassioned than a€?Mary Shelleya€™s first novel has been hailed as a masterpiece of horror and the macabrea€™.
I ordered Trollopea€™s The Way We Live Now, to add to the teetering bundles of books around my bed.
As for novels by Irish women, Castle Rackrent and The Country Girls would have been very high on my list. Ita€™s as though crime and fantasy writing is okay if ita€™s old enough to have become a€?classica€?, like The Moonstone (one of my favourite books that definitely deserves its place on the list), Frankenstein or The 39 Steps.
And given the fact that only two books ostensibly aimed at children a€“ The Wind in the Willows and Alice in Wonderland a€“ are on the list, I cana€™t help wishing it had also included Edith Nesbita€™s The Story of the Treasure Seekers, which is told by one of the funniest, and most brilliantly written, unreliable narrators in literary history. But given that constraint, and as someone who probably shares many of McCruma€™s predelictions and prejudices, it is hard to argue with 90 per cent of his choices. Ia€™d go for Molloy (and Malone Dies) above Murphy (and would place The Third Policeman ahead of At Swim-Two-Birds), but thata€™s just a matter of opinion; theya€™re all deserving, and good choices.
Such a weird and idiotic convention, to leave out a whole genre of fiction simply on grounds of length! I dona€™t read books because of their authora€™s nationality, yet when an author is Irish, Ia€™m always pleased. When your own paper publishes a pre-emptive rebuttal of your lack of women, it might be time to have a word with yourself about the sort of stories you value. We could all fill a list with our personal pleasures, but we would not all declare them a€?Greatest Novelsa€™.
Closer to home, The Country Girls (Edna Oa€™Brien), Puckoon (Spike Milligan) and The Dark (John McGahern) all eloquently and viscerally contributed so much to how I view the Ireland of a generation ago that I couldna€™t leave them off. Fair dues to him for flying his flag, because he must know that if a€?of the making of books there is no enda€?, there is no end either to the plucking of crows about them. Of course to see the works included is also to be reminded that behind them sits a very strong subs team a€“ Our Mutual Friend, Nostromo, and Ia€™d prefer to be borne on The Wings of the Dove than drown in The Golden Bowl. Ralph Ellisona€™s Invisible Man (1952), still the classic fictional statement of black male experience in America, is my other must. This leaves no room for the likes of Sebastian Faulks (Birdsong), Pat Barker (The Regeneration trilogy) or Hilary Mantel (Wolf Hall).
That said, at times McCrum seems to have chosen books for their status as a€?popular classicsa€™ rather than out of personal conviction.
But then again, Ia€™d have picked Persuasion, East of Eden, The Heart of the Matter and Ethan Frome.
Canada is referenced in the intro but where is Booker winner and multiple nominee Margaret Atwood? How can one really think of a Beckett novel without thinking of his undoubted indebtedness to European writing? Billy Rochea€™s Tumbling Down (1986) as well as Kazuo Ishiguroa€™s An Artist Of The Floating World? Ia€™ve actually gone and stood a couple of times by the Fitzgerald in Hodges Figgis, promising myself that Ia€™ll buy it once I make a bit more headway on my reading backlog. And then Ia€™d feel I was wrong to omit such a world-changing (albeit chivvying and clanking) book as Nineteen Eighty-Four, and Ia€™d stick it back in. He was one of the judges for the only prize Ia€™ve ever won, so I have to say his taste is fine by me! As such it is hard to quibble with choices like the aforementioned Middlemarch or Jane Austena€™s Emma or Mary Shelleya€™s Frankenstein. From the more recent past John Banvillea€™s Doctor Copernicus should be on any list that is concerned with good fiction writing. I dona€™t think this Guardian top 100 indicates a man who hates books or anything, and McCrum is a well-read, thoughtful list-maker. Ia€™d love to see McCrum get stuck in and pick a genre book and argue why hea€™s holding the torch based on personal experience. The most obvious Irish omission is probably Edna Oa€™Briena€™s The Country Girls (a book with at least as much impact and influence as anything by McGahern), but ita€™s his list, and hea€™s an English bloke.
This oversight shows how utterly conventional a€“ to the point of mindlessness a€“ a person even of Robert McCruma€™s intelligence can be. And anyway those who have read A Handful of Dust will know what passage Ia€™m thinking of.) Or to pick Hellera€™s uneven Catch-22 over his masterpiece Something Happened, which takes the novel of suburban malaise and raises it to mesmerising, paranoid heights never since exceeded, and which shows the 13 years of its composition in every line.
Instead then, leta€™s suggest a place for Maeve Brennan (who refused to read Bowen on the grounds that she was Anglo-Irish) a€“ yes, Brennana€™s greatest works are the stories in The Springs of Affection, and her novel The Visitor is more a novella a€“ but if Robert McCrum can make his own rules, then so can I. Equally, Joseph Oa€™Connora€™s Star of the Sea is an incredible piece of writing a€“ and deserves to be thought of as one of the great books of the last 20 years.
Ita€™s a thankless exercise, really, so thanks to him, not only for the candid picture of his own tastes and interests but for licensing a carnival of cavilling, a festival of second-guessing, and a wake for also-rans.
But that applies all down the line, and ita€™s not really a problem because it reminds us of how many wonderful and remarkable novels there are. With all due respect to Doris Lessing, stylistically speaking shea€™s a Fordson Major in comparison to the Ferrari Margaret Atwood.
Maria Edgewortha€™s Castle Rackrent is definitely a candidate in my book, and something of Sheridan Le Fanua€™s would not be amiss, if not Uncle Silas then Carmilla, mother of all vampires.
Robert McCruma€™s most shocking inclusions are Joseph Hellera€™s Catch-22 and Martin Amisa€™s Money, neither of which seems to me to have a word of truth or to be remotely funny (two lacks which are obviously connected).
Neither is Party Going Henry Greena€™s best book, though it is good to see him on the list, something I cana€™t say for the other Greene, merely a competent hack.
Ia€™ve been a fervent fan since I reviewed her first novel, If Morning Ever Comes in 1964 (she herself dislikes the book but it was obvious that here was a wonderful young writer) ; and Penelope Fitzgerald has to be there, although I think the breathtakingThe Blue Flower is her greatest achievement.
His venture does appear to have engaged many readers through the Guardian website discussion.
Where do you start when it comes to the selection and how can something so subjective be viewed as definitive? And Christina Stead, the Australian novelist whose 1940 psychological storm-in-a-household, The Man Who Loved Children, is a must-read. Each of these novels is a master class in great fiction writing, telling individual stories but also capturing the troubling anxieties of the age in which they were written.
The most interesting thing about lists in this age of listicles and quizzes of dubious authority is not that we should love these books, but why we do. Furthermore, my three favourite novels were on the list a€“ Alice in Wonderland, Ulysses, Wuthering Heights a€“ so I was satisfied.
I would exchange At Swim-Two-Birds for The Third Policeman and Mrs Dalloway for To The Lighthouse a€“ a perfect prose poem.
Edith Whartona€™s The Age of Innocence is her best-known novel, partly thanks to the great movie a€“ which drew my attention to Edith Wharton for the first time in my life. Ia€™d rate Evelyn Waugha€™s Decline and Fall as one of the greatest comic novels of all time, and would replace McCruma€™s choice of Scoop with that.
Also, everyone, even Julian Gough, knows that Wodehousea€™s greatest novel is Leave It To Psmith. As an aside, my uncle Des Kenny tackled this subject a number of years ago, writing a book called Kennys Choice: 101 Irish Books You Must Read.
Not just including old friends but bringing to mind absent ones is definitely a pleasure of the list, and ita€™s also a way of refining your own idea of a€?besta€?.
Maybe Nadine Gordimer is stone-faced, but if a€?flashes of brilliancea€? earn Disraeli his place, shea€™s got them to spare. The biggest disappointment here is the absence of JG Farrell; The Siege of Krishnapur is a great novel. For exquisite wit based on truth and compassion, that has managed the difficult feat of remaining funny for nearly a century, Ronald Firbanka€™s The Flower Beneath the Foot should have been there. Happy too, to see the revered John McGahern listed but unhappy not to see Edna Oa€™Brien a€“ The Country Girls, besides being a cracking and funny read, was a profoundly novel novel a€¦ Ia€™d salute Margaret Drabble a€“ The Radiant Way is a brilliant social history disguised as fiction.
If there is a fate of a€?modern classicsa€™ like Moby-Dick or Mrs Dallaway or Ulysses a€“ three of McCruma€™s Top Ten a€“ ita€™ll reside in the most unlikeliest of places, out beyond, god knowa€™s where, when a youngster reads a book and the axis shifts under his or her feet. The other point, of course, is that the publication of the final 100 was timed to coincide with the height of the newspaper silly season, and ita€™s given everyone something to write and talk and feel smug about. McCrum, in commenting on his choices, and acknowledging some of the books that got away and didna€™t make the list, quotes Italo Calvino who suggests that the classic is the book a€?that has never finished what it wants to saya€?.
I would definitely swap Kidnapped for Treasure Island and The Golden Bowl for Turn of the Screw but these are quibbles. But The House of Mirth is the book Ia€™d pick, of her fantastic oeuvre, and several appear on my list of favourite books of all time. Tick a€“ then Ia€™ll plough through to the end, awarding myself a smug point for each book Ia€™ve read.
And as for David Lodge, creator of Humiliation (his mother is half-Irish so Ia€™m playing the granny rule)? He unwittingly made our jobs quite a bit more complicated by picking lots of difficult-to-source and out-of-print masterpieces! Don DeLillo is a terrific writer, but Thomas Pynchon (Norman Mailera€™s stoner son) is a riskier, more rewarding trip.
Another shocking omission is Alice Munro, whose Lives of Girls and Women and The Beggar Maid both qualify as novels and are the most honest evocations of female experience in the twentieth century. Roddy Doyle a€“ The Van or The Snapper a€“ would be a must; so easy to leave him off but he should be on. Or take On the Road a€“ an exhilarating read when youa€™re 17 for sure, but Naked Lunch or The Soft Machine are more radical and inventive novels that could have represented the Beat era. Crime and Punishment, Germinal, The Outsider, Madame Bovary a€“ they all belong in the one world of a€?literary fictiona€™, not just a€?the Anglo-American literary traditiona€™. In analysing many of these classic novels with students it is that quality of openness to reading and rereading which is central to any good work of literature. I think his selection of Thomas Hardya€™s Jude the Obscure is correct, but again, several of Hardya€™s novels deserve a place.
In general those novelists still living are perhaps those most badly served by the list, inevitably I suppose, since there are so many of them. Ia€™m also sorry not to see William Trevor a€“ his Reading Turgenev is a gentle masterpiece . The first is Lolly Willowes, which I read very recently and my disappointment is still fresh. Ia€™d like to see Margaret Drabble, Julian Barnes, Ian McEwan (amazing that he has left out Atonement, and On Chesil Beach) on the list, to mention a few that spring to mind. Ia€™d expected a neglected classic but I found it slight and rather unbelievable or, at least, it didna€™t succeed in allowing me to suspend my disbelief. Anne Bronte is always left out, but Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, if less polished than the novels of her sisters, deserve a place on any list of nineteenth-century novels.
Sharpen my pencil and carefully jot down a yeara€™s worth of reading recommendations from someone who has put time and thought into compiling a selection representing the best of international literature? On the 100 Best, I was, however, very pleased to see another neglected author (although her star is rising) Elizabeth Taylor represented by her perfect, funny Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont. Hey, wait a minute, wherea€™s Eugene McCabe, for heavena€™s sake, Richard Ford, Anthony Powell, Olivia Manning; the stunning, shocking Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison? After Ia€™d read online Ned Kellya€™s own written justification of his actions in the brilliant Jerilderie letter which inspired the novel, Kellya€™s natural demotic poetry made Careya€™s writing seem contrived.
Again I was unable to suspend disbelief with the raw excitement of Kellya€™s own words still racing in my head.



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