100 best English-language novels

Is this really one of the 100 greatest English-language novels?
Is this really one of the 100 greatest English-language novels?

I am a glutton for a good list but I like my lists complete. In The Observer, Robert McCrum has been giving us one a week, which is a really unsatisfactory way of doing it. When you limit yourself to 100 (or any other arbitrary figure) you have to play juggling games, putting this one in and leaving this one out. However, by showing only one a week, it has been difficult to get a sense of what is in and what is out. Yes, we could refer back to past editions of the paper but, as no running count was kept, it is was awkward and, anyway, who could be bothered? It is not as though we have been short of such lists. However, we have finally reached No 100 and, finally we have the complete list. For what it is worth, I think it is a not very good list. The early ones are more or less predictable, though I am not sure that Emma is Austen’s masterpiece nor David Copperfield Dickens’ masterpiece. I am not going to go through his complete list – you can do that and will probably have different ideas from mine but, frankly, Lolly Willowes, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, The Thirty-Nine Steps, Babbit, Tropic of Cancer, The Big Sleep, Wodehouse. I don’t think so. BTW, I have read eighty-four of them but I shall not say which ones I have not read.

This really is one of the 100 greatest English-language novels
This really is one of the 100 greatest English-language novels

Rachel Cooke has condemned his choices, primarily because of the lack of women writers but her proposals are, I feel, worse than McCrum’s – Mollie Panter-Downes’s One Fine Day, Nancy Mitford!! Obooki has also thrown in a few of his own quirky suggestions. Marie Corelli? Aaargh! I won’t add my suggestions but you can see some of them on my website. Ballard, Butts, Byatt, Cather, Ellison, Gaddis, Gerhardie, Pynchon, Zadie Smith, Welty and Henry Williamson are some of the obvious omissions. Weak effort, McCrum, weak effort.

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. The Untranslated

    If have no problems with a list that contains McCrum’s favourite novels in English. But, if it is presented as a list of 100 best novels in English full stop, I can’t take it seriously. And yes, Pynchon should be on any such list. So, nice try, Guardian.

  2. Scott W.

    I’m coming to the McCrum list late, and haven’t yet looked at it, but whatever other failings it may have, I’m quite happy to see Gentlemen Prefer Blondes on it. Off now to check out your list.

    1. tmn

      Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was a fun film and, indeed, a fun book but surely not one of the 100 best?

      1. Scott W.

        George Santayana thought it was the greatest of American novels. James Joyce admired it. It has a sparkling intelligence, magnificent narrator, fiendishly inventive dialogue, and masterfully satirizes a vast swath of American boosterism, chauvinism, and insularity. The film is fun, but relative to the novel, fairly awful.

        I scooted over to have a look at your lists – what a treasure trove! I’ll be exploring those for decades.

        1. tmn

          Mmmm – Santayana and Joyce – maybe I should have a rethink.

  3. stu j allen

    For me it’s a fair list an problem with a list of hundred books is there is maybe three times that could make a list I see since lack of Irish novels has been mentioned but I was pleased see underworld on list an underrated novel

    1. tmn

      Lack of Irish books has been raised but there are quite a few Irish ones. Underworld certainly deserves to be on the list.

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