Feeling listless … Novels

Yes, I know, I haven’t had much time to post lately. So what do you do when you want to put something up, but don’t really have the time to write a considered essay? Or even an unconsidered one? Easy – you compile a list.

Yes, yes, I know … lists are boring and pointless, and no matter how long you make your list of your favourite things, there’s always something you wouldn’t want to be without that you have to leave out.  But nonetheless, a list does give some indication of one’s personal taste. And, let’s face it, we love ’em, really!

So, without further apology, here’s a list of my Top 10 novels – with a warning that more Top 10 lists may follow during periods when I am a bit too busy to write proper posts.

The novels are listed in chronological order. For novels I have read in only in translation, I list also the translator – or, in cases where I have read more than one translation (as I tend to do with my favourite foreign language works), the translation I enjoyed most.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Bleak House by Charles Dickens

L’Education Sentimentale by Gustave Flaubert (translated by Robert Baldick, revised by Geoffrey Wall)

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (translated by Rosemary Edmonds)

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (translated by David McDuff)

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Ulysses by James Joyce

Light in August by William Faulkner

Joseph and his Brothers by Thomas Mann (translated by John E. Woods)

Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman (translated by Robert Chandler)

What – no Don Quixote?  No 18th century novels? No Roxana or Tom Jones or Clarissa or Tristram Shandy? No Middlemarch? No Henry James or Edith Wharton or Joseph Conrad or Franz Kafka? That’s always the way with lists, isn’t it? …

(I hope to return to proper posting this weekend.)





11 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Carolyn Deverson on September 15, 2011 at 10:55 pm

    Well, I certainly like a list, Himadri. And I sympathise with not being able to write full posts – I never know how you can, working full time and with a family. I find it difficult myself often, even though I am mostly at home. It takes quite a bit of energy as well as thought, I find.

    But just yesterday someone pointed me to the World Book Night list of 100 books and I thought I might add my choices. http://www.worldbooknight.org/your-books/the-wbn-interactive-top-100-books

    I’m pleased you said “top books” and not favourites or best. Off the very quick top of my head I will say:

    Catch-22 Joseph Heller
    Bleak House Dickens
    Vanity Fair Thackeray
    Bel Canto Ann Patchett
    Half of a Yellow Sun Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie
    Great Expectations Dickens
    Birdsong Sebastian Faulks
    The Remains of the Day Ishiguro Kazuo
    Possession: a Romance AS Byatt
    Black Swan Green David Mitchell

    (Some non-fiction books would actually make my top ten, but I have excluded them.
    And not Anna K of which I still have four pages to go, but isn’t my very favourite top book. And I haven’t read lots of classics, old or modern. Even Great Expectations is put there less from my knowledge of it than my anticipation, though I have read it many years ago.)

    Cheers, Caro.


    • Hello Caro, it would be impossible to pick the “10 Greatest Novels”: while some are certainly better than others, literature is not a competitive sport where different works can be ranked on an objective basis. By “Top 10”, I mean simply the novels that mean most to me.

      I have also restricted myself to not more than one book per author. Otherwise, I’d have included first & foremost “War & Peace” and “Anna Karenina”, and only then started thinking about the other eight.


  2. Posted by Robert on September 16, 2011 at 12:53 am

    I have just realised that you have cracked a funny – so you are listless but then proceed to supply one! I like it!!
    I have contacted perchorinsjournal with that query of yours on the identity of the narrator of Swann’s Way. I would have asked Emma but she hasn’t a detailed review on SW. The enthusiasm for Proust on wordpress is wonderful and I am revelling in the comments of others.


  3. Posted by Erika W. on September 16, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    I am putting together a list of great, or at least good, books I have never managed to finish–are you interested?


    • Hello Erika, I do usually finish what I’ve started (I’m not sure why!) but if I were to compile a list of “Books I Haven’t Read that any Educated and Cultured Person *Should* Have Read”, I really wouldn’t know where to start!


      • Where to start – just periodize. I am pleased to see how out of date that list is now.

        The list is an honorable and beloved space-filler. The reason to ration them is the same reason to not have ice cream as dinner every night. Maybe not the exact same reason.

      • I’ll have to do a similar “humiliation” list. But of course, one could easily turn this to one’s advantage: –

        “I am so ashamed to admit I haven’t read the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi. Can you imagine? – reputedly the finest masterpiece of Persian poetry, and I haven’t yet read it? And – I’m really ashamed to admit this – but, somehow, I never got round to Finnegans Wake… And of the great Icelandic sagas, Njal’s Saga has always eluded me for some reason … And while I’ve long been a fan of Chrétien de Troyes, I never quite got the hang of Wolfram von Eschenbach…”

      • You haven’t read the Shahnameh? Well, I haven’t even read The Conference of the Birds!

        I think this is how one is supposed to play the Humiliation game.

        It’s an enormous exercise in erudite egoism, isn’t it? And therefore, fun.

  4. Indeed, it’s great fun, but far from being humiliating, this game becomes a form of self-aggrandisement, don’t you think? Behind the self-flagellation for not having read the Shahnameh is an implied self-congratulation for having read other Persian poets!

    (In reality, I haven’t read any Persian poetry at all!)

    Oh well – I’m certainly not above a bit of self-aggrandisement … 😉


  5. Posted by Erika W. on September 18, 2011 at 9:44 pm

    I go one rung further down–I have never heard of Ferdowsi.


    • I am afraid my knowledge of Persian poetry does not extend beyond merely knowing a few names! For those who know about it, Persian poetry is among the great peaks of literary achievement, and it is a salutary reminder to me of how little I know about literature that my expertise in this area amounts to no more than vaguely remembering a few names – Ferdowsi, Rumi, Hafeez, Kabir … and, er, that’s about it, really!


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