100 best English Novels, the critics’ choice

A Recent Item from Guardian reads:    link to article

‘What does the rest of the world see as the greatest British novels? In search of a collective critical assessment, BBC Culture contributor Jane Ciabattari polled 82 book critics, from Australia to Zimbabwe – but none from the UK. This list includes no nonfiction, no plays, no narrative or epic poems (no Paradise Lost or Beowulf), no short story collections (no Morte D’Arthur) – novels only, by British authors (which means no James Joyce).’
I have highlighted those that I know I have read although some others I will have seen as television or film productions but then it does not count.

100. The Code of the Woosters (PG Wodehouse, 1938)
99. There but for the (Ali Smith, 2011)
98. Under the Volcano (Malcolm Lowry,1947)
97. The Chronicles of Narnia (CS Lewis, 1949-1954)
96. Memoirs of a Survivor (Doris Lessing, 1974)
95. The Buddha of Suburbia (Hanif Kureishi, 1990)
94. The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (James Hogg, 1824)
93. Lord of the Flies (William Golding, 1954)
92. Cold Comfort Farm (Stella Gibbons, 1932)
91. The Forsyte Saga (John Galsworthy, 1922)
90. The Woman in White (Wilkie Collins, 1859)
89. The Horse’s Mouth (Joyce Cary, 1944)
88. The Death of the Heart (Elizabeth Bowen, 1938)
87. The Old Wives’ Tale (Arnold Bennett,1908)
86. A Legacy (Sybille Bedford, 1956)
85. Regeneration Trilogy (Pat Barker, 1991-1995)
84. Scoop (Evelyn Waugh, 1938)
83. Barchester Towers (Anthony Trollope, 1857)
82. The Patrick Melrose Novels (Edward St Aubyn, 1992-2012)
81. The Jewel in the Crown (Paul Scott, 1966)
80. Excellent Women (Barbara Pym, 1952)
79. His Dark Materials (Philip Pullman, 1995-2000)
78. A House for Mr Biswas (VS Naipaul, 1961)
77. Of Human Bondage (W Somerset Maugham, 1915)
76. Small Island (Andrea Levy, 2004)
75. Women in Love (DH Lawrence, 1920)
74. The Mayor of Casterbridge (Thomas Hardy, 1886)
73. The Blue Flower (Penelope Fitzgerald, 1995)
72. The Heart of the Matter (Graham Greene, 1948)
71. Old Filth (Jane Gardam, 2004)
70. Daniel Deronda (George Eliot, 1876)
69. Nostromo (Joseph Conrad, 1904)
68. A Clockwork Orange (Anthony Burgess, 1962)
67. Crash (JG Ballard 1973)
66. Sense and Sensibility (Jane Austen, 1811)
65. Orlando (Virginia Woolf, 1928)
64. The Way We Live Now (Anthony Trollope, 1875)
63. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Muriel Spark, 1961)
62. Animal Farm (George Orwell, 1945)
61. The Sea, The Sea (Iris Murdoch, 1978)
60. Sons and Lovers (DH Lawrence, 1913)
59. The Line of Beauty (Alan Hollinghurst, 2004)
58. Loving (Henry Green, 1945)
57. Parade’s End (Ford Madox Ford, 1924-1928)
56. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (Jeanette Winterson, 1985)
55. Gulliver’s Travels (Jonathan Swift, 1726)
54. NW (Zadie Smith, 2012)
53. Wide Sargasso Sea (Jean Rhys, 1966)
52. New Grub Street (George Gissing, 1891)
51. Tess of the d’Urbervilles (Thomas Hardy, 1891)
50. A Passage to India (EM Forster, 1924)
49. Possession (AS Byatt, 1990)
48. Lucky Jim (Kingsley Amis, 1954)
47. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (Laurence Sterne, 1759)
46. Midnight’s Children (Salman Rushdie, 1981)
45. The Little Stranger (Sarah Waters, 2009)
44. Wolf Hall (Hilary Mantel, 2009)
43. The Swimming Pool Library (Alan Hollinghurst, 1988)
42. Brighton Rock (Graham Greene, 1938)
41. Dombey and Son (Charles Dickens, 1848)
40. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll, 1865)
39. The Sense of an Ending (Julian Barnes, 2011)
38. The Passion (Jeanette Winterson, 1987)
37. Decline and Fall (Evelyn Waugh, 1928)
36. A Dance to the Music of Time (Anthony Powell, 1951-1975)
35. Remainder (Tom McCarthy, 2005)
34. Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro, 2005)
33. The Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame, 1908)
32. A Room with a View (EM Forster, 1908)
31. The End of the Affair (Graham Greene, 1951)
30. Moll Flanders (Daniel Defoe, 1722)
29. Brick Lane (Monica Ali, 2003)
28. Villette (Charlotte Brontë, 1853)
27. Robinson Crusoe (Daniel Defoe, 1719)
26. The Lord of the Rings (JRR Tolkien, 1954)
25. White Teeth (Zadie Smith, 2000)
24. The Golden Notebook (Doris Lessing, 1962)
23. Jude the Obscure (Thomas Hardy, 1895)
22. The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (Henry Fielding, 1749)
21. Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad, 1899)
20. Persuasion (Jane Austen, 1817)
19. Emma (Jane Austen, 1815)
18. Remains of the Day (Kazuo Ishiguro, 1989)
17. Howards End (EM Forster, 1910)
16. The Waves (Virginia Woolf, 1931)
15. Atonement (Ian McEwan, 2001)
14. Clarissa (Samuel Richardson,1748)
13. The Good Soldier (Ford Madox Ford, 1915)
12. Nineteen Eighty-Four (George Orwell, 1949)
11. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen, 1813)
10. Vanity Fair (William Makepeace Thackeray, 1848)
9. Frankenstein (Mary Shelley, 1818)
8. David Copperfield (Charles Dickens, 1850)
7. Wuthering Heights (Emily Brontë, 1847)
6. Bleak House (Charles Dickens, 1853)
5. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë, 1847)
4. Great Expectations (Charles Dickens, 1861)
3. Mrs. Dalloway (Virginia Woolf, 1925)
2. To the Lighthouse (Virginia Woolf, 1927)
1. Middlemarch (George Eliot, 1874)’

 

If world critics cite these as the top 100 titles  I wonder how I stand on having to admit to reading 26 of them, as highlighted.
How do I rate my score of 26 out of 100?  Is this good or should I relate it to a pass rate score of 42 and so consider myself a failure?
I have said previously that I am a slow reader.  Not a late reader but an avid early-reader who seemed to start by reading every word and never progressed in speed.  My inward response to those with faster, even accelerated reading skills is that I savour the words and characters, enter the story itself and become immersed in the detail.  Simply put, that I enjoy the story more.

Of course it is really a defence against the reality that I have never learned to read faster as I do not have the skill-set or patience to develop it.  Plus I may have been deterred that several people round me have or had this ability and I knew I could not compete when I took two days of hard reading to finish even a short novel while the ‘speedies’ needed less than two hours.  Even worse was that their knowledge of the book would be at the same level as mine.

This probably highlights lack of skill or mental capacity on my part, another recess I have no torch for.

However, looking at the 100 best of English writing my first nod at contrariness is that I thought Joseph Conrad was Polish though likely took English nationality when he retired here after a life at sea.  They point out that Joyce was Irish so not included,  therefor  Scottish and Welsh were excluded too.  Is Conrad an exception to the rule or should I check my memory?

So is this a bucket-list?  Well maybe for the student of English Literature but not for me. I expect it will encourage sales of these established and well published titles throughout the world but don’t let it discourage you from reading their other titles.  Critics around the world cite these as the best 100 but you are your best critic so don’t be railroaded into someone else’s choice.

Okay, so statistically speaking this list of 100 titles, as being the choice by whatever points system was used, could well be considered a serious(ish) result.  Remember it is from a professional’s subjective view.  Apparently if you average out a large number of guesses of how many beans in a jar, that average will be correct or within a whisker of the correct figure.  A true fact than can be carried over into other averaging like polls to the stock exchange etc. The mean of a quantity of guesses is most likely to be correct(ish).

Your view, as a reader is subjective and as personal as any critics so by all means use these 100 as some form of centre-spot in a soccer field but do not lose sight of the whole field around you for out there are horizons you may prefer.  Mixing metaphors may not get me into any critics good books but those critics are there as signposts of their personal tastes, not yours, or mine.

I have read 26 of these 100.  I have read many of their other books and enjoyed them or not.  Do I feel guilty or sad that I may have missed so much?  No, but I will look at some of those gaps and maybe fill them, in my slow and tortoise-like way.  However I will also read my usual fodder of crime, sci-if, historical fiction and good old story-telling.  This latter is possibly may favourite though it ought  to be part of any genre.  I seem to have gone off the action novel as I have got older!  Are these 100 choices leaders in their  sales field, pushing boundaries or stepping on toes when first published, or interesting literature?  Obviously I don’t know without reading them.  Many books doing such things will have been fated to disappear so perhaps luck, publicity, controversy that hits the public emerging interest have their place. As well as word of mouth and critics.

One question that may well stick in my mind in future, is the nationality of the author.  Are they English, Welsh or Scottish?  Trouble is when I go up this little creek I will have to know if they are regional such as Cornish or Tyneside, live in the hills of the Lake District the Levels of Somerset or the temples of Hampstead and Highgate.  And of course I then have to throw away my paddle and let the current take me back to my first loves of reading: anything with a good title, a good story and ideally at least a touch of real-life and humour.

Many of the authors I have read over the years would not bear the ‘English’ standard though one who does,a lasting favourite, would have to be Leslie Thomas.  Of course some of his novels were better than others but he was good on writing an honest book on the strengths and frailties of human nature within a documentable period of events.  A journalist in origins and a storyteller at heart.  For me this is the sign of a good book: am I carried along by the story and characters and is my imagination flooded with a real world?  Simple as that.

Now, where is that paddle and what is the first book on that list?  Middlemarch……but my sister assures me that Virginia Woolf is the best writer..ever..   I have no option, I must go ‘To the Lighthouse’.

 

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