Tuesday, February 8, 2011

My Favourite Novels

A lot of my friends ask for my favourite novels - and I often ask them too.

So here are some from my list:
  • Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien. I have read this at least half a dozen times. Some people criticise its meandering antiquated style, but I think it makes it all the more rich. It's all about recreating myth. The unusual focus on language provides an original context and transforms myth into a layered novel.
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Another novel I've read multiple times. A brilliant work.
  • Middlesex by Eugenides. I may be culturally biased here - but this is a masterpiece and in my opinion the western version of One Hundred Years of Solitude - not with regards to magical realism but regarding the scope and nature of the work. I absolutely loved it and I recommend it to everyone.
  • Great Apes by Will Self. Won't be to everyone's taste. But thought it a terrific satire. Self is rich and witty and cynical and ostentatious. And for me personally, Great Apes is delightful. 
  • Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. What a voice! Poetic, fierce. This novel gradually moves into the absurd. It's also outstanding in a cultural sense. 
  • Arthur and George by Julian Barnes. Incredible historical novel. Felt it was let down slightly by some random philosophising late at a funeral, which felt more like the author's thoughts intruding rather than the actual character's rumination (felt a little incredulous). But the novel as a whole is fab. The pace is appropriately varied throughout. Fascinating too. Recommend it to many readers. 
  • Joe Abercrombie's A Little Hatred, The Blade Itself, and Heroes. Few writers are a witty, funny and as entertaining as Joe Abercrombie. His adult grim dark fantasy is loud and exuberant and wonderful. 
  • Freedom and Death by Nikos Kazantzakis. Excellent characters in a well-written and powerful piece. Underated.
  • Power and the Glory by Graham Greene. Many say The Heart of the Matter is Greene's best but my favourite is definitely this one. The whiskey priest is a captivating protagonist in a moving story. Greene was generally a fine writer (The Honorary Consul and The Quiet American are also great reads) but this exceeded my expectations and has long stayed with me. I've probably read more Greene over the years than any other writer.
  • Atonement by Ian McEwan. As an historical novel on its own it is ridiculously strong, but when you add the meta elements it elevates it even higher. 
  • Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. Loved this stark portrayal of urban conformity, and the mistruths and illusions that may be present in relationships. 
  • Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan. The ambiguities in the exploration of AI and humanity make this special. So many AI novels are futuristic, but by setting this under an alternative history during Thatcher's reign, with Turing still living, I felt McEwan was also able to provide a fresh backdrop to what has otherwise become well-trodden ground in sci-fi. 
  • The Fan Man by William Kotzwinkle. Not on many favourite lists but this is by far the funniest book I've read. You need to become accustomised to all the 'mans' at first but once you do it's an absolute delight. A must read. 
  • Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut. Panned by the critics but I loved this disguised autobiographical piece. An excellent insight into a witty mind
  • Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut
  • God Bless You, Mr Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut 
  • The Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin. I love them all - although one thread in the latest novel was disappointingly redundant. But along with Abercrombie, and LOTR, this is the best medieval fantasy I've read. A masterpiece of entertainment and scope - and I can't wait for the next one. Plus the dwarf, Tyrion, is one of my all time favourite fictional characters.The questions are: Will Martin finish it properly (the last TV series was a letdown)? Has the world become too big for him? I can't wait to find out.
  • The Man in the High Castle by PK Dick. A fantastic concept and Dick's best work (although Ubik is also remarkable). His change in narrative voice alone in this piece was unique and something to be admired.
  • A Confederacy of Dunces Rich, satirical and comical. A novel of genius, which deserved the Pulitzer. Tragic that it was published posthumously.
  • The Road by Cormac McArthy A minimalist bleak world, which is made only bleaker by the minimalist prose that accompanies it. A compelling story of survival and the loving bond between a father and son. Easily my favourite of McArthy's works.
  • Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis De Benieres. Just a great lyrical narrative that has it all: romance, comedy, tragedy, love, hope and war.  Although the aged locals do say it depicts the Italian occupation as far more flattering than what was the reality. Hope reading it when I was 17 means that it still holds up. 
  • Macroscope by Piers Anthony. I read this at 13 so my memories and age may have clouded its quality but at the time I was impressed.
  • East of Eden by John Steinbeck. Possibly my all time favourite. An incredible exploration and celebration of the American identity. Epic in scope. Pathos and pothos, humour and brutality, poignant and meaningful. 
  • Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter. Rich, comical and touching. Fevers, a lady of binary pairings, is one of the greatest of all literary characters. And nobody can pull off narrative voice like Carter can. 
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. The voice, a blend of nostalgia and youth, makes this special,. as does the gentle explorative meandering in terms of plot. 
  • Swamplandia! by Karen Russell. Although I wasn't enamoured with every part in terms of plot,  the voice and writing and humour and characterisation and sheer strength at a syntactical level make this a special debut novel. I'm a huge fan and admirer of her short work too. 
  • The Prestige by Christopher Priest. The innovative structure and unreliability of the narrators alone, make this a special novel. 
  • The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga. Deliberately cartoonish satire rather than the usual lyrical poetic beauty we get from Indian writers like Rohinton Mistry, Kiran Desai and Arundhati Roy.This is darkly comical and a real page turner. From the warped point of view of view of a 'half-baked' man, who endeavours to escape from the imposed poverty stricken 'darkness' and enter the 'light'. 
Feel free to comment on the list or add your own too.

6 comments:

  1. If you're not going to put Dostoyesky's The Devils on this list I'm going to get very shouty and sad face INTERROBANG!?
    Best. Novel. Ever

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  2. Lol. I'm yet to read it Heath but will one day. I've only read 'The Brothers Karamazov' and that came very close to being on the list. Great novel.

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  3. Agree with many of these. In terms of Graham Greene, try The End of the Affair and The Comedians. I read about 25 of Greene's novels in the early 2000s and these, along with The Power and the Glory, I found the most compelling. Vonnegut - I liked Timequake too, but his best works are the earlier Slaughterhouse Five and Cat's Cradle, IMO. Confederacy of Dunces should be read by everyone, and your choice of The Man in the High Castle as your favourite PKD is a good one. Try also Martian Time-Slip and Ubik if you haven't read those already. I've written extensively about PKD on my blog at guysalvidge.wordpress.com

    Enjoyed our brief chat at Swancon, by the way. It seems we have similar reading interests, so I look forward to hearing from you again.

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  4. Hi Guy

    Great to hear from you and I like your polished blog, which is swankier than my own. I have no idea what I am doing when blogging and just rant occasionally.

    Nice to see that you have similar reading tastes.

    Regarding your comments:
    • I read a lot of Greene too. Surprisingly, I was disappointed by his well renowned novel, ‘The End of the Affair’ (could be some backlash here). I am looking forward to reading ‘The Comedians’, which is on my all-too-extensive reading list.
    • ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ is fantastic and I suppose I had to make a cut somewhere but I recommend it to a lot of readers. ‘Cat’s Cradle’ is on my own reading list, so it’s great to see you speak so highly of it.
    • ‘Ubik’ is a great work and my 2nd favourite of Dick’s. I have not read ‘Martian Time-Slip’. I’ll now buy a copy.
    • And I agree, ‘A Confederacy of Dunces’ is a must-read.

    I like your latest novel’s title: ‘Yellowcake Springs’. Hope it’s a great success.

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  5. Anthony: thanks for these lists. Why so stingy with the Soviet initials instead of full first names? These writers wrote whole books so the least you can do is give us their names. (And it'd help me to identify those I don't already know.)
    Hope to see you around--best wishes
    Terri-ann

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  6. Because I'm a Lefty at heart, Terri-ann:)
    Anyway, I’ll give you a few full names.

    I don't think that 'Macroscope' will appeal to you - it might not even to me these days but that was written by Piers Anthony.

    William Kotzwinkle wrote the hilarious novel 'The Fan Man'. Apparently 'The Midnight Examiner' and 'Doctor Rat' are also meant to be excellent. WK sells well in the US but doesn't seem to attract a reading audience over here.

    George RR Martin wrote 'The Song of Ice and Fire' novels, of which the first has been made into a TV series starting with 'The Game of Thrones'. It's smashing the ratings over in the US and I suspect that it will soon do the same here. It might not be to your liking. It's a pulpy high fantasy with a real cult following.
    And I know that you know the remainder.

    There's a novella list too and feel free to add some of your own favourites.

    Best wishes

    PS Heard the national park was great.

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