Wednesday, July 07, 2010


The 10 Best Novels Ever Written

On my one of my other blogs (The Rime of the Postmodern Mariner) I recently posted a short entry listing the “10 Best Short-Story Collections Ever”. I shouldn’t need to stress that the books on that list are my own personal favourites; and that I make no pretence to any sort of illusory or impractical ‘objectivity’. To my astonishment, that particular blog post turned out to be my most viewed entry ever, simply for the reason that the website HTMLGIANT posted a link to it.

I had never heard of that website before, but it clearly has a lot of devoted readers. After the link was posted, my statcounter went through the roof. I regret that I didn’t post the list on my main blog, which is this one. In a somewhat belated tactical attempt to increase the hits on this blog, I have therefore decided to create another list along similar lines, namely the “10 Best Novels Ever Written”. And so here it is, with a group photo of five of them.

My other motive for creating this new list was to see if it avoided one of the criticisms levelled at my short-story list. That criticism was that my list demonstrated “...a pretty narrow palate... No ladies, no one from Africa, Asia, or the Indian subcontinent, and all lodged in the 20th Century.” It’s a perfectly valid point to make, and I have no real answer to it, other than to say that as a white male European it seems that the products of my own basic culture appeal more strongly to me than all the many alternatives.

That’s nothing to be proud of, but it is the way things are for me, and there’s no point pretending that I am more in tune with (for instance) Chinua Achebe, Lu Xun or Arundhati Roy than I am with Italo Calvino, Donald Barthelme or Stanislaw Lem. And yet there was one Asian writer who nearly made it onto my short-story list: Ryūnosuke Akutagawa.

I wanted to see if my novels list would turn out to be more culturally balanced than my short-story one; but in fact it’s only a little more balanced in the sense that it includes one writer from India. There are still no ladies, Africans or Asians. My favourite African novelist is probably Mia Couto; and my favourite Asian novelist is probably Kōbō Abe, though Wu Cheng'en is not far behind. As for ladies: Ursula K. Le Guin never fails to amaze and enthrall me. And yet none of them made my top 10 list.

So here is my new list. Once again, the novels on it are in order, with best first.

* Froth on the Daydream -- Boris Vian
* Our Ancestors -- Italo Calvino
* The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll -- Alvaro Mutis
* Life: a User's Manual -- George Perec
* The Sot-Weed Factor -- John Barth
* All About H. Hatterr -- G.V. Desani
* Christie Malry's Own Double-Entry -- B.S. Johnson
* At Swim-Two-Birds -- Flann O'Brien
* Gravity's Rainbow -- Thomas Pynchon
* Dictionary of the Khazars -- Milorad Pavić

It could be argued that some of the above novels are actually omnibus volumes containing several novels or novellas. Yes, that's true; but it's equally true that my character is an omnibus package of various emotions and beliefs. So what? Once again I regret leaving certain authors off this list, especially Nabokov, Zamyatin, Aldiss, Moorcock, Queneau, Marquez, Maalouf, Cabrera Infante, Eco, Kafka, Samuel Beckett, Brion Gysin, William Burroughs, etc.

On yet another of my blogs, The Man Toucan, I discuss Tuckerization. Just because I feel like it...


Cool list: Barth's and O'Brien's books are amazing and should be better known. Can I make a sugestion for a 11# title? "Three Man in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)" by Jerome K. Jerome.

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beautiful blog..pls visit mine to,and be a follower..thanks and God bless..
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