The 100 Greatest Novels of All Time: The List by The Observer

The list of essential fiction from the past 300 years from Robert McCrum of The Observer.

  1. 1. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

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    Alonso Quixano, a retired country gentleman in his fifties, lives in an unnamed section of La Mancha with his niece and a housekeeper. He has become obsessed with books of chivalry, and believes th...


  2. 2. Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan

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    One of the most powerful dramas of Christian faith ever written, this captivating allegory of man's religious journey in search of salvation follows the pilgrim as he travels an obstacle-filled roa...


  3. 3. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

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    A shipwreck’s sole escapee, Robinson Crusoe endures 28 years of solitude on a Caribbean island and manages not only to survive but also to prevail. A warm humanity, evocative details of his struggl...


  4. 4. Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift

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    From the preeminent prose satirist in the English language, a great classic recounting the four remarkable journeys of ship's surgeon Lemuel Gulliver. For children it remains an enchanting fantasy;...


  5. 5. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding

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    A foundling of mysterious parentage brought up by Mr. Allworthy on his country estate, Tom Jones is deeply in love with the seemingly unattainable Sophia Western, the beautiful daughter of the neig...


  6. 6. Clarissa by Samuel Richardson

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    It tells the tragic story of a heroine whose quest for virtue is continually thwarted by her family, and is one of the longest novels in the English language.


  7. 7. Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne

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    As its title suggests, the book is ostensibly Tristram's narration of his life story. But it is one of the central jokes of the novel that he cannot explain anything simply, that he must make expla...


  8. 8. Dangerous Liaison by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos

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    The complex moral ambiguities of seduction and revenge make Les Liaisons dangereuses (1782) one of the most scandalous and controversial novels in European literature. Its prime movers, the Vicomte...


  9. 9. Emma by Jane Austen

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    Before she began the novel, Austen wrote, "I am going to take a heroine whom no-one but myself will much like."[1] In the very first sentence she introduces the title character as "Emma Woodhouse, ...


  10. 10. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

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    At this challenge, Mary Shelley began work on the 'ghost story' that was to evolve into the most celebrated horror novel in literary history. Frankenstein was published the next year and become the...


  11. 11. Nightmare Abbey by Thomas Love Peacock

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    Nightmare Abbey is a topical satire in which the author pokes light-hearted fun at the romantic movement in contemporary English literature, in particular its obsession with morbid subjects, misant...


  12. 12. Black Sheep by Georgette Heyer

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    The novel is set in Bath and centres around two main characters: Miss Abigail Wendover and Mr Miles Caverleigh. When attempting to enlist Miles' help in preventing a clandestine marriage between hi...


  13. 13. The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendhal

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    Balzac considered it the most important French novel of his time. André Gide later deemed it the greatest of all French novels, and Henry James judged it to be a masterpiece. Now, in a major litera...


  14. 14. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

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    Set against the tumultuous years of the post-Napoleonic era, The Count of Monet Cristo recounts the swashbuckling adventures of Edmond Dantes, a dashing young sailor falsely accused of treason. The...


  15. 15. Sybil by Flora Rheta Schreiber

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    Here is the unbelievable yet true story of Sybil Dorsett, a survivor of terrible childhood abuse who as an adult was a victim of sudden and mysterious blackouts. What happened during those blackout...


  16. 16. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

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    The story of the abandoned waif who learns to survive through challenging encounters with distress and misfortune.


  17. 17. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

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    The narrative is non-linear, involving several flashbacks, and two primary narrators: Mr. Lockwood and Ellen "Nelly" Dean. The novel opens in 1801, with Mr. Lockwood arriving at Thrushcross Grange,...


  18. 18. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

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    Jane Eyre is a first-person narrative of the title character, a small, plain-faced, intelligent and honest English orphan. The novel goes through five distinct stages: Jane's childhood at Gateshead...


  19. 19. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

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    No one is better equipped in the struggle for wealth and worldly success than the alluring and ruthless Becky Sharp, who defies her impoverished background to clamber up the class ladder. Her senti...


  20. 20. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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    Hester Prynne is a beautiful young woman. She is also an outcast. In the eyes of her neighbors she has committed an unforgivable sin. Everyone knows that her little daughter, Pearl, is the product ...


  21. 21. Moby Dick by Herman Melville

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    First published in 1851, Melville's masterpiece is, in Elizabeth Hardwick's words, "the greatest novel in American literature." The saga of Captain Ahab and his monomaniacal pursuit of the white wh...


  22. 22. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

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    For daring to peer into the heart of an adulteress and enumerate its contents with profound dispassion, the author of Madame Bovary was tried for "offenses against morality and religion." What shoc...


  23. 23. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

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    Thus young Walter Hartright first meets the mysterious woman in white in what soon became one of the most popular novels of the nineteenth century. Secrets, mistaken identities, surprise revelation...


  24. 24. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

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    In 1862 Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, a shy Oxford mathematician with a stammer, created a story about a little girl tumbling down a rabbit hole. Thus began the immortal adventures of Alice, perhaps th...


  25. 25. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

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    Written and set in the Alcott family home, Orchard House, in Concord, Massachusetts, it was published in two parts in 1868 and 1869. The novel follows the lives of four sisters—Meg, Jo, Beth and Am...


  26. 26. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope

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    'Trollope did not write for posterity,' observed Henry James. 'He wrote for the day, the moment; but these are just the writers whom posterity is apt to put into its pocket.' Considered by contempo...


  27. 27. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

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    Anna Karenina tells of the doomed love affair between the sensuous and rebellious Anna and the dashing officer, Count Vronsky. Tragedy unfolds as Anna rejects her passionless marriage and must endu...


  28. 28. Daniel Deronda by George Eliot

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    Daniel Deronda opens with one of the most memorable encounters in fiction: Gwendolen Harleth, alluring yet unsettling, is poised at the roulette-table in Leubronn, observed by Daniel Deronda, a you...


  29. 29. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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    Dostoevsky's last and greatest novel, The Karamazov Brothers, is both a brilliantly told crime story and a passionate philosophical debate. The dissolute landowner Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov is mur...


  30. 30. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

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    The story centres on Isabel Archer, an attractive American whom circumstances have brought to Europe. Isabel refuses the offer of marriage to an English peer and to a bulldog-like New Englander, to...


  31. 31. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

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    Revered by all of the town's children and dreaded by all of its mothers, Huckleberry Finn is indisputably the most appealing child-hero in American literature. Unlike the tall-tale, idyllic worl...


  32. 32. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

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    Spawned by a nightmare that Stevenson had, this classic tale of the dark, primordial night of the soul remains a masterpiece of the duality of good and evil within us all.


  33. 33. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome

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    Conceived as a fairly serious guide to amateur boating on the Thames in 1889, Jerome K. Jerome's best-known novel ended up as a hilarious account of the misadventures of three friends and a dog as ...


  34. 34. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

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    Celebrated novel traces the moral degeneration of a handsome young Londoner from an innocent fop into a cruel and reckless pursuer of pleasure and, ultimately, a murderer. As Dorian Gray sinks into...


  35. 35. The Diary of a Nobody by George & Weedon Grossmith

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    Weedon Grossmith's 1892 book presents the details of English suburban life through the anxious and accident-prone character of Charles Porter. Porter's diary chronicles his daily routine, which inc...


  36. 36. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

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    In 1895 Hardy’s final novel, the great tale of Jude the Obscure, sent shock waves of indignation rolling across Victorian England. Hardy had dared to write frankly about sexuality and to indict the...


  37. 37. Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers

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    A simple invitation to join his friend Davies on a yachting expedition in the Baltic is the beginning of an extraordinary and dangerous adventure for the bored and worldly but clever Carruthers. As...


  38. 38. The Call of the Wild by Jack London

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    The plot concerns a previously domesticated and even somewhat pampered dog named Buck, whose primordial instincts return after a series of events finds him serving as a sled dog in the treacherous...


  39. 39. Nostromo by Joseph Conrad

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    Edited with an introduction and notes by Martin Seymour-Smith. In his evocation of the republic of Costaguana, set amid the exotic and grandiose scenery of South America, Conrad reveals not only th...


  40. 40. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

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    A classic in children's literature The Wind in the Willow is alternately slow moving and fast paced. The book focuses on four anthropomorphised animal characters in a pastoral version of England. T...


  41. 41. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust

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    Swann's Way, the first part of A la recherche de temps perdu, Marcel Proust's seven-part cycle, was published in 1913. In it, Proust introduces the themes that run through the entire work. The narr...


  42. 42. The Rainbow by D. H. Lawrence

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    Set in the rural midlands of England, The Rainbow revolves around three generations of the Brangwen family over a period of more than sixty years, setting them against the emergence of modern Engla...


  43. 43. The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

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    Ford Madox Ford wrote The Good Soldier, the book on which his reputation most surely rests, in deliberate emulation of the nineteenth-century French novels he so admired. In this way he was able to...


  44. 44. The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan

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    In The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915), the best-known of his thrillers (made into a popular movie by Alfred Hitchcock), John Buchan introduces his most enduring hero, Richard Hannay, who, despite claimin...


  45. 45. Ulysses by James Joyce

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    Ulysses chronicles the passage of Leopold Bloom through Dublin during an ordinary day, June 16, 1904. The title parallels and alludes to Odysseus (Latinised into Ulysses), the hero of Homer's Odyss...


  46. 46. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

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    Created from two short stories, "Mrs Dalloway in Bond Street" and the unfinished "The Prime Minister", the novel's story is of Clarissa's preparations for a party of which she is to be hostess. Wit...


  47. 47. A Passage to India by E.M. Forster

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    A Passage to India is set against the backdrop of the British Raj and the Indian independence movement in the 1920s. The story revolves around four characters: Dr. Aziz, his British friend Cyril Fi...


  48. 48. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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    The novel chronicles an era that Fitzgerald himself dubbed the "Jazz Age". Following the shock and chaos of World War I, American society enjoyed unprecedented levels of prosperity during the "roar...


  49. 49. The Trial by Franz Kafka

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    Written in 1914, The Trial is one of the most important novels of the twentieth century: the terrifying tale of Josef K., a respectable bank officer who is suddenly and inexplicably arrested and mu...


  50. 50. Men Without Women by Ernest Hemingway

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    First published in 1927, Men Without Women represents some of Hemingway's most important and compelling early writing. In these fourteen stories, Hemingway begins to examine the themes that would o...


  51. 51. Journey to the End of The Night by Louis-Ferdinand Céline

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    Journey to the End of Night is the first novel of Louis-Ferdinand Céline. This semi-autobiographical work describes antihero Ferdinand Bardamu. His surname, Bardamu, is derived from the French word...


  52. 52. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

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    The book is told in stream of consciousness writing style by 15 different narrators in 59 chapters. It is the story of the death of Addie Bundren and her family's quest—noble or selfish—to honor he...


  53. 53. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

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    Set in the London of AD 2540 (632 A.F. in the book), the novel anticipates developments in reproductive technology and sleep-learning that combine to change society. The future society is an embod...


  54. 54. Scoop by Evelyn Waugh

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    In Scoop, surreptitiously dubbed "a newspaper adventure," Waugh flays Fleet Street and the social pastimes of its war correspondants as he tells how William Boot became the star of British super-jo...


  55. 55. U.S.A. Trilogy by John Dos Passos

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    The U.S.A. Trilogy is the major work of American writer John Dos Passos, comprising the novels The 42nd Parallel (1930), 1919, also known as Nineteen Nineteen (1932), and The Big Money (1936). The ...


  56. 56. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

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    The Big Sleep (1939) is a crime novel by Raymond Chandler, the first in his acclaimed series about hardboiled detective Philip Marlowe. The work has been adapted twice into film, once in 1946 and a...


  57. 57. The Pursuit Of Love by Nancy Mitford

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    ew aristocratic English families of the twentieth century enjoyed the glamorous notoriety of the infamous Mitford sisters. Nancy Mitford's most famous novels, The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold...


  58. 58. The Plague by Albert Camus

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    A haunting tale of human resilience in the face of unrelieved horror, Camus' novel about a bubonic plague ravaging the people of a North African coastal town is a classic of twentieth-century liter...


  59. 59. Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell

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    The story follows the life of one seemingly insignificant man, Winston Smith, a civil servant assigned the task of perpetuating the regime's propaganda by falsifying records and political literatur...


  60. 60. Malone Dies by Samuel Beckett

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    Malone Dies is a novel by Samuel Beckett. It was first published in 1951, in French, as Malone Meurt, and later translated into English by the author.


  61. 61. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

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    The Catcher in the Rye is a 1945 novel by J. D. Salinger. Originally published for adults, the novel has become a common part of high school and college curricula throughout the English-speaking wo...


  62. 62. Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor

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    Wise Blood, Flannery O'Connor's astonishing and haunting first novel, is a classic of twentieth-century literature. It is the story of Hazel Motes, a twenty-two-year-old caught in an unending strug...


  63. 63. Charlotte's Web by E. B. White

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    The novel tells the story of a pig named Wilbur and his friendship with a barn spider named Charlotte. When Wilbur is in danger of being slaughtered by the farmer, Charlotte writes messages praisin...


  64. 64. The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

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    The Lord of the Rings is an epic high fantasy novel written by philologist and Oxford University professor J. R. R. Tolkien. The story began as a sequel to Tolkien's earlier, less complex children'...


  65. 65. Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

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    Set sometime around 1950, Lucky Jim follows the exploits of the eponymous James (Jim) Dixon, a reluctant Medieval history lecturer at an unnamed provincial English university. Having made a bad fir...


  66. 66. Lord of the Flies by William Golding

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    Lord of the Flies discusses how culture created by man fails, using as an example a group of British schoolboys stuck on a deserted island who try to govern themselves, but with disastrous results....


  67. 67. The Quiet American by Graham Greene

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    As young Pyle's well-intentioned policies blunder into bloodshed, Fowler, a seasoned and cynical British reporter, finds it impossible to stand safely aside as an observer. But Fowler's motives for...


  68. 68. On the Road by Jack Kerouac

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    On the Road is a largely autobiographical work that was based on the spontaneous road trips of Kerouac and his friends across mid-century America. It is often considered a defining work of the post...


  69. 69. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

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    The book is internationally famous for its innovative style and infamous for its controversial subject: the protagonist and unreliable narrator, middle aged Humbert Humbert, becomes obsessed and se...


  70. 70. The Tin Drum by Günter Grass

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    Acclaimed as the greatest German novel written since the end of World War II, The Tin Drum is the autobiography of thirty-year-old Oskar Matzerath, who has lived through the long Nazi nightmare and...


  71. 71. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

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    A novel of great power that turns the world upside down. The Nigerian novelist Achebe reached back to the early days of his people's encounter with colonialism, the 1890's, though the white man and...

    - Time

  72. 72. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

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    A slender novel but far from flimsy, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie enrolls the reader at Edinburgh's fictional Marcia Blaine School for Girls under the tutelage of one Jean Brodie, a magnetic, unco...

    - Time

  73. 73. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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    As a Southern Gothic novel and a Bildungsroman, the primary themes of To Kill a Mockingbird involve racial injustice and the destruction of innocence. Scholars have noted that Lee also addresses is...


  74. 74. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

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    Catch-22 is a satirical, historical novel by the American author Joseph Heller, first published in 1961. The novel, set during the later stages of World War II from 1943 onwards, is frequently cite...


  75. 75. Herzog by Saul Bellow

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    Herzog is a novel set in 1964, in the United States, and is about the midlife crisis of a Jewish man named Moses E. Herzog. He is just emerging from his second divorce, this one particularly acrimo...


  76. 76. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

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    One of the 20th century's enduring works, One Hundred Years of Solitude is a widely beloved and acclaimed novel known throughout the world, and the ultimate achievement in a Nobel Prize–winning car...


  77. 77. Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor

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    All but abandoned by her family in a London retirement hotel, Mrs. Palfrey strikes up a curious friendship with a young writer, Ludovic Meyer. Fate brings them together after she has an accident ou...


  78. 78. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carre

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    Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a spy novel by John le Carré, first published in 1974. It is the first volume of a three-book series informally known as The Karla Trilogy, followed by The Honourabl...


  79. 79. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

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    It follows the life of Macon "Milkman" Dead III, an African-American male living in Michigan, from birth to adulthood. The main theme in the novel is Milkman's quest for identity as a black man in ...


  80. 80. The Bottle Factory Outing by Beryl Bainbridge

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    The Bottle Factory Outing is a 1974 novel written by Beryl Bainbridge, it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize that year and won the Guardian Fiction Prize. It is also listed as one of the 100 grea...


  81. 81. The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer

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    The Executioner's Song is a 1980 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Norman Mailer that depicts the events surrounding the execution of Gary Gilmore by the state of Utah for murder. The title of the bo...


  82. 82. If on a Winter's Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino

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    Calvino's anti-novel is about the efforts of his two characters — a man called only The Reader, and the Other Reader, a woman named Ludmilla — to read ten very different novels. They are never able...


  83. 83. A Bend in the River by V. S. Naipaul

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    In the "brilliant novel" ("The New York Times) V.S. Naipaul takes us deeply into the life of one man--an Indian who, uprooted by the bloody tides of Third World history, has come to live in an isol...


  84. 84. Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee

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    For decades the Magistrate has been a loyal servant of the Empire, running the affairs of a tiny frontier settlement and ignoring the impending war with the barbarians. When interrogation experts a...


  85. 85. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

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    Ruth narrates the story of how she and her younger sister Lucille are raised by a succession of relatives in the fictional town of Fingerbone, Idaho (some details are similar to Robinson's hometown...


  86. 86. Lanark by Alasdair Gray

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    Lanark, subtitled A Life in Four Books, was the first novel of Scottish writer Alasdair Gray, and is still his best known. Written over a period of almost thirty years, it combines realist and dyst...


  87. 87. The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster

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    The New York Trilogy is a series of novels by Paul Auster. Originally published sequentially as City of Glass (1985), Ghosts (1986) and The Locked Room (1986), it has since been collected into a si...


  88. 88. The BFG by Roald Dahl

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    When Sophie is snatched from her orphanage bed by the BFG (Big Friendly Giant), she fears she will be eaten. But the two join forces to vanquish the nine other far less gentle giants who threaten t...


  89. 89. The Periodic Table by Primo Levi

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    The stories have various themes: the experiences of life in Nazi concentration camps, legacies from the profession of chemistry, tales both true and with his own fantasy, creating a vision of the s...


  90. 90. Money by Martin Amis

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    Money tells the story of, and is narrated by, John Self, a successful director of commercials who is invited to New York by Fielding Goodney, a film producer, in order to shoot his first film. Self...


  91. 91. An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro

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    It is set in post-World War II Japan and is narrated by Masuji Ono, an aging painter, who looks back on his life and how he has lived it. He notices how his once great reputation has faltered since...


  92. 92. Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey

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    It tells the story of Oscar Hopkins, the Cornish son of a Plymouth Brethren minister who becomes an Anglican priest, and Lucinda Leplastrier, a young Australian heiress who buys a glass factory. Th...


  93. 93. The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera

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    With its seven interrelated parts--rich in story, character, and imaginative range--"The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1978) is the novel that brought Czech-born Milan Kundera his first big inte...


  94. 94. Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

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    Haroun and the Sea of Stories is a 1990 children's book by Salman Rushdie. It was Rushdie's first novel after The Satanic Verses. It is a phantasmagorical story set in a city so old and ruinous tha...


  95. 95. L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy

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    Los Angeles in the 1950s: from its fabulous mansions to its sizzling nightclubs, it is a sprawling center of corruption and dangerous passions. Now a horrific mass murder invades the bleak cityscap...


  96. 96. Wise Children by Angela Carter

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    Wise Children follows the fortunes of the Chance twins, Dora and Nora, taking in the story of their show business family — the Hazards — over the past century. Born illegitimately, spurned by their...


  97. 97. Atonement by Ian McEwan

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    Atonement is a 2001 novel by British author Ian McEwan. It tells the story of protagonist Briony Tallis's crime and how it changes her life, as well as those of her sister Cecilia and her lover Rob...


  98. 98. Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

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    Mattie Gokey has a word for everything. She collects words, stores them up as a way of fending off the hard truths of her life, the truths that she can't write down in stories. The fresh pain of he...


  99. 99. American Pastoral by Philip Roth

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    American Pastoral is a Philip Roth novel concerning Seymour "Swede" Levov, a Jewish-American businessman and former high school athlete from Newark, New Jersey. Levov's happy and conventional upper...


  100. 100. Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald

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    Austerlitz, the internationally acclaimed masterpiece by "one of the most gripping writers imaginable" (The New York Review of Books), is the story of a man?s search for the answer to his life?s ce...