The 25 Favorite Books of 100 Francophone Writers

This is one of the 210 lists we use to generate our main The Greatest Books list.

  • In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust

    This renowned novel is a sweeping exploration of memory, love, art, and the passage of time, told through the narrator's recollections of his childhood and experiences into adulthood in the late 19th and early 20th century aristocratic France. The narrative is notable for its lengthy and intricate involuntary memory episodes, the most famous being the "madeleine episode". It explores the themes of time, space and memory, but also raises questions about the nature of art and literature, and the complex relationships between love, sexuality, and possession.

  • Ulysses by James Joyce

    Set in Dublin, the novel follows a day in the life of Leopold Bloom, an advertising salesman, as he navigates the city. The narrative, heavily influenced by Homer's Odyssey, explores themes of identity, heroism, and the complexities of everyday life. It is renowned for its stream-of-consciousness style and complex structure, making it a challenging but rewarding read.

  • The Iliad by Homer

    This epic poem focuses on the final weeks of the Trojan War, a conflict between the city of Troy and the Greek city-states. The story explores themes of war, honor, wrath, and divine intervention, with a particular focus on the Greek hero Achilles, whose anger and refusal to fight have devastating consequences. The narrative also delves into the lives of the gods, their relationships with humans, and their influence on the course of events.

  • The Odyssey by Homer

    This epic poem follows the Greek hero Odysseus on his journey home after the fall of Troy. It takes Odysseus ten years to reach Ithaca after the ten-year Trojan War. Along the way, he encounters many obstacles including mythical creatures, divine beings, and natural disasters. Meanwhile, back in Ithaca, his wife Penelope and son Telemachus fend off suitors vying for Penelope's hand in marriage, believing Odysseus to be dead. The story concludes with Odysseus's return, his slaughter of the suitors, and his reunion with his family.

  • The Princess of Cleves by Madame de La Fayette

    Set in the royal court of Henry II of France, the novel follows the life of a beautiful young woman, newly presented at court, who attracts the attention of many suitors, including the King's son. However, she is married off to a man she does not love, the Prince of Cleves. Despite her loyalty to her husband, she falls in love with the Duke of Nemours. The novel explores themes of duty, honor, and the conflict between passion and reason as the protagonist struggles with her feelings and the moral implications of her love for the Duke.

  • The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

    The novel is a complex exploration of the tragic Compson family from the American South. Told from four distinct perspectives, the story unfolds through stream of consciousness narratives, each revealing their own understanding of the family's decline. The characters grapple with post-Civil War societal changes, personal loss, and their own mental instability. The narrative is marked by themes of time, innocence, and the burdens of the past.

  • Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner

    This novel is a complex narrative about Thomas Sutpen, a poor white man who rises to power in the South, aiming to create a dynasty that would rival the old aristocratic families. However, his ambitions are thwarted by his own flawed decisions and the overarching racial and societal tensions of the era. The story is not told in a linear fashion but rather through a series of interconnected flashbacks and narratives, offering different perspectives on the same events. The book explores themes of family, class, race, and the destructive power of obsession.

  • The Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire

    "The Flowers of Evil" is a collection of poems that explore themes of decadence and eroticism, and the changing nature of beauty in the rapidly industrializing Paris during the 19th century. The work is renowned for its exploration of the paradoxes of pleasure and pain, the exotic and the commonplace, and the boundaries of morality and aesthetics. The poems challenge traditional notions of good and evil, suggesting that beauty can be found in unexpected and even disturbing places.

  • Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry

    Set in Mexico on the Day of the Dead in 1938, the novel follows the last day in the life of Geoffrey Firmin, a British consul with a severe alcohol addiction. Through his interactions with his estranged wife and half-brother, the book explores themes of despair, betrayal, and the destructive power of addiction, against the backdrop of political and social unrest. The impending eruption of the nearby volcano serves as a metaphor for Firmin's deteriorating mental state and the looming world war.

  • Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

    This classic novel follows the adventures of a man who, driven mad by reading too many chivalric romances, decides to become a knight-errant and roam the world righting wrongs under the name Don Quixote. Accompanied by his loyal squire, Sancho Panza, he battles windmills he believes to be giants and champions the virtuous lady Dulcinea, who is in reality a simple peasant girl. The book is a richly layered critique of the popular literature of Cervantes' time and a profound exploration of reality and illusion, madness and sanity.

  • A Sentimental Education by Gustave Flaubert

    A Sentimental Education is a classic French novel set in the mid-19th century, focusing on the life of a young man named Frederic Moreau. Frederic, from a provincial background, moves to Paris and becomes infatuated with an older woman, Madame Arnoux. The novel traces Frederic's life and romantic pursuits, as well as his friendships and experiences in Paris, against the backdrop of significant historical events like the 1848 Revolution. The story is a critique of the French middle class and their materialistic values, illustrating the disillusionment and moral corruption of the time.

  • The Bible by Christian Church

    This religious text is a compilation of 66 books divided into the Old and New Testaments, forming the central narrative for Christianity. It encompasses a variety of genres, including historical accounts, poetry, prophecy, and teaching, telling the story of God's relationship with humanity, from creation to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the early Christian church. It is considered by believers to be divinely inspired and serves as a guide for faith and practice.

  • Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges

    "Collected Fiction" is a compilation of stories by a renowned author that takes readers on a journey through a world of philosophical paradoxes, intellectual humor, and fantastical realities. The book features a range of narratives, from complex, multi-layered tales of labyrinths and detective investigations, to metaphysical explorations of infinity and the nature of identity. It offers an immersive and thought-provoking reading experience, blurring the boundaries between reality and fiction, past and present, and the self and the universe.

  • Franz Kafka: The Complete Stories by Franz Kafka

    This collection of stories offers a comprehensive look at the work of a renowned author, known for his surreal and often unsettling depictions of modern life. The stories explore themes of existential anxiety, guilt, and absurdity, often through narratives in which ordinary people face extraordinary, inexplicable circumstances. The collection showcases the author's unique style and his profound influence on 20th-century literature.

  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville

    The novel is a detailed narrative of a vengeful sea captain's obsessive quest to hunt down a giant white sperm whale that bit off his leg. The captain's relentless pursuit, despite the warnings and concerns of his crew, leads them on a dangerous journey across the seas. The story is a complex exploration of good and evil, obsession, and the nature of reality, filled with rich descriptions of whaling and the sea.

  • The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

    This classic novel explores the complex, passionate, and troubled relationship between four brothers and their father in 19th century Russia. The narrative delves into the themes of faith, doubt, morality, and redemption, as each brother grapples with personal dilemmas and family conflicts. The story culminates in a dramatic trial following a murder, which serves as a microcosm of the moral and philosophical struggles faced by each character, and by extension, humanity itself.

  • A Season in Hell by Arthur Rimbaud

    "A Season in Hell" is a deeply introspective work, exploring the author's tumultuous life and struggles through a series of prose poems. The author grapples with his own moral crisis, spiritual torment and the anguish of unrequited love, while also critiquing society and the human condition. This journey through despair and redemption, filled with vivid and surreal imagery, is considered one of the pioneering works of Symbolist literature.

  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

    Set in 19th-century Russia, this novel revolves around the life of Anna Karenina, a high-society woman who, dissatisfied with her loveless marriage, embarks on a passionate affair with a charming officer named Count Vronsky. This scandalous affair leads to her social downfall, while parallel to this, the novel also explores the rural life and struggles of Levin, a landowner who seeks the meaning of life and true happiness. The book explores themes such as love, marriage, fidelity, societal norms, and the human quest for happiness.

  • The George Sand-Gustave Flaubert Letters by Gustave Flaubert

    This book is a compilation of the personal correspondence between two of the most prominent French literary figures of the 19th century. Their letters offer an intimate look into their lives, thoughts, and the deep friendship they shared. The exchange covers a wide range of topics, including their literary works, their critiques of each other's work, their views on contemporary society, politics, and culture, as well as their personal joys, sorrows, and struggles.

  • The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

    In this epic poem, the protagonist embarks on an extraordinary journey through Hell (Inferno), Purgatory (Purgatorio), and Paradise (Paradiso). Guided by the ancient Roman poet Virgil and his beloved Beatrice, he encounters various historical and mythological figures in each realm, witnessing the eternal consequences of earthly sins and virtues. The journey serves as an allegory for the soul's progression towards God, offering profound insights into the nature of good and evil, free will, and divine justice.

  • Dangerous Liaison by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos

    "Dangerous Liaison" is a tale of manipulation, revenge, and seduction set in the French aristocracy before the French Revolution. The novel follows the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont, two rivals who use sex as a weapon to humiliate and degrade others, all the while enjoying their cruel games. Their targets are the virtuous (and married) Madame de Tourvel and the young Cecile de Volanges. The book is a dramatic exploration of decadence, corruption, and ultimate retribution.

  • The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

    This novel is a complex narrative that weaves together three distinct yet intertwined stories. The first story is set in 1930s Moscow and follows the devil and his entourage as they wreak havoc on the city's literary elite. The second story is a historical narrative about Pontius Pilate and his role in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The third story is a love story between the titular Master, a writer who has been driven to madness by the criticism of his work, and his devoted lover, Margarita. The novel is a satirical critique of Soviet society, particularly the literary establishment, and its treatment of artists. It also explores themes of love, sacrifice, and the nature of good and evil.

  • Memoirs From Beyond the Grave by François René De Chateaubriand

    "Memoirs From Beyond the Grave" is an autobiographical work that chronicles the author's life and experiences in the late 18th and early 19th century. It provides a detailed account of his personal life, his political career, his travels, and his encounters with significant historical figures of the time. The book is also a reflection of the author's thoughts on religion, philosophy, and literature, offering a profound insight into the social and political changes that occurred during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era.

  • Kolyma Stories by Varlam Shalamov

    "Kolyma Stories" is a collection of short stories that vividly depict the harrowing experiences of prisoners in the Soviet Gulag during the Stalinist era. Written by Varlam Shalamov, a survivor of the Kolyma labor camps himself, the book offers a raw and unflinching portrayal of the inhumane conditions, extreme suffering, and moral degradation endured by the prisoners. Through his powerful and haunting narratives, Shalamov sheds light on the resilience of the human spirit and the indomitable will to survive amidst unimaginable cruelty.

  • If This Is a Man by Primo Levi

    This book is a deeply moving and insightful memoir of a survivor of Auschwitz, a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. The author, an Italian Jew, provides a detailed account of his life in the camp, the brutal conditions, the dehumanization, and the struggle for survival. The narrative is a profound exploration of the human spirit, resilience, and the will to live, despite unimaginable horror and suffering. It also raises profound questions about humanity, morality, and the capacity for evil.

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

    The novel is a semi-autobiographical work that explores the harsh realities of life through the cynical and disillusioned eyes of the protagonist. The narrative follows his experiences from the trenches of World War I, through the African jungles, to the streets of America and the slums of Paris, showcasing the horrors of war, colonialism, and the dark side of human nature. The protagonist's journey is marked by his struggle with despair, loneliness, and the absurdity of existence, offering a bleak yet profound commentary on the human condition.

About this list

Telerama, 26 Books

Télérama, a weekly French magazine, asked 100s of french authors to list their top 10 favorite books of all time.

Added over 9 years ago.

How Good is this List?

This list has a weight of 80%. To learn more about what this means please visit the Rankings page.

Here is a list of what is decreasing the importance of this list:

  • voters are mostly from 1 location or country
  • List is too "western canon" focused

If you think this is incorrect please e-mail us at contact@thegreatestbooks.org.