In Which These Are the 100 Greatest Novels

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

  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

    The novel tells the story of Humbert Humbert, a man with a disturbing obsession for young girls, or "nymphets" as he calls them. His obsession leads him to engage in a manipulative and destructive relationship with his 12-year-old stepdaughter, Lolita. The narrative is a controversial exploration of manipulation, obsession, and unreliable narration, as Humbert attempts to justify his actions and feelings throughout the story.

  • The Trial by Franz Kafka

    The book revolves around a bank clerk who wakes one morning to find himself under arrest for an unspecified crime. Despite not being detained, he is subjected to the psychological torment of a bizarre and nightmarish judicial process. The story is a critique of bureaucracy, exploring themes of guilt, alienation and the inefficiency of the justice system.

  • 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.

  • The Chaneysville Incident by David Bradley

    This novel centers around John Washington, an African-American historian, who returns to his hometown in Pennsylvania to care for his dying stepfather. During his stay, he becomes obsessed with uncovering the truth about the mysterious death of 13 runaway slaves, including his own ancestor, in Chaneysville. His relentless search for answers becomes a journey of self-discovery as he grapples with the history of racism, his personal relationships, and his own identity.

  • The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein

    This book is an innovative and unconventional autobiography, penned from the perspective of the author's life partner, providing an intimate view into the lives of the Parisian avant-garde in the early 20th century. It offers a personal account of their life together, filled with anecdotes of their interactions with famous figures such as Picasso, Matisse, and Hemingway. The narrative also delves into the author's own thoughts and experiences, creating a unique blend of biography, autobiography, and personal memoir.

  • I, Claudius by Robert Graves

    This historical novel is a first-person narrative told from the perspective of the Roman Emperor Claudius, who was considered an unlikely ruler due to his physical ailments and perceived lack of intelligence. The story covers the reigns of Augustus, Tiberius, and Caligula before Claudius unexpectedly becomes emperor. The narrative provides a critical look at the corruption, violence, and political machinations of the Roman Empire, offering a unique perspective on history.

  • Molloy by Samuel Beckett

    "Molloy" is a complex and enigmatic novel that follows the journey of its eponymous character, an elderly, disabled vagabond, who is tasked with finding and killing a certain person. The narrative is split into two parts: the first is told from Molloy's perspective as he navigates his way through a strange and often hostile world, while the second follows a detective named Moran who is assigned to find Molloy. The novel is renowned for its challenging narrative structure, its bleak and absurdist humor, and its profound exploration of themes such as identity, existence, and the human condition.

  • To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

    This novel is a pioneering work of modernist literature that explores the Ramsay family's experiences at their summer home on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. The narrative is divided into three sections, focusing on a day in the family's life, a description of the house during their absence, and their return after ten years. The book is known for its stream of consciousness narrative technique and its exploration of topics such as the passage of time, the nature of art, and the female experience.

  • The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles

    "The Sheltering Sky" is a novel about an American couple, Port and Kit Moresby, who travel to the North African desert accompanied by their friend Tunner. The journey, initially an attempt to cure their marital woes, quickly descends into a harrowing journey of self-discovery and exploration of the human condition. As they move further into the desert, the harsh environment and their isolation from the outside world push them to their psychological limits, leading to devastating consequences.

  • The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton

    "The Man Who Was Thursday" is a metaphysical thriller that revolves around a poet turned detective who infiltrates a secret society of anarchists in London. Each member of the society is named after a day of the week, and the protagonist becomes 'Thursday.' As he delves deeper, he discovers that the other members are also undercover detectives, each unaware of the others' true identities. The narrative explores themes of order and chaos, faith and unbelief, with a surprising twist regarding the identity of the society's leader, 'Sunday.'

  • The Possessed by Fyodor Dostoevsky

    "The Possessed" is a complex political novel set in a provincial Russian town, exploring the destructive influence of radical ideologies on society. The narrative revolves around a group of revolutionaries, their philosophical debates and their destructive actions, driven by nihilism and anarchism. The story is a critique of the political and social chaos of the time, showcasing the author's deep understanding of human psychology and his profound insights into the human condition. It is an exploration of faith, reason, and the nature of freedom and is considered one of the most significant works of Russian literature.

  • 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.

  • Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald

    The novel follows the story of Jacques Austerlitz, an architectural historian who was brought to England on a Kindertransport from Czechoslovakia during World War II. As an adult, Jacques embarks on a journey to uncover his past, including his original identity, his parent's fate, and his own lost history. The narrative is a haunting exploration of memory, identity, and the lasting impact of the Holocaust.

  • Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov

    The novel is a unique blend of fiction, commentary, and poetry, presented as a 999-line poem written by a fictional poet, followed by an extensive commentary and foreword by his neighbor and academic colleague. The novel blurs the line between reality and fiction, as the commentator's notes reveal an alternative narrative, one of exile, intrigue, and murder. The book is a playful exploration of authorship, deception, and the nature of art.

  • Woodcutters by Thomas Bernhard

    Woodcutters is a darkly humorous critique of Vienna's artistic elite. The story takes place over the course of a single evening, as the narrator attends a dinner party in honor of a recently successful actor. As the evening progresses, he reflects on the pretentiousness and hypocrisy of the guests, the mediocrity of their artistic achievements, and the tragic suicide of his former lover. The novel is a scathing indictment of the vanity and self-delusion of the artistic community.

  • Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin

    This novel explores the role of the Christian Church in the lives of African-Americans, both as a source of repression and moral hypocrisy and as a source of inspiration and community. It also, more broadly, examines the role of the Pentecostal Church in the African American experience. The narrative focuses on a fourteen-year-old boy's struggle to discover his identity amidst a family filled with secrets and a life marked by a religious community's strict moral code.

  • 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 Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe

    "The Book of the New Sun" is a four-volume science fiction series set in a far future, post-apocalyptic Earth, known as Urth. The story follows a journeyman torturer named Severian who is exiled for showing mercy to one of his victims. As he navigates through a world filled with strange and mythical creatures, political intrigue, and ancient technology often perceived as magic, Severian discovers his destiny is far greater than he could have ever imagined. The narrative is dense and complex, filled with allegory and symbolism, making it a challenging yet rewarding read.

  • A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

    This novel is a semi-autobiographical account of a young man's intellectual and artistic development in late 19th-century Ireland. The protagonist struggles with issues of identity, faith, and nationality, ultimately rejecting the traditional values of his Catholic upbringing to pursue his own path as an artist. The book is renowned for its innovative narrative style and its exploration of themes such as individuality, freedom, and the nature of art.

  • The Horse's Mouth by Joyce Cary

    The novel follows the life of Gulley Jimson, a boisterous, eccentric, and impoverished painter in London who is constantly in search of the perfect canvas to express his artistic vision. Despite his numerous struggles with society's norms, financial difficulties, and his own physical health, Jimson remains unflinchingly dedicated to his craft. His relentless pursuit of artistic truth and beauty, often at the expense of personal relationships and societal expectations, paints a vivid picture of the passionate, self-destructive artist archetype.

  • Disgrace by J M Coetzee

    "Disgrace" is a novel that explores the life of a middle-aged professor in South Africa who is dismissed from his position after having an affair with a student. After losing his job, he moves to the countryside to live with his daughter, where they experience a violent attack that significantly alters their lives. The story delves into themes of post-apartheid South Africa, racial tension, sexual exploitation, and the struggle for personal redemption.

  • 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.

  • Europe Central by William T. Vollmann

    The novel explores the moral decisions made by individuals during the most challenging circumstances, specifically focusing on the Eastern Front during World War II. It presents a series of interconnected stories revolving around key historical figures and events, such as the siege of Leningrad, the Soviet invasion of Germany, and the lives of famous composers and artists during this period. The book delves into the complexities of love, betrayal, sacrifice, and survival in the face of totalitarian regimes and war, highlighting the individual's struggle against the overwhelming forces of history.

  • 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.

  • Light in August by William Faulkner

    Set in the American South during the 1930s, this novel explores complex social and personal issues through the intertwining stories of its characters. The narrative primarily follows a man of ambiguous racial identity on a quest to find his father, a pregnant woman searching for the father of her unborn child, and a disgraced minister attempting to navigate his own moral compass. The book delves into themes of identity, race, and the human struggle for understanding and redemption, all set against the backdrop of the deep-rooted prejudices and social norms of the time.

  • V by Thomas Pynchon

    "V" is a complex novel that intertwines two parallel narratives. One follows Benny Profane, a discharged U.S. Navy sailor involved in a group of bohemian artists and hooligans called the Whole Sick Crew, while the other narrative is a series of historical accounts researched by Herbert Stencil, who is on a quest to uncover the identity of an entity known only as V. The narrative oscillates between various global locations and time periods, including Egypt in 1898, Southwest Africa in 1922, and Malta in 1919, among others. The book explores themes of entropy, human connection, and the nature of identity.

  • At Swim Two-Birds by Flann O'Brien

    This novel is a complex, metafictional work that weaves together three separate narratives. The first is about a lazy, hard-drinking college student living with his uncle, the second is about a devilish Pooka and a loquacious old man, and the third is about a fictional character named Finn who seeks revenge on his author for creating him poorly. The narratives eventually intersect in a unique and humorous way, challenging traditional ideas of story structure and character autonomy.

  • Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley

    Set in 1940s Los Angeles, the novel follows an African American war veteran who, after losing his job, becomes a private investigator to pay his mortgage. He is hired to find a white woman known to frequent African American jazz clubs, and in the process, he gets entangled in a web of political scandal and corruption. The story explores themes of race, class, and the complex social dynamics of the time.

  • The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky

    The book follows the story of a kind-hearted and naive protagonist who returns to Russia from a Swiss sanatorium, where he was treated for a severe epileptic condition. Despite his pure intentions, he gets entangled in a web of love, greed, and manipulation, leading to tragic consequences. The novel explores themes of innocence, love, sacrifice, and societal expectations, offering a profound critique of Russian society during the 19th century.

  • Mating by Norman Rush

    "Mating" is a novel that follows the story of a female anthropologist who is doing her fieldwork in Botswana. She falls in love with an eccentric and charismatic intellectual who has created a utopian matriarchal village in the Kalahari desert. The narrative explores themes of love, feminism, and idealism as it delves into the complexities of human relationships and societal structures.

  • Beloved by Toni Morrison

    This novel tells the story of a former African-American slave woman who, after escaping to Ohio, is haunted by the ghost of her deceased daughter. The protagonist is forced to confront her repressed memories and the horrific realities of her past, including the desperate act she committed to protect her children from a life of slavery. The narrative is a poignant exploration of the physical, emotional, and psychological scars inflicted by the institution of slavery, and the struggle for identity and self-acceptance in its aftermath.

  • The Stories of Anton Chekhov by Anton Chekhov

    This collection of short stories explores the complexities of human nature and society in 19th-century Russia. Written by a renowned Russian author, the stories range from humorous to tragic, often focusing on the everyday lives and struggles of ordinary people. The author's keen observation and deep understanding of human nature shine through in these tales, making them timeless classics that continue to resonate with readers today.

  • East of Eden by John Steinbeck

    This novel is a multi-generational epic that follows the lives of the Trask and Hamilton families in the Salinas Valley in California. The story is deeply rooted in biblical allegory, particularly the tale of Cain and Abel, as it explores themes of love, guilt, freedom, and the inherent good and evil in human nature. The narrative provides a profound, complex portrayal of family and individual struggles with morality and love, while also reflecting on the social changes affecting America during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

  • The Tin Drum by Günter Grass

    The novel tells the story of Oskar Matzerath, a boy who decides on his third birthday that he will stop growing and remain a three-year-old forever. Oskar is gifted with a tin drum by his mother, which he uses to express his emotions and thoughts. Living in Danzig during the rise of Nazi Germany, Oskar's refusal to grow is a form of protest against the adult world. The book is a blend of magical realism and historical fiction, providing a unique perspective on the horrors of World War II and the post-war era in Germany.

  • Blood and Guts in High School by Kathy Acker

    "Blood and Guts in High School" is a postmodern feminist novel that follows the life of a young girl named Janey Smith, who embarks on a journey of self-discovery after being sexually exploited by her father. The narrative, fragmented and nonlinear, explores themes of sexual liberation, identity, and rebellion against societal norms. The protagonist's experiences are depicted through various forms of writing such as dream sequences, drawings, and plagiarized texts, blurring the line between reality and fiction.

  • Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar

    This avant-garde novel invites readers into a non-linear narrative that can be read in two different orders, following the life of Horacio Oliveira, an Argentine intellectual living in Paris with his lover, La Maga. The story explores philosophical and metaphysical themes, delving into the nature of reality and the human condition, while also examining the struggles of intellectual and emotional life. The second part of the novel takes place in Buenos Aires, where Horacio returns after La Maga disappears, and where he grapples with his past, his identity, and his place in the world.

  • Ferdydurke by Witold Gombrowicz

    "Ferdydurke" is a satirical novel that explores the themes of maturity, identity, and societal norms. The protagonist, a thirty-year-old writer, is forcibly regressed by two professors back to his adolescence and placed in a school setting. The narrative critiques the artificiality of adulthood and the pressure of societal expectations, while also exploring the struggle for self-expression and individuality. The book is known for its absurdist humor and its examination of the human condition.

  • The Rainbow by D. H. Lawrence

    The novel explores the lives of three generations of a farming family, the Brangwens, living in rural England in the late 19th and early 20th century. The narrative primarily focuses on the sexual and emotional maturation of Ursula Brangwen, a young woman who rejects traditional societal norms in her quest for spiritual fulfillment and personal independence. The book is known for its vivid depiction of the English countryside and its frank portrayal of sexual desire.

  • Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence

    "Women in Love" is a novel that explores the complex relationships of two sisters, Ursula and Gudrun Brangwen, as they navigate their passions, desires, and connections with two men, Rupert Birkin and Gerald Crich, in post-World War I England. The novel delves deep into the psychological aspects of love, questioning traditional romantic love and proposing a more modern, individualistic approach to relationships. It also explores themes of industrialization, modernity, and the nature of human existence.

  • 2666 by Roberto Bolaño

    The novel is a sprawling, ambitious work that spans continents and time periods, centering around an elusive, reclusive German author. It intertwines five different narratives: a group of European academics searching for the author, a professor in Mexico dealing with his own personal crises, a New York reporter sent to cover a boxing match in Mexico, an African-American journalist in Detroit, and the horrifying and unsolved murders of hundreds of women in a Mexican border town. The narratives are linked by themes of violence, mystery, and the search for meaning in a chaotic world.

  • The Fixer by Bernard Malamud

    "The Fixer" is a historical novel set in Tsarist Russia that follows the story of a Jewish handyman, or "fixer", who is unjustly imprisoned after being accused of ritual murder. The narrative explores his struggle for dignity, survival, and ultimately freedom against the backdrop of a deeply anti-Semitic society. The protagonist's ordeal becomes a symbol for the broader persecution of Jews during this era, offering a profound commentary on human rights, faith, and resilience.

  • The Temple of the Golden Pavilion by Yukio Mishima

    This novel follows the life of a young man named Mizoguchi, who becomes an acolyte at a famous Zen temple in Kyoto. Mizoguchi is afflicted with a stutter and a severe inferiority complex, which leads him to develop a destructive obsession with the temple's beauty. As he struggles with his personal demons, his fixation escalates into a desire to destroy the temple. The book is a profound exploration of beauty, obsession, and the destructive nature of ideals.

  • The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa

    "The Book of Disquiet" is a posthumously published collection of thoughts and musings of a solitary dreamer, who is a Lisbon-based bookkeeper. The book delves into the mind of a man who is discontented with his mundane life and finds solace in dreaming and writing. The narrative is a profound reflection on life, solitude, and the nature of humanity, filled with philosophical insights and poetic language. The protagonist's introspective journey and his struggles with existential despair make it a seminal work in the genre of literary modernism.

  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

    The novel is a poignant exploration of a young African-American man's journey through life, where he grapples with issues of race, identity, and individuality in mid-20th-century America. The protagonist, who remains unnamed throughout the story, considers himself socially invisible due to his race. The narrative follows his experiences from the South to the North, from being a student to a worker, and his involvement in the Brotherhood, a political organization. The book is a profound critique of societal norms and racial prejudice, highlighting the protagonist's struggle to assert his identity in a world that refuses to see him.

  • Murphy by Samuel Beckett

    The novel explores the life of the titular character, a disaffected and detached man living in London who prefers the realm of his own thoughts to the real world. After securing a job as a nurse at a mental institution, he becomes increasingly detached from reality. The narrative also delves into his relationships with various other characters, including his fiancée, his best friend and a prostitute. The book is known for its dark humor and its exploration of themes such as existentialism and the nature of human consciousness.

  • The Dying Earth by Jack Vance

    Set in a far distant future where the sun is nearing the end of its life, this book features a collection of short stories that revolve around an array of characters, including magicians, rogues, and innocent bystanders. The stories are interlinked and set in a world where magic and technology coexist, and where the line between the two is often blurred. The tales are filled with complex characters, intricate plots, and a richly detailed world, all presented with a unique blend of dark humor and philosophical depth.

  • Augustus by John Williams

    "Augustus" is a historical novel that provides a comprehensive and vivid account of the life of Rome's first emperor, from his early years as a young and inexperienced politician, to his rise to power and his reign, which brought about the Pax Romana. The book presents a complex and humanized portrayal of Augustus, exploring his relationships, his philosophical reflections, his political strategies, and the challenges he faced in his personal and public life. The narrative is composed of fictional letters, memoirs, and other documents, providing a multi-faceted perspective on this pivotal figure and his era.

  • 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.

  • Wittgenstein's Mistress by David Markson

    The novel is a stream-of-consciousness narrative from the perspective of a woman who believes she is the last human on earth. She shares her thoughts, memories, and experiences in a non-linear and often confusing manner. The narrative is filled with cultural and historical references, creating a haunting and profound exploration of loneliness, memory, and the human condition.

  • The Castle by Franz Kafka

    This novel presents the story of a man who arrives in a village and struggles to gain access to the mysterious authorities who govern it from a castle. The protagonist, a surveyor, faces the constant frustration of his efforts to make contact with the elusive authorities and integrate into village society. The book explores themes of alienation, bureaucracy, the seemingly endless frustrations of man's attempts to stand against the system, and the futile pursuit of an unobtainable goal.

  • Correction by Thomas Bernhard

    "Correction" is a complex narrative revolving around the life of a man named Roithamer, a genius obsessed with constructing an architectural masterpiece, the Cone, in the center of the Kobernausser forest. The story is told through the perspective of his friend who is reading Roithamer's notes after his suicide. The novel explores themes of obsession, isolation, and the pursuit of perfection, while also delving into the protagonist's troubled relationships with his family and society.

  • The Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector

    "The Hour of the Star" is a poignant narrative that explores the life of Macabéa, a poor, unattractive, and naive typist living in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. The story is narrated by Rodrigo S.M., a sophisticated writer who struggles with how to accurately portray Macabéa's simple existence and her tragic fate. The novel delves into themes of identity, poverty, and the human condition, presenting a stark contrast between the lives of the rich and the poor, the educated and the ignorant, and the beautiful and the plain.

  • Goodbye, Columbus by Philip Roth

    This novel explores the story of Neil Klugman and Brenda Patimkin, two young Jewish people from different social classes, who embark on a summer romance in 1950s New Jersey. The novel delves into their relationship dynamics, contrasting their backgrounds and dealing with themes of social class, materialism, and the American Dream. The book also includes five short stories, each exploring different aspects of post-war American Jewish life.

  • The Emigrants by Winfried Georg Sebald

    "The Emigrants" is a novel that explores the experiences and memories of four different emigrants, each with a unique and complex history. The narrative primarily focuses on the psychological impact of displacement and the haunting nature of the past. The author delves deep into their lives, revealing their struggles with identity, loss, and the persistent influence of their roots. The narrative is interwoven with historical events, photographs, and other documents, creating a rich tapestry that blurs the line between fact and fiction.

  • The Ambassadors by Henry James

    The novel centers around a middle-aged man named Lambert Strether who is sent from New England to Paris by a wealthy widow, Mrs. Newsome, to convince her wayward son, Chad, to return home. However, upon arriving in Europe, Strether is charmed by the sophisticated lifestyle Chad has adopted and finds himself questioning the puritanical values of his homeland. He also becomes entangled in romantic relationships and complex social dynamics, leading him to ultimately question his loyalty to Mrs. Newsome. The book explores themes of morality, identity, and the concept of the American versus European lifestyle.

  • Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

    The novel is a nostalgic story about the narrator's involvement with the Flyte family, British aristocrats living in a grand mansion called Brideshead. The story explores themes of faith, love, and the decline of the British aristocracy, primarily through the narrator's relationships with the family's Catholic faith and his complicated friendship with the family's son and his love for the daughter. The novel is set in the backdrop of the time period between the two World Wars.

  • The Selected Works of Cesare Pavese by Cesare Pavese

    This collection showcases the best works of a renowned Italian author and poet who was deeply influenced by American literature and culture. The book includes his writings that explore themes of loneliness, self-loathing, and existential despair, often set against the backdrop of rural Italy. The author's unique style of storytelling, characterized by his use of simple language and profound introspection, is highlighted in this compilation.

  • Moravagine by Blaise Cendrars

    The novel follows the adventures of an eccentric, violent, and mentally unstable protagonist who is released from an asylum by his psychiatrist. The pair embark on a chaotic journey across Europe and America, encountering a variety of strange and often dangerous situations. The narrative explores themes of insanity, violence, and the human condition, offering a dark and surreal critique of modern society.

  • A New Life by Bernard Malamud

    "A New Life" is a novel about a New York college instructor who moves to the West Coast to start over after the end of a failed marriage. He takes a job at a small college in Oregon, where he navigates the politics of academia, falls in love with a colleague's wife, and struggles with his own personal demons. The book explores themes of redemption, personal growth, and the complexities of human relationships.

  • JR by William Gaddis

    The novel is a satirical critique of capitalism, narrating the story of an 11-year-old boy who builds a vast financial empire from his school's payphone. Using the adults around him as pawns, he manipulates the system to his own advantage, turning junk bonds into high profits. The narrative unfolds almost entirely through dialogue, making it a challenging but rewarding read. The book is a commentary on the American dream, exploring themes of greed, exploitation, and the dehumanizing effects of capitalism.

  • Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar

    "Memoirs of Hadrian" is a historical novel that presents a fictional autobiography of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, who reigned from 117 to 138 AD. Narrated in the first person, the novel explores Hadrian's ascension to the throne, his administration, his love for the young Antinous, and his philosophical reflections on life and death. The narrative is framed as a letter to his successor, Marcus Aurelius, offering insights into the complexities of power, the nature of leadership, and the human condition.

  • The Devil to Pay in the Backlands by Joao Guimaraes Rosa

    "The Devil to Pay in the Backlands" is a complex narrative that follows the life of a Brazilian sertanejo (backlands dweller) who becomes a bandit and a feared killer. Tormented by his violent actions, he embarks on a metaphysical journey, wrestling with philosophical and religious questions, and trying to reconcile his deep belief in fate and predestination with his own free will. The book is notable for its innovative language, blending regional dialects with neologisms and classical references, which adds to its rich portrayal of the Brazilian backlands.

  • 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.

  • The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak

    "The Bastard of Istanbul" is a novel that tells the story of two families, one Turkish and one Armenian American. It explores the deep, intricate history between the two nations through the eyes of the characters, while also tackling themes of identity, memory, and the past. The narrative unfolds through the perspectives of the women in both families, who carry the burden of their ancestors' secrets, and a young man haunted by the ghost of a long-dead Armenian. The novel delves into the complexities of love, family, and the lasting effects of the Armenian genocide on its descendants.

  • The Left Hand Of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

    The novel is a groundbreaking work of science fiction that explores themes of gender, politics, and identity. Set on a planet called Gethen, where the inhabitants are ambisexual, shifting between male and female, the story follows an envoy from Earth who struggles to understand this alien society. As he navigates the complex political landscape of Gethen, he must also grapple with his own preconceptions about gender and sexuality. The book is a profound exploration of difference, otherness, and what it means to be human.

  • Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich

    "Love Medicine" is a novel that explores the lives of several generations of a Native American family living on a reservation in North Dakota. The narrative is presented through a series of interconnected stories, each told from the perspective of different family members, and spans over 60 years, from 1934 to 1999. The book explores themes of love, family, identity, and the struggle between tradition and modernity. It provides a deep and poignant look into the complexities of Native American life and culture, and the challenges faced by the community.

  • Froth on the daydream by Boris Vian

    "Froth on the Daydream" is a tragic love story set in a surreal world. The protagonist is a wealthy young man who marries a woman he loves deeply. However, their bliss is short-lived when she develops a strange illness - a water lily growing in her lung. As her health deteriorates, so does their wealth and social standing, leading to a bleak and heartbreaking end. This novel is a poignant exploration of love, loss, and the harsh realities of life, all set within a fantastical and dreamlike landscape.

  • Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

    The novel tells the story of Saleem Sinai, who was born at the exact moment when India gained its independence. As a result, he shares a mystical connection with other children born at the same time, all of whom possess unique, magical abilities. As Saleem grows up, his life mirrors the political and cultural changes happening in his country, from the partition of India and Pakistan, to the Bangladesh War of Independence. The story is a blend of historical fiction and magical realism, exploring themes of identity, fate, and the power of storytelling.

  • A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes

    This novel tells the story of a group of children who are accidentally kidnapped by pirates in the Caribbean after a hurricane destroys their home. The children adapt to life on the sea and form a unique bond with the pirates, causing them to question societal norms and morality. The book explores themes of childhood innocence, the loss of innocence, and the blurred lines between civilization and savagery.

  • Amerika by Franz Kafka

    This novel tells the story of a young immigrant, Karl Rossmann, who after an unfortunate incident is sent by his parents to America. The narrative follows his journey through a strange new world, where he encounters a variety of eccentric characters and experiences a series of bizarre and often surreal situations. Throughout his journey, the protagonist struggles with feelings of alienation and the harsh realities of the American Dream, while trying to navigate the complexities of life in a foreign land.

  • Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

    The novel explores the life of an African-American man, Macon "Milkman" Dead III, from birth to adulthood. Set against the backdrop of racial tension in the mid-20th century United States, it delves into his journey of self-discovery and understanding his heritage. As Macon embarks on a literal and figurative journey south to reconnect with his roots, he encounters various characters that help him understand his family history and the power of community. The narrative is deeply rooted in African-American folklore and mythology, offering a profound commentary on identity, personal freedom, and the destructive power of racism.

  • Amongst Women by John McGahern

    "Amongst Women" is a novel that tells the story of Michael Moran, a bitter, aging Irish Republican Army (IRA) veteran, and his relationships with his wife and five children. The narrative explores themes of family, power, love, and the struggle between freedom and control. Moran's domineering personality and the effects of his past experiences in the IRA have a profound impact on his family, shaping their lives and relationships in complex and often destructive ways.

  • The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein

    In the late 21st century, the moon has become a penal colony where the inhabitants, known as "Loonies", live under harsh conditions and are exploited by the Earth's government. A supercomputer named Mike, a one-armed computer technician named Mannie, and a revolutionary named Wyoming Knott lead an uprising against the Earth's oppressive rule. With Mike's intelligence, Mannie's technical skills, and Wyoming's charisma, they successfully instigate a rebellion, navigating political intrigue, military strategy, and complex human relationships along the way.

  • The Heather Blazing by Colm Tóibín

    The protagonist, a respected Irish judge, reflects on his life as he spends his summer vacation in a seaside town in Ireland. As he navigates through the complexities of his professional life, he also grapples with his past, including the loss of his parents and his brother, his wife's infertility, and the changing political landscape of Ireland. The novel explores themes of memory, loss, and the tension between personal desires and societal expectations.

  • An Accidental Man by Iris Murdoch

    The novel revolves around a man who, despite his best intentions, seems to cause harm and chaos wherever he goes. He is surrounded by a group of diverse characters, each with their own unique struggles and stories. The narrative explores themes of morality, responsibility, and the complexities of human relationships, with a focus on the impact of one man's actions on those around him.

  • Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee

    This book is an in-depth examination of the lives of three tenant families in the South during the Great Depression. The author combines detailed descriptions, journalistic reporting, and poetic prose to capture the harsh realities of poverty, racial discrimination, and the struggle for survival. The book also includes evocative photographs that further illustrate the living conditions and daily lives of the families. The work is a profound exploration of the human condition, offering a raw and unflinching look at the effects of economic and social injustice.

  • Suttree by Cormac McCarthy

    Set in 1950s Knoxville, Tennessee, the novel follows the life of a man who has renounced his former existence of privilege to live among society's outcasts on the river. He is an educated man, who has chosen a life of fishing and surviving on the fringes of society. The narrative is filled with his encounters with various characters from the underbelly of the city, including criminals, prostitutes, and other outcasts. Despite his attempts to isolate himself, he finds himself drawn into the problems and tragedies of those around him.

  • Cities of the Red Night: A Novel by William S. Burroughs

    "Cities of the Red Night: A Novel" is a surreal, hallucinatory narrative that intertwines three storylines: an 18th-century pirate crew seeking utopia, a detective investigating a series of grotesque murders, and a pandemic causing spontaneous orgasms. The novel explores themes of homosexuality, anarchism, and the occult, using its disjointed narrative structure to challenge traditional understandings of time, space, and reality.

  • Life & Times of Michael K by J M Coetzee

    Set in South Africa during a civil war, the novel follows the journey of Michael K, a simple gardener with a cleft lip. When his mother falls ill, he attempts to take her back to her rural birthplace. After she dies en route, Michael continues the journey alone, struggling to survive in a war-torn landscape, while also being caught up in the bureaucratic red tape of the dystopian society. The story explores themes of freedom, survival, and the human spirit's resilience against adversity.

  • My Life and My Life in the Nineties by Lyn Hejinian

    "My Life and My Life in the Nineties" is a collection of autobiographical prose poems that explore the author's experiences, thoughts, and memories. The author uses an innovative approach to narrative and form, constructing each chapter with the same number of sentences as her age in years. The book is a profound exploration of time, identity, and language, offering a unique and thought-provoking perspective on life and the passage of time.

  • The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

    Set in the backdrop of New York's high society during the turn of the 20th century, the novel follows the life of Lily Bart, a beautiful but impoverished woman of social standing. As she navigates the pressures and expectations of her social circle, Lily grapples with the need to secure a wealthy husband to maintain her lifestyle. However, her romantic inclinations and her desire for personal freedom come into conflict with societal norms, leading to her tragic downfall.

  • The Rachel Papers by Martin Amis

    The book is a first-person narrative about a young man who, on the eve of his 20th birthday, is reflecting on his life and his obsessive relationship with a woman named Rachel. The protagonist is a cynical, ambitious, and intellectual individual who uses his wit and intelligence to manipulate and control his relationships. As he pursues Rachel, he records his thoughts, feelings, and experiences in a series of detailed and analytical papers. The narrative is filled with dark humor, sexual exploits, and philosophical musings.

  • Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor

    "Wise Blood" is a novel about a young man named Hazel Motes, who returns home to Tennessee after serving in World War II and finds his religious beliefs shaken. He becomes a street preacher, founding the Church Without Christ to preach his message of faithlessness. The book explores themes of redemption, faith, and the struggle between belief and atheism as Hazel interacts with a variety of eccentric characters and faces his own internal battles.

  • The Ballad of the Sad Cafe by Carson McCullers

    Set in a small, desolate Southern town, the book tells the story of Miss Amelia, a lonesome and eccentric woman who operates a café. Her life takes a turn when her estranged husband, Marvin Macy, a brutal man, and Cousin Lymon, a hunchbacked dwarf who she falls in love with, come to town. The book explores themes of love, loneliness, and isolation, as Miss Amelia's love for Cousin Lymon leads to her downfall and the café's closure.

  • Sweet Days of Discipline by Fleur Jaeggy

    The novel is a haunting tale of a young girl's experiences at a Swiss boarding school in the post-World War II era. The protagonist becomes infatuated with a fellow student, leading to an exploration of intense emotions, obsession, and the harsh realities of discipline and conformity within the rigid structure of the school. The narrative is characterized by its stark, minimalist prose and its exploration of themes such as loneliness, desire, and the loss of innocence.

  • The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

    The novel is a poignant tale of an English butler, Stevens, who reflects on his life and career during a road trip through the English countryside. As he delves into his past, he reveals his unquestioning loyalty to his former employer, Lord Darlington, and his unexpressed love for the housekeeper, Miss Kenton. The narrative explores themes of dignity, duty, and regret, as Stevens comes to terms with his unquestioning devotion to his employer and the missed opportunities in his personal life.

  • I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem by Maryse Condé

    This novel is a fictionalized account of the life of Tituba, a woman of African descent who was enslaved and brought to America in the 17th century. Accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials, Tituba's story is one of survival and resilience as she navigates the brutal realities of slavery, racial prejudice, and mass hysteria. The narrative explores themes of gender, race, and power while offering a unique perspective on a notorious period in American history.

  • Our Lady of the Flowers by Jean Genet

    The novel is a dark, poetic exploration of the criminal underworld in Paris, focusing on the life and fantasies of a homosexual prostitute and thief. The protagonist, while in prison, creates an elaborate fantasy world populated by outcasts, convicts, and murderers, including a transgender character who becomes his ideal of beauty and purity. The narrative is filled with graphic depictions of sex and violence, and explores themes of transgression, identity, and the transformative power of the imagination.

  • Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

    The novel explores the life of two sisters, Ruth and Lucille, who are raised by a series of relatives in a small, secluded town in Idaho after their mother's suicide. The girls' lives are profoundly affected by the eccentric and transient lifestyle of their aunt Sylvie, who becomes their guardian. The narrative delves deeply into themes of family, identity, womanhood, and the impermanence of life, ultimately leading to a divide between the sisters as they choose different paths in life.

  • Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

    A young woman marries a wealthy widower and moves into his large English country house. She quickly realizes that the memory of her husband's first wife, Rebecca, haunts every corner of the estate. The housekeeper's obsessive devotion to Rebecca and the mysterious circumstances of her death continue to overshadow the second wife's attempts to make a happy life with her husband. As secrets about Rebecca's life and death are revealed, the new wife must grapple with her own identity and place within the household.

  • Distant Star by Roberto Bolaño

    "Distant Star" is a chilling novel set in Chile following the 1973 coup that overthrew Salvador Allende. The story focuses on a character who uses his position as a member of the Chilean Air Force to commit heinous acts of violence. His fascination with poetry and aerial acrobatics is interwoven with his terrifying actions, creating a disconcerting contrast. The narrative explores the horrific realities of political upheaval, the fine line between art and brutality, and the long-lasting effects of trauma.

  • The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

    In this classic detective novel, a private investigator is hired by a wealthy family to resolve a blackmail issue involving the younger daughter. As he delves deeper into the case, he uncovers a web of deceit, murder, and organized crime. The detective's investigation is further complicated by his growing attraction to the older daughter, adding a layer of personal involvement to an already complex case. The novel is renowned for its gritty depiction of 1930s Los Angeles and its sharp, witty dialogue.

  • The Elementary Particles by Michel Houellebecq

    "The Elementary Particles" is a provocative novel that explores the lives of two half-brothers, one a molecular biologist and the other a disenchanted teacher, against the backdrop of late 20th-century France. The narrative delves into their personal struggles and emotional turmoil, resulting from their dysfunctional upbringing by a self-absorbed, hedonistic mother. Throughout the novel, the author uses their stories to critique contemporary society, touching on themes such as sexual liberation, consumerism, and the decline of traditional values. The book also delves into the implications of scientific advancements, particularly in the field of molecular biology.

  • The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

    Set in a wealthy Italian monastery in the 14th century, the novel follows a Franciscan friar and his young apprentice as they investigate a series of mysterious deaths within the monastery. As they navigate the labyrinthine library and decipher cryptic manuscripts, they uncover a complex plot involving forbidden books, secret societies, and the Inquisition. The novel is a blend of historical fiction, mystery, and philosophical exploration, delving into themes of truth, knowledge, and the power of the written word.

  • The Waves by Virginia Woolf

    "The Waves" is a novel that follows the lives of six friends from childhood to old age, using an innovative narrative style that intertwines their individual voices into a collective stream of consciousness. The novel explores themes of individual identity, the passage of time, and the human condition, presenting a unique and poetic meditation on the nature of life and death.

  • Stoner by John Williams

    The novel follows the life of William Stoner, a farm boy turned academic, who becomes a professor of English literature at the University of Missouri. Despite his love for teaching and his passion for literature, Stoner's life is marked by a series of personal and professional disappointments, including a loveless marriage, an unsuccessful career, and a failed relationship with a fellow professor. Throughout his life, Stoner remains dedicated to his work, finding solace and purpose in his commitment to the life of the mind.

  • A Violent Life by Pier Paolo Pasolini

    "A Violent Life" explores the journey of a young man from the slums of Rome who becomes entangled in the world of crime. As he navigates through this violent and chaotic life, he is confronted with the harsh realities of poverty, injustice, and the struggle for survival. The narrative provides a stark and unflinching examination of the underbelly of Italian society, revealing the deep-seated corruption and systemic inequality that pervades it. The protagonist's life is a testament to the destructive cycle of violence and despair that traps the marginalized and underprivileged.

  • The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

    A detective, laid up in the hospital, becomes fascinated with a portrait of Richard III, the historical figure accused of murdering his nephews to secure his throne. He decides to apply his investigative skills to delve into the mystery, using historical documents and records as his clues. As he pieces together the puzzle, he begins to question the accepted narrative of Richard as a villain, suggesting that this image was a fabrication by the Tudors to legitimize their own claim to the throne.

  • The Moon and the Bonfires by Cesare Pavese

    The story follows a man who, after making a fortune in America, returns to his small hometown in Italy after World War II. He finds the place significantly changed, with many of his old friends either dead or drastically different. As he tries to reconcile his memories with the new reality, he also grapples with his own identity and the impact of the war on his home. The narrative explores themes of change, identity, and the lasting effects of war.

  • The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

    The novel is a complex narrative that weaves together the story of two sisters in early 20th century Canada, one of whom publishes a scandalous novel that leads to her suicide. The surviving sister, now an elderly woman, reflects on their lives, revealing family secrets, heartbreak, and the truth behind the scandalous novel. The narrative is interspersed with excerpts from the controversial book, a science fiction story within a story, adding layers of intrigue and mystery.

About this list

ThisRecording.com, 100 Books

ThisRecording.com Editor Alex Carnevale selects his choices for the "100 Greatest Novels of All Time".

Added about 9 years ago.

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