The Greatest Irish, Japanese "Fiction" Books Since 1900

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This list represents a comprehensive and trusted collection of the greatest books. Developed through a specialized algorithm, it brings together 280 'best of' book lists to form a definitive guide to the world's most acclaimed books. For those interested in how these books are chosen, additional details can be found on the rankings page.

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  1. 1. 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.

  2. 2. 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.

  3. 3. Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

    "Waiting for Godot" is a play that explores themes of existentialism, despair, and the human condition through the story of two characters, Vladimir and Estragon, who wait endlessly for a man named Godot, who never arrives. While they wait, they engage in a variety of discussions and encounter three other characters. The play is characterized by its minimalistic setting and lack of a traditional plot, leaving much to interpretation.

  4. 4. 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.

  5. 5. 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.

  6. 6. Finnegans Wake by James Joyce

    This complex and challenging novel is renowned for its experimental style and intricate, dreamlike narrative. It explores the story of a publican in Dublin, his wife, and their three children, but the plot is not linear and often veers into surreal and abstract territory. The book is dense with linguistic games, puns, and allusions to a myriad of cultural, historical, and mythological sources. The narrative is circular, ending in the middle of a sentence that is completed at the start of the book, embodying the cyclical nature of life and history.

  7. 7. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

    A man's search for his wife's missing cat evolves into a surreal journey through Tokyo's underbelly, where he encounters a bizarre collection of characters with strange stories and peculiar obsessions. As he delves deeper, he finds himself entangled in a web of dreamlike scenarios, historical digressions, and metaphysical investigations. His reality becomes increasingly intertwined with the dream world as he grapples with themes of fate, identity, and the dark side of the human psyche.

  8. 8. Malone Dies by Samuel Beckett

    "Malone Dies" is a narrative that delves into the mind of an elderly man who lies in a decrepit room, slowly dying. Throughout the novel, the protagonist grapples with his impending demise, while reflecting on his past. He also creates characters and stories within his mind to cope with his solitude and despair. The novel, characterized by its stream-of-consciousness style and bleak outlook, is a profound exploration of the human condition, mortality, and the nature of existence.

  9. 9. The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen

    "The Death of the Heart" is a novel set in the interwar period, focusing on a sixteen-year-old orphan girl who moves in with her wealthy half-brother and his wife in London. As she navigates the complexities of her new social environment, she develops a crush on a friend of the family, leading to a series of misunderstandings and betrayals. The novel explores themes of innocence, love, betrayal, and the harsh realities of adulthood.

  10. 10. Dubliners by James Joyce

    "Dubliners" is a collection of 15 short stories that portray the life of the Irish middle class in the early 20th century. Each story depicts an aspect of everyday life in Dublin, capturing the complexities of human experiences and emotions. The stories range from childhood to adulthood, reflecting on themes such as the paralysis of routine, the desire for escape, and the failure of both. The book is renowned for its vivid characterization and its exploration of the subtleties of the human condition.

  11. 11. The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien

    "The Third Policeman" is a darkly comedic and surreal novel about a nameless narrator who, after committing a murder to raise funds for his scholarly obsession with a bizarre pseudo-scientific theory, finds himself wandering in an eerie, nightmarish landscape. He encounters strange characters, including a pair of eccentric policemen who are obsessed with bicycles, and becomes embroiled in a series of increasingly absurd and ludicrous situations. The novel explores themes of existence, reality, and the nature of hell, with a twist ending that forces the reader to question everything they've read.

  12. 12. The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett

    "The Unnamable" is a complex, stream-of-consciousness narrative that explores themes of existence, identity, and the nature of reality. The protagonist, who lacks a clear identity, is trapped in a void and continually questions his existence and reality. As he grapples with his own consciousness, he attempts to tell his story, but constantly doubts and revises it, creating a cyclical, fragmented narrative. The novel is known for its challenging, abstract prose and its exploration of existentialist themes.

  13. 13. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

    The novel is a haunting tale of three friends, who grow up together at a seemingly idyllic English boarding school. As they mature, they discover a dark secret about their school and the purpose of their existence, which is to become organ donors for the rest of society. The story is a profound exploration of what it means to be human, the morality of scientific innovation, and the heartbreaking reality of love and loss.

  14. 14. 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.

  15. 15. 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.

  16. 16. The Country Girls by Edna O'Brien

    "The Country Girls" is a coming-of-age novel about two young Irish women, Kate and Baba, who grow up in the restrictive and repressed atmosphere of rural Ireland in the 1950s. The narrative follows their journey from a convent school to the bright lights of Dublin, where they seek love and adventure. The novel explores themes of female friendship, sexual awakening, and the struggle for personal freedom against the backdrop of a conservative society.

  17. 17. 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.

  18. 18. Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata

    "Snow Country" is a poignant tale of a tragic love affair between a wealthy city-dweller and a provincial geisha. Set in a remote hot-spring town in the snowy Japanese mountains, the story explores the depth of human emotions, loneliness, and the ephemeral nature of beauty and love. The narrative is filled with vivid imagery and symbolism, reflecting the melancholic and transient beauty of the snow country, and the inevitable fate of the characters.

  19. 19. Some Prefer Nettles by Junichiro Tanizaki

    "Some Prefer Nettles" is a novel that explores the complexities of a failing marriage in early 20th century Japan. The main characters, a husband and wife, are both aware of their fading love for each other and are drawn to other people, but are hesitant to divorce due to societal pressures and the welfare of their young son. The novel also delves into the cultural tension between traditional Japanese customs and the encroaching influence of Western culture.

  20. 20. The Sea of Fertility by Yukio Mishima

    "The Sea of Fertility" is a four-part epic that follows the life of Shigekuni Honda, a man who believes in reincarnation. The series spans several decades, beginning in the early 20th century and ending in the 1970s, and explores Japanese history, culture, and spirituality. As Honda encounters individuals he believes to be the reincarnations of his childhood friend, he grapples with questions of identity, mortality, and the nature of the soul.

  21. 21. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

    Set in Tokyo during the late 1960s, the novel follows a college student as he navigates a complex love triangle while grappling with his own mental health and the societal pressures of the time. He's torn between his love for a beautiful but emotionally troubled woman and his growing feelings for a lively, outgoing classmate. As he confronts his past, present, and future, the narrative explores themes of love, loss, and personal growth.

  22. 22. Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa

    "Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories" is a collection of narratives that delve into the depths of human nature, exploring themes such as morality, truth, and the complexities of the human psyche. The stories, set in various periods of Japanese history, range from tales of ancient samurai to accounts of disturbing personal experiences, offering a rich and diverse exploration of Japanese culture and society. The title story, "Rashomon," is a psychological examination of a servant's moral dilemma during a time of civil unrest.

  23. 23. Kokoro by Sōseki Natsume

    "Kokoro" is a novel that delves into the complexities of human relationships and the changing cultural climate of Japan at the turn of the 20th century. The story is narrated by a young university student who forms an unlikely friendship with an older man, referred to only as "Sensei". As their bond deepens, the young man learns of Sensei's tragic past, his feelings of guilt and regret, and his struggle to find peace. The novel explores themes of loneliness, betrayal, and the moral dilemmas of modern life.

  24. 24. Silence by Shusaku Endo

    "Silence" is a historical novel set in the 17th century, which follows a Portuguese Jesuit missionary who travels to Japan to comfort local Christians and find his mentor, who is rumored to have renounced his faith. The protagonist experiences the brutal persecution of Christians by the Japanese government, and grapples with the silence of God in the face of suffering. The narrative explores themes of faith, doubt, cultural clash, and the human capacity for both cruelty and endurance.

  25. 25. Endgame by Samuel Beckett

    Endgame is a one-act play that follows the lives of Hamm, a blind and unable to stand man, and Clov, his servant who cannot sit. They live in a single room, with Hamm's legless parents residing in dustbins. The characters are trapped in a cyclical existence where they constantly argue and contemplate life, death, and their own existence. The play is characterized by its minimalistic setting and bleak outlook on life, reflecting themes of existentialism and the human condition.

Reading Statistics

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If you're interested in downloading this list as a CSV file for use in a spreadsheet application, you can easily do so by clicking the button below. Please note that to ensure a manageable file size and faster download, the CSV will include details for only the first 500 books.

Download