The Guardian’s 100 Best Novels by Robert McCrum, August 2015: two years in the making, 400 years in the writing…


Still feeling bereft at having finished “Middlemarch” and determined to go the whole hog with more of those classic reads, when along comes another grandiose book list. Will this one stop the Sunday Times’ list from resting on its auspicious laurels? The jury’s as always out, but there’s much merriment to be had in casting one’s eyes down a giant literary list of some of the very best in English-language fiction. Take a deep breath and feast your eyes on this article and ensuing Top 100 classification:

  1. “The Pilgrim’s Progress” by John Bunyan (1678) – read at school!, 8/10
  2. “Robinson Crusoe” by Daniel Defoe (1719)
  3. “Gulliver’s Travels” by Jonathan Swift (1726)
  4. “Clarissa” by Samuel Richardson (1748)
  5. “Tom Jones” by Henry Fielding (1749)
  6. “The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy, Gentleman” by Lawrence Sterne (1759)
  7. “Emma” by Jane Austen (1816) – A FAVOURITE READ, 10/10
  8. “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley (1818)
  9. “Nightmare Abbey” by Thomas Love Peacock (1818)
  10. “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket” by Edgar Allen Poe (1838)
  11. “Sybil” by Benjamin Disraeli (1845)
  12. “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Brontë (1847), FAVOURITE READ, 10/10
  13. “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Brontë (1847) – 10/10
  14. “Vanity Fair” by William Thackeray (1848)
  15. “David Copperfield” by Charles Dickens (1850) – A FAVOURITE READ, 10/10
  16. “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850)
  17. “Moby-Dick” by Herman Melville (1851)
  18. “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll (1865) – 10/10
  19. “The Moonstone” by Wilkie Collins (1868)
  20. “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott (1868-9) – A FAVOURITE READ, 10/10
  21. Middlemarch” by George Eliot (1871-2) – VERY FAVOURITE READ, 10/10
  22. “The Way We Live Now” by Anthony Trollope (1875)
  23. “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain (1884-5)
  24. “Kidnapped” by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)
  25. Three Men in a Boat” by Jerome K Jerome (1889), 7/10
  26. “The Sign of Four” by Arthur Conan Doyle (1891)
  27. “The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde (1891) – 10/10
  28. “New Grub Street” by George Gissing (1891)
  29. “Jude the Obscure” by Thomas Hardy (1895)
  30. “The Red Badge of Courage” by Steven Crane (1895)
  31. “Dracula” by Bram Stoker (1897)
  32. “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad (1899)
  33. “Sister Carrie” by Theodore Dreiser (1900)
  34. “Kim” by Rudyard Kipling (1901)
  35. “The Call of the Wild” by Jack London (1903)
  36. “The Golden Bowl” by Henry James (1904) – BARBARA PYM’s DESERT ISLAND CHOICE!!
  37. “Hadrian the Seventh” by Frederic Rolfe (1904)
  38. “The Wind in the Willow” by Kenneth Grahame (1908)
  39. “The History of Mr Polly” by H.G. Wells (1910)
  40. “Zuleika Dobson” by Max Beerbohm (1911)
  41. “The Good Soldier” by Ford Madox Ford (1915), 6/10
  42. “The Thirty-Nine Steps” by John Buchan (1915), 8/10
  43. “The Rainbow” by D.H. Lawrence (1915)
  44. “Of Human Bondage” by W. Somerset Maugham (1915)
  45. The Age of Innocence” by Edith Wharton (1920) – A FAVOURITE BOOK, 10/10
  46. “Ulysses” by James Joyce (1922)
  47. “Babbitt” by Sinclair Lewis (1922)
  48. “A Passage to India” by E.M. Forster (1924)
  49. “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” by Anita Loos (1925)
  50. “Mrs Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf (1925), 7/10
  51. “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925), 10/10
  52. “Lolly Willowes” by Sylvia Townsend Warner (1926)
  53. “The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway (1926)
  54. “The Maltese Falcon” by Dashiell Hammett (1929)
  55. “As I Lay Dying” by William Faulkner (1930)
  56. “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley (1932), 10/10
  57. “Cold Comfort Farm” by Stella Gibbons (1932)
  58. “Nineteen Nineteen” by John Dos Passos (1932)
  59. “Tropic of Cancer” by Henry Miller (1934)
  60. “Scoop” by Evelyn Waugh (1938)
  61. “Murphy” by Samuel Beckett (1938)
  62. “The Big Sleep” by Raymond Chandler (1939)
  63. “Party Going” by Henry Green (1939)
  64. “At Swim-Two-Birds” by Flann O’Brien (1939)
  65. “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck (1939)
  66. “Joy in the Morning” by P.G. Wodehouse (1946)
  67. “All the King’s Men” by Robert Penn Warren (1946)
  68. “Under the Volcano” by Malcolm Lowry (1947)
  69. “The Heat of the Day” by Elizabeth Bowen (1948)
  70. “Nineteen Eighty-Four” by George Orwell (1948)
  71. The End of the Affair” by Graham Greene (1951), 10/10
  72. “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger (1951), 10/10
  73. “The Adventures of Augie March” by Saul Bellow (1953)
  74. “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding (1954) – 8/10
  75. Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov (1955), 10/10
  76. “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac (1957)
  77. “Voss” by Patrick White (1957)
  78. “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Lee Harper (1960), 10/10
  79. “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” by Muriel Spark (1960), 10/10
  80. “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller (1961)
  81. “The Golden Notebook” by Doris Lessing (1962)
  82. “A Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess (1962)
  83. “A Single Man” by Christopher Isherwood (1964), 6/10
  84. “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote (1966)
  85. “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath (1966), 8/10
  86. “Portnoy’s Complaint” by Philip Roth (1969)
  87. Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont” by Elizabeth Taylor (1971) – A FAVOURITE BOOK, 10/10
  88. “Rabbit Redux” by John Updike (1971)
  89. “Song of Solomon” by Toni Morrison (1977)
  90. “A Bend in the River” V. S. Naipaul (1979)
  91. “Midnight’s Children” by Salman Rushdie (1981)
  92. “Housekeeping” by Marilynne Robinson (1981), 8/10
  93. “Money: A Suicide Note” by Martin Amis (1984)
  94. “An Artist of the Floating World” by Kazuo Ishiguro (1986)
  95. “The Beginning of Spring ” by Penelope Fitzgerald (1988)
  96. Breathing Lessons” by Anne Tyler (1988), 9/10
  97. “Amongst Women” by John McGahern (1990)
  98. “Underworld” by Don DeLillo (1997)
  99. “Disgrace” by J. M. Coetzee (1999)
  100. “True History of the Kelly Gang” by Peter Carey (2000).

Oh dear, just a measly quarter under that belt. Did you fare better on this literary journey?

I could quote lock, stock and barrel now, though, because I so enjoyed reading Mr McCrum’s comments about who DIDN’T make it to his Top 100. Here’s what he said about some of the ones that got away :

So: a few howlers, several regrets, and many sleepless nights… Margaret Mitchell (Gone With the Wind); Daphne du Maurier (Rebecca); Ian Fleming (Casino Royale)… Or, more painful still, Nancy Mitford (The Pursuit of Love)… There were some other deliberate omissions: Elizabeth Gaskell (North and South), whose appeal I confess I’ve never understood; Nathanael West (Miss Lonelyhearts); Rosamond Lehmann (The Weather in the Streets); John Fowles (The French Lieutenant’s Woman), whose work has not worn well… One casualty of this process whom I deeply regret omitting is the Australian novelist Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children (1940), a profoundly moving study of family life so pitch perfect that it’s hard to believe her novel is not better known.”

Personally, I wonder how come Barbara Pym didn’t get a look in. That seems a bit of a travesty. I’ll quietly get off my hobby horse.

And hang on a second though, are a colossal 79/100 penned by men? That’s even worse than the Sunday Times. Greatly enjoyed Rachel Cooke’s response on just reading as a human being, “irrespective” of sex, as it were.

 To close what has become a very long but very meaty list – we collectively go out with a giant bang and not a whimper in sight as the last word goes back to Robert McCrum:

Say what you like about my list (and thousands have merrily done so these past two years), the Anglo-American literary tradition, a source of some sublime and imperishable masterpieces, deserves to be celebrated for some astonishing achievements. Here, to provoke  readers just one last time, is my All Time Top 10 (chosen from this series, in chronological order)” :

  • Emma
  • Wuthering Heights
  • Moby-Dick
  • Middlemarch
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  • Heart of Darkness
  • The Rainbow
  • Ulysses
  • Mrs Dalloway
  • The Great Gatsby

There’s nothing later than 1925 – and what a turn out for the books. Not sure I could ever bring myself to try “Ulysses” again, in a million years. Do you agree with his final verdict?

 Images taken from here and here and here.
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18 Responses to The Guardian’s 100 Best Novels by Robert McCrum, August 2015: two years in the making, 400 years in the writing…

  1. I read this article in the paper last week and was very glad to see Rachel Cooke’s response printed directly underneath, as I couldn’t believe the lack of female writers on the list.

    There’s lots I don’t agree with on the list, but at the same time I think Robert McCrum has a thankless task – the list is basically one man’s opinion and everyone would have their own 100!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it’s an impossible task I agree – although as the lists grow it’s interesting to see which books are always sure to be mentioned. Your “Middlemarch” is never, ever left off, for instance, did you notice! Also, re the women on the list, or lack of, that’s one of the reasons I like following the Baileys/Orange prize every year – it would be good if they had a go at coming up with a Top 100 exclusively penned by females. Would make for interesting reading, I think. x

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, Middlemarch is always recognised which is good to see 🙂 I follow the Baileys prize too, there’s often a debate about whether there should be a gender-specific prize but I think lists like this show why it is still necessary! A female 100 would be really interesting.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Yes it’s food for thought – a Christmas Top 100 Favourite Female Authors list could well be in the making….

      Liked by 1 person

  2. alison41 says:

    I’m a sucker for lists so I enjoyed this post. I took a quick peek at the Sunday Times list – more modern and therefore more to my taste.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Yes, I was a bit surprised that this list has no works since the year 2000, although maybe that was a conscious decision. I’d read more of the Sunday Times’ books too, and am now wondering if that is because there are more modern titles than this one – I did like the way R.M. gave the date of publication too, though (he didn’t like very much from the 1970s, mind you!).


  4. Denise says:

    What a daunting task – for me, even selecting one each of the “greats” on the list would be challenging eg surely Persuasion is a better novel than Emma?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “Persuasion” is on my Hit List for this year. I did love “Emma” but haven’t revisited for such a long time, am wondering if my perception will have changed next read through. I’m glad I’ve joined the Classics Challenge as it’s going to force me to slowly but surely make my way through of books like “Persuasion” that I have kept putting to one side with a feeling of guilt!


  6. Hi! I’ve nominated you for the Dragon’s Loyalty Award. Please feel free to take part or ignore if you’re too busy! Well done. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks so much for the nomination – that’s made my day!!!


  8. FictionFan says:

    I love these lists! This one is much better than some of them, I think. I’m not choking too much over any of the entries, though I’d swap some – for example, I think Greene’s ‘The Heart of the Matter’ is a better book than ‘The End of the Affair’. All subjective of course – but at least he hasn’t gone down the route of adding all today’s best-sellers as some of them do. 38 is my total – rather horrifyingly nearly all from the early end of the spectrum. Must catch up with modern lit-fic one of these days. And several of them are on my Great American Novels list…

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’ve got a long way to go to get level with you, especially on your GAN front, but all these lists help when they overlap. 38 is pretty good going…
    Thanks also for the suggestion re Graham Greene – the only one I have read so far is TEOTA: have added “Brighton Rock” as one of the Classics challenges and will add THOTM to my wish list now. Merci…


  10. Lucy says:

    I love these lists, and am trying to complete the Guardian top 100 of all time. Otherwise, there would be no way on this earth I would have stuck with the infuriating not-far-off one million words of ‘Clarissa’. Lists play right into my childhood mentality of wanting stickers and badges when I can complete something, and quite frankly reading ‘Don Quixote’ is a lot harder than swimming 25 metres, so someone should give me a badge!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Am following you as you go – there are a lot of them that overlap but you’ve also got Céline in there and Proust AND Kafka, for of course yours is the international version – you get an extra thousand house points and gold stickers for that alone!!


  12. I’ve read 30 of these, and a bunch on there I do and don’t agree with as far as worth or whatever, but as usual, lists like these are so fun to go through, and a great way to find new suggestions of books I might want to read!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I’m a bit list mad, so when I get round to it am going to cross reference all the ones I’m collecting and see which the constants are!! Middlemarch for certain, that seems to be on every list going, and no small wonder.


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