Friday, November 16, 2007

38. Gabriel's Gift - Hanif Kureishi

This was a quite a sweet, enjoyable story, short and quick to read. The novel starts as Gabriel's father, an aging has-been rock-and-roll bass player, is thrown out of the family home. Gabriel's mother goes out to find a job in a local bar, bringing home strange men and entrusting Gabriel to the care of a fat and ugly Eastern European refugee named Hannah. While confused and upset by the changes happening in his family, Gabriel also feels slightly comforted by the fact that he now more 'normal' - almost everyone he knows comes from a broken home.

Gabriel is an artist, and much of the story focusses on his preoccupation with creating - sketching, writing, photographing, and planning the film he wants to shoot. My favourite expression of this artistic talent occurs in passing as Gabriel and his father are invited to visit the lead singer of his dad's old band. Where Gabriel's father faded into obscurity, Lester went on to find David Bowie-style fame and fortune.

There was a deep hush in the hotel; the place was so stylish that there appeared to be nothing to disfigure the austerity of nothing piled on nothing, apart from - on an invisible shelf - a white vase containing a single white flower.
...
On reaching the lobby, Gabriel extracted an apple from his pocket, which he had taken from Lester's fruit bowl. He placed it on the floor in the middle of a ring of drab stones. The little patch of colour would cheer people up. He and his father passed into the crowd of photographers and fans stamping their feet in the cold. Gabriel turned to see several colourless figures scampering towards the anarchic apple.

Colour plays a big part in Gabriel's world, often used in startling ways to illustrate a point, such as in this description of the men Gabriel's father hangs out with at the local pub - a far cry from the glitz and glamour of the life he so nostalgically clings to.

The place was full of childish men from the post office and the local bus garage gazing up at the big TV screen. Dad's grey-faced mates were playing pool. They all looked the same to Gabriel with their roll-ups, pints and musty clothes. They rarely went out into the light, unless they stood outside the pub on a sunny day, and they were as likely to eat anything green, as they were to drink anything blue or wear anything pink.

When he is most troubled, Gabriel talks to his twin brother Archie, a twin who died of meningitis when he was two, but who has never been forgotten in the family. This upsets Gabriel's mum, but his dad is more understanding.

"By the way, what's this about you and Archie talking and stuff?"
Gabriel hesitated but said, "He's with me, Dad."
"Of course he is. He's with me too. That's where the kid should be, with his family."
"You talk to him?"
"Every day." Gabriel was relieved. Dad went on, "Don't tell Mum. It upsets her.

Despite their problems, Gabriel's parents are doing their best. However, in many ways, fifteen year old Gabriel is more adult than they are. He is a nice lad, and the story told from his point-of-view is entertaining. I particularly appreciated the happy ending!

43. The Corrections - Jonathan Franzen

The most endearing feature of the characters in this novel is how utterly pathetic they are. As an example, here is a description of failed academic, Chip Lambert, attempting to shoplift a package of hideously expensive salmon.

"Ha, ha!" he said, palming the seventy-eight-dollar fillet like a catcher's mitt. He dropped to one knee and touched his bootlaces and took the salmon right up inside his leather jacket and underneath his sweater and tucked the sweater into his pants and stood up again.
"Daddy, I want swordfish," a little voice behind him said.
Chip took two steps, and the salmon, which was quite heavy, escaped from his sweater and covered his groin, for one unstable moment, like a codpiece.
"Daddy! Swordfish!"
Chip put his hand to his crotch. The dangling fillet felt like a cool, loaded diaper. He repositioned it against his abs and tucked in the sweater more securely, zipped his jacket to the neck, and strode purposefully toward the whatever. Toward the dairy wall.[p94-95]

This same salmon is later unknowingly served to his parents, Enid and Alfred, by his chef sister, Denise. Alfred has Parkinson's disease, and (like the father in Lambs of London) this gives him an endearing eccentricity which makes him probably the most attractive character in the novel. Even so, his triumphs are overloaded with pathos.

The tone of relationships in the novel is either one of bewildered, half-submerged affection, or aggressive, as in this conversation between the oldest brother, Gary and his wife Caroline.

"Did you tell the boys that I'm depressed?" Gary asked her in the darkness from the far margin of their quarter-acre bed. "Caroline? Did you lie to them about my mental state? Is that why everybody's suddenly being so agreeable?"
...
"You know, you are getting seriously paranoid."
"Fuck, fuck, fuck!"
"Gary, this is frightening."
"You're fucking with my head! And there is no lower trick than that. There's no meaner trick in the book."
"Please, please, listen to yourself."
"Answer my question," he said. "Did you tell them I'm 'depressed'? "Having a hard time'?"
"Well - aren't you?"
[p202]

It is questionable how much of the children's later dysfunctionality is a result of Alfred and Enid's parenting style. Although we gather from Alfred's later thoughts that he is most fond of Chip, the middle brother, that is not how Chip remembers it. And while Enid is obsessed with bringing the family together for one last Christmas, it is an ideal of 'family life' that she longs for, not the reality of her husband and children. One of the most telling episodes is a flashback in which 7 year old Chip refuses to eat his mother's cooking. (It is worth quoting at length to show how this novel seems to cast a distasteful flavour over everything it touches on.)

There was something almost tasty and almost sexy in letting the annoying boy be punished by her husband. In standing blamelessly aside while the boy suffered for having hurt her.
What you discovered about yourself in raising children wasn't always agreeable or attractive.
...
The dogshit-yellow field of rutubaga; the liver warped by frying and so unable to lie flush with the plate; the ball of woody beet leaves collapsed and contorted but still entire, like a wetly compressed bird in an eggshell, or an ancient corpse folded over in a bog: the spatial relations among these foods no longer seemed to Chipper haphazard but were approaching permanence, finality.[p 263]

It is Alfred, emerging from his basement laboratory five hours later after everyone else is asleep, who finally tucks Chip into bed and kisses him goodnight, finding the boy had fallen asleep at the table.

Returning to the dining room, he noticed the change in the food on Chipper's plate. The well-browned margins of the liver had been carefully pared off and eaten, as had every scrap of crust. There was evidence as well that rutubaga had been swallowed; the small speck that remained was scored with tiny tine marks. And several beet greens had been dissected, the softer leaves removed and eaten, the woody reddish stems laid aside. It appeared that Chipper had taken the contractual one bite of each food after all, presumably at great personal cost, and had been put to bed without being given the dessert he'd earned.
On a November morning thirty-five years earlier Alfred had found a coyote's bloody foreleg in the teeth of a steel trap, evidence of certain desperate hours in the previous night.
There came an upwelling of pain so intense that he had to clench his jaw and refer to his philosophy to prevent its turning into tears.[p 275-6]

In his old age, Alfred suffers night-time hallucinations induced by his medication. These become particularly bad when he and Enid go on a holiday cruise together.

The turd had an attitude, a tone of voice, that Alfred found eerily familiar but couldn't quite place. It began to roll and tumble on his pillow, spreading a shiny greenish-brown film with little lumps and fibers in it, leaving white creases and hollows where the fabric was bunched. Alfred, on the floor by the bed, covered his nose and mouth with his hands to mitigate the stench and horror.
Then the turd ran up the leg of his pyjamas. He felt its tickling mouselike feet. [p 286]

It would almost be funny - this image of a once proud old man struggling alone with the tabs of his adult diaper in a tiny cruise-ship bathroom, while being taunted by figments of his imagination - if it didn't make you want to cry.

The New York Times Book Review said, ""If you don't end up liking each one of Franzen's people, you probably just don't like people." I didn't like these people. I felt sad and sorry for them, and I was glad that when I closed the book, I could also close them out of my life. This was a big book - nearly 600 pages. It is not badly written, but I think the quote which comes closest to summing up my reaction is this one:

The Corrections is a lumpy, strange, singular work, very much of this moment even as it harks back to a kind of American novel long deemed extinct. Its portrayal of American family life sometimes seems cruel and unforgiving, yet the sheer amplitude of its vision implies a kind of sympathy, or at least understanding. (...) It's a vivid reading experience of tremendous texture and dimension, a masterwork of observed detail. It's not always likable, but it's real. - Andrew O'Hehir, Salon

I just can't help being glad that it's not MY reality!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

46. Fury - Salman Rushdie

Wow! This book blew me away from the first page to the last!

It was funny, sweet, unpredictable and endlessly surprising. All the characters were so lovingly drawn that even the most minor passerby was instantly imaginable. Take, for example, this image of the 'hero' attempting to lose himself in New York's varied culture:

Professor Solanka, who thought of himself as egalitarian by nature and a born-and-bred metropolitan of the countryside-is-for-cows persuasion, on parade days strolled sweatily cheek by jowl among his fellow citizens. One Sunday he rubbed shoulders with slim-hipped gay-pride prancers, the next weekend he got jiggy beside a big-assed Puerto Rican girl wearing her national flag as a bra. He didn't feel intruded upon amid the multitudes; to the contrary. There was a satisfying anonymity in the crowds, an absence of intrusion. Nobody here was interested in his mysteries. Everyone was here to lose themselves. Such was the unarticulated magic of the masses, and these days losing himself was just about Professor Solanka's only purpose in life. (6-7)

Professor Malik Solanka was born in Bombay, educated at Cambridge, happily married, father to a young son... With his wife's support, he gives up his work as an academic professor in order to follow his fascination with making dolls. His figurines are a great success, particularly 'Little Brain', who starts out by having her own tv show where she interviews various historical philosophers, but is gradually taken over by the marketing gurus and becomes bigger than Barbie. Malik is raking in the money, so he can't protest at the transformation of his beloved creation. Then one night he finds himself standing over his sleeping wife & toddler, testing the sharpness of the carving knife in his hand. Horrified by his unexplained fits of rage and the possibility that he poses a danger to his family, he jumps on a plane and flies to America, sure that there he will either be killed or cured. His family are bewildered, as is Malik himself, who reads about a mystery killer in the paper, targeting beautiful young socialites, and worries that the killings coincide with periods for which he has no memory.

As the story continues, we learn more of Little Brain, and how her commercialization is a major factor in the development of Malik's fury.

This creature of his own imagining, born of his best self and purest endeavour, was turning before his eyes into the kind of monster of tawdry celebrity he most profoundly abhorred. His original and now obliterated Little Brain had been genuinely smart, able to hold her own with Erasmus or Schopenhauer. She had been beautiful and sharp tongued, but she had swum in the sea of ideas, living the life of the mind. This revised edition, over which he had long ago lost creative control, had the intellect of a slightly over-average chimpanzee. Day by day she became a creature of the entertainment microverse, her music videos - yes, she was a recording artist now! - out-raunching Madonna's, her appearances at premiers out-Hurleying every starlet who ever trod the red carpet in a dangerous frock. She was a video game and a cover girl, and this, remember, in her personal appearance mode at least, was essentially a woman whose own head was completely concealed inside the iconic doll's. ... Professor Solanka remained aloof, refusing all invitations to discuss his out-of-control creation. The money, however, he was unable to refuse. Royalties continued to pour into his bank account. He was compromised by greed, and the compromise sealed his lips. Contractually bound not to attack the goose that laid the golden eggs, he had to bottle up his thoughts and, in keeping his own counsel, filled up with the bitter bile of his many discontents. With every new media initiative spearheaded by the character he had once delineated with such sprightliness and care, his impotent fury grew. ... Fury stood above him like a cresting Hokusai wave. Little Brain was his deliquent child grown into a rampaging giantess, who now stood for everything he despised and trampled beneath her giant feet all the high principles he had brought her into being to extol; including, evidently, his own. ... Malik Solanka was forced to admit a terrible truth. He hated Little Brain. (98-100)

He meets Mila Milo, intelligent daughter of Yugoslavian poet, playing at being a street teen-queen, and one of Little Brain's biggest fans. She even looks like her. Mila 'adopts' Malik and gets him to take another look at the world. I laughed out loud at her response to Malik's confession, quoted above. She told him about her father, having a great time drinking, smoking, loving and working himself to death, until he decided he was needed in the war between the Serbs and Croats:

That's what I started out to say, Professor, don't talk to me about fury, I know what it can do. America, because of its omnipotence, is full of fear; it fears the fury of the world and renames it envy, or so my dad used to say. They think we want to be them, he'd say after a few hits of hooch, but really we're just mad as hell and don't want to take it any more. See, he knew about fury. But then he set aside what he knew and behaved like a damn fool. Because about five minutes after he landed in Belgrade - or maybe it was five hours or five days or five weeks, who, like, cares? - the fury blew him to pieces and there wasn't enough of him found to collect up and put in a box. So, yeah, Professor, and you're mad about a doll. Well, excuse me. (114)

Mila turns out to be an extremely interesting character, one who kept me reading late into many early mornings.

Mila's special thing turned out to be the collection and repair of damaged people... (117-8)

I will leave you to discover her for yourself, and the ways in which she, herself, is a damaged person... and Neela, another brilliantly depicted, amazing character... and the new generation of puppets that Solanka creates... as I am finding myself being tempted to type out something from almost every page! At the start of this review, I referred to Malik Solanka as the hero, but in inverted commas. This is because he is not (until the very last moment) really very heroic. It is the women who shine in this novel, and the three women in Solanka's lovelife - his wife, Eleanor, Mila and Neela - who are really the heroines. (This feminine triumvirate echoes the three Furies, who are also major factors in the novel). I think I have said enough now to justify the high score I am going to give this one - and my heartiest recommendation so far!

If you have not studied English lierature, or are not American, there are going to be places where you feel a little lost among the names being dropped. However, the novel is so well-written and entertaining that you can easily let your eyes glaze over and skim these sections without losing anything of the story. Sure, at times, elements of the story are too way-out to be believable. The constant slapstick caused by Neela's head-turning beauty, for example, or the overly-simplistic responses of those involved in the civil war in Lilliput-Blefescue... but I did not find these elements out of place in a satirical comedy. If I had to choose something to dislike about this novel, it would be the dismissal of God and religion as a force in the society - but in a way, this works more powerfully than if religion were explicitly referred to, as in a novel so densely packed with cultural references, it is made more conspicuous by its absence. Where there were dismissive comments, I found myself internally arguing with the narrator, and after a while I began to wonder if this was Rushdie's intention. It is, on the whole, a very intelligent, active work that is larger not only than life - it is larger than fiction! The ending, by the way, was perfect - a joyful, hopeful image that I loved. Then there was a page headed "About the Author". The rest of the page, and the following pages were blank. I thought this was a nice touch, too - the book speaks for itself!

On finishing the novel, I have no hesitation in confirming my initial reaction - WOW! What an incredible story! The personal narrative of the characters is interwoven with social commentary so skilfully that it never really becomes intrusive or extraneous... just when you start to even think about getting bored, the plot takes a twist and you are right back in the middle of the action. It was also educational as well as being entertaining! For the first time in ages I found myself needing to look up a word (oenophile - one who appreciates and enjoys wine). There are stories within stories in this novel, and it would easily repay serious study, while remaining a fascinating experience for the casual reader. I really recommend this one! (Sorry about the over-effusive use of exclamation marks in this review. For once I wholeheartedly agree with the advertising hyperbole on the cover of 'Fury' - "A wickedly dark comedy from one of the world's truly great writers.")

45. The Body Artist - Don DeLillo

I raced through most of this slim novel with a slightly superior sneer on my face. It was weird, incomprehensible, boring. I would give it a 1/10, or even a zero, because there was no chance I was going to read it again. It started with the last, unremarkable breakfast between a man and his wife (Lauren) - he smoking a cigarette, she sniffing the foot-odour of her cereal, reading the paper, watching the birds. Then he drives into town and shoots himself in his first wife's apartment and Lauren is left alone.

Or is she? The center of the novel contains her obsession with the retarded man she finds living in her house, and her obsession with reshaping (torturing?) her own body. It feels repetitive, circular, uneventful. The reader feels somewhat embarrassed for her, pestering this poor unfortunate to repeat snippets of past conversations in her husband's voice, desperately trying to make him make sense. Then suddenly this child-man is gone and she is alone again.

It was at this point, almost at the very end of the novel, that I found myself pulled in and willingly riding "the wind-swayed web."(7) Nothing really happened, except that somehow, I began to understand - and to care. I want to quote the passage that marked my turning point:

She wanted to create her future, not enter a state already shaped to her outline.

Something is happening. It has happened. It will happen. This is what she believed. There is a story. A flow of consciousness and a possibility. The future comes into being.

But not for him.

He hasn't learned the language. There has to be an imaginary point, a nonplace where language intersects with our perceptions of time and space, and he is a stranger at this crossing, without words or bearings.
...

This is a man who remembers the future.

...
If you examine the matter methodically, you realize that he is a retarded man sadly gifted in certain specialized areas, such as memory retention and mimicry, a man who'd been concealed in a large house, listening.

Nothing else makes sense.

It is a thing no one understands. But it makes and shapes you. And in these nights since he'd left she sometimes sat with a book in her lap, eyes closed, and felt him living somewhere in the dark, and it is colder where he is, it is wintrier there, and she wanted to take him in, try to know him in the spaces where his chaos lurks, in all the soft-cornered rooms and unravelling verbs, the parts of speech where he is meant to locate his existence, and in the material place where Rey lives in him, alive again, word for word, touch for touch, and she opened and closed her eyes and thought in a blink the world had changed.

He violates the limits of the human. (99-100)

This question of what it means to be human, which had been so easy to dismiss and distance myself from, suddenly had me in its grasp. The author is masterful in his choice of when and how to reveal what it means to be a 'body artist'. Everything you have read so far in the novel seems altered when you realise what she, Lauren, had been preparing for. What she is and what she does as a performance artist. I won't spoil the surprise.

As the novel draws to a close, I began to suspect more and more that everything had not been as simple and straightforward as it seemed. Did the retarded man exist at all, or was he part of her creation, a rehearsal, a coping mechanism, or a madness?

Why shouldn't the death of a person you love bring you into lurid ruin? You don't know how to love the ones you love until they disappear abruptly. Then you understand how thinly distanced from their suffering, how sparing of self you often were, only rarely unguarded of heart, working your networks of give-and-take. ... Sink lower, she thought. Let it bring you down. Go where it takes you. (116)

So, with my sneer replaced by an expression of wonder, I reached the last page, regretting only that it was 3am and I couldn't immediately turn back to the first page and start again. This is one of those novels that I suspect will change and alter the reader's perceptions with every reading: "A flow of consciousness and a possibility." Externally, nothing really happens - nature and time move on, it is colder, the birds come to the feeders or they do not - but internally? The possibilities are endless.

Chances I will read it again? 6/10 For a while there it was a definite 10, but then I thought about the other 995 books on the list still waiting to be reviewed... this one was intriguing, but not fascinating enough to guarantee it an instant place among my all time favourites. Certainly one to remember, though.

Monday, October 08, 2007

11. The Lambs of London - Peter Ackroyd

When I first realised this book concerned fictionalised versions of Charles and Mary Lamb, writers of 'Shakespeare for Children' in the late eighteenth / early nineteenth century, I was intrigued. Other reviewers have attempted to unravel historical fact from the invented narrative, so I will focus mainly on the novel's effect on me as a work of fiction. I must admit I was disappointed.

This is a novel of fakes and false appearances. However, this theme appears to have pervaded every aspect of the writing. The characters felt very much like cardboard cutouts being moved around an artfully decorated stage.

Charles and Mary Lamb live with their parents - their father senile with alzheimer's, and their mildly annoying mother, whose chief sin seems to be that she nags her children and treats her husband as an infant. Mary is in delicate physical and mental health following her recovery from smallpox, yet since her mother refuses to hire another servant, the brunt of domestic life falls on her shoulders (though we never see her cooking, cleaning, shopping or anything else in this line). She is sensitive and intellectual and longs for the companionship and esteem of her brother. He, in turn, dreams of a shining future as a writer, drowning his disenchantment with his mundane job in alcohol while discussing literature with his workmates at various local drinking establishments. When he returns home 'sozzled', it is Mary who removes his boots and tucks him into bed. Mary is in fact the better scholar of the two, but Charles makes light of her achievements: "He laughed again, and ruffled her hair. She tried to smile but then lowered her head; she felt vain and foolish."

There is a strong feminist subtext in Mary's story, beginning with the association between her and the moon (symbolic of her slide into lunacy) which is drawn in the first paragraph:

"There was no one in the drawing-room with her, so she put her face upwards, towards the sun. Her skin was marked by the scars of smallpox, suffered by her six years before; so she held her face to the light, and imagined it to be the pitted moon."

However, this much more interesting story exists in potential only, for Ackroyd conjures it only superficially as part of the larger narrative. Mary herself is constantly pushed into the background whenever she tries to emerge - by the author as much as by the other characters.

Along comes William Ireland, who excites Mary with his discovery of lost Shakespearean texts and artifacts. She is flattered by his attention and confidences, and cherishes romantic feelings towards him, but is ultimately destroyed (we assume) by his lukewarm dalliance and betrayal of her trust. When Mary overhears him confessing to his father that he forged the Shakespearean texts she so ardently supported on his behalf, Mary's heart is broken. She goes home and stabs her mother to death. There is a court case, Mary is committed to a private asylum for the insane, and Charles cares for her until she dies suddenly (while watching him perform a snippet of A Midsummer Night's Dream for her amusement).

Ireland, apparently, created the forgeries 'because he could' and to impress his father, who is obsessed with all things Shakespearean. His 'art for art's sake' motivation comes into conflict with his father's profit motive. He appears to have bothered with Mary purely in order to enlist her brother's help in authenticating the fakes, having been an eager eavesdropper on Charles' drunken literary conversations.

Ackroyd's recreation of Shakespearean poetry is quite well done and believable, as is the Georgian setting. There are lots of little historical details which give a nice background to the story. Overall, however, I found it unsatisfying. The idolatry of Shakespeare feels overdone and unjustified - perhaps more 'readings' from the bard himself might have helped?

One reviewer has called the novel: "an irreverent romp, a somewhat bawdy journey through 1790s London, thrusting the reader into the stuffy world of antiquarian literature and the people who think so highly of it." (Michael Leonard, The Lambs of London, Curledup.com) As far as I am concerned, the 'bawdy' details were thrown in for purely gratuitous effect and stuck out like sore thumbs. There were only two such scenes - in the first, 17 year old William Ireland loses his virginity to a prostitute while riding on the roof of a public carriage, with his father seated inside. This was mildly amusing, but I looked in vain for the comedic aspects of this scene to appear elsewhere in the novel! The other involves an authorial aside giving details of the pederastic abuse of a young Carribean boy by two intellectual doctors. Neither of these two scenes (or characters) are ever referred to again and they seem to exist as vignettes, simply to give a 'flavour' to the age.

My favourite character in the novel was Mr Lamb, whose non-sequiter ramblings seemed more warmly human than almost anything else that was going on:

When her mother had left the room, Mary sat down beside him on the faded green divan. ‘Did you sing at the service, Pa?’

‘The minister was mistaken.’

‘On what matter?’

‘There are no rabbits in Worcestershire.’

‘Are there not?’

‘No, nor muffins neither.’

Mrs Lamb professed to believe that there was some wisdom in her husband’s ramblings, but Mary knew that there was none. Yet he interested her more now than he had ever done; she was intrigued by the strange and random phrases that issued from him. It was as if language was talking to itself.

‘Are you cold, Pa?’

‘Just an error in the accounts.’

‘Do you suppose?’

‘A red letter day.’

My overall impression was that the novel skipped around from scene to scene without really stopping to explore its themes in detail. I would agree wholeheartedly with the reviewer from The Age, who said:

"The character of Mrs Lamb is even more sketchily drawn. We only really glimpse the inexplicable contempt of her children towards her, their desire to keep her at arm's length. As a consequence Mary appears highly strung and Charles charmless.

Ackroyd opens with his standard disclaimer. "This is not a biography but a work of fiction. I have invented characters and changed the life of the Lamb family for the sake of the larger narrative." Given Mary Lamb's historical notoriety the larger narrative might have benefited from a little more attention to the life of the Lambs and a little less to the well-chewed mutton of the literary fake." (Micheal Williams, The Lambs of London, The Age)

I must say that I think a historically accurate biography of the Lambs would be more interesting. After all, Mary did actually murder her mother with the carving knife, and Charles did look after her, but she survived him by many many years - and neither of them ever knew William Ireland... (Murder by carving knife, Telegraph.co.uk)

Friday, October 05, 2007

1. Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro

This is a strange, sad novel and I'm really at a loss to describe how I feel about it. To quote another reviewer, it is: "an intriguing, chilling and ultimately desolate fable." (Caroline Moore, Meanings Behind Masks; Telegraph.co.uk) The genre is most easily described as science fiction, but so restrained that the plot seems well within the bounds of possibility. It is like reading about an alternative reality which would take very little to mesh seamlessly with our own. The thirty-one year old narrator, Kathy H, is reliable and her reminiscences are told in a confiding, conversational tone that assumes the reader shares a similar background. Key terms are left undefined and the reader must piece together the clues as the novel progresses. The disorientation this creates is an integral part of the novel's strategy - the reader is constantly kept off balance and so does not ask for or expect the nitty-gritty details of how these things could actually happen. Here is an excerpt from the novel's beginning which shows how ordinary words seem to take on unexplained, extraordinary meanings, and also how Kathy includes the reader in the narrative, constructing you as a student, a carer, and eventually a donor.

I won't be a carer any more come the end of the year, and though I've got a lot out of it, I have to admit I'll welcome the chance to rest - to stop and think and remember. I'm sure it's at least partly to do with that, to do with preparing for the change of pace, that I've been getting this urge to reorder all these old memories. What I really wanted, I suppose, was to get straight all the things that happened between me and Tommy and Ruth after we grew up and left Hailsham. But I realise now just how much of what occurred later came out of our time at Hailsham, and that's why I want first to go over these earlier memories quite carefully. ... I don't know if you had 'collections' where you were. When you come across old students from Hailsham, you always find them, sooner or later, getting nostalgic about their collections. At the time, of course, we took it all for granted.


This technique seems harmlessly inclusive at the start, but by cleverly insinuating the reader into the narrative, the novel's concerns become our own, preparing the way for some frightening questions at the end. I found it easy to 'take it all for granted' while I was reading, but the real impact of this novel occurs after you have read the final page and put it away!


Most of Kathy's memories are centered on her days at Hailsham, which at first appears to be a privileged boarding school with a slightly strange over-emphasis on the children's health and creativity. The narrative revolves around the love triangle that develops between Kathy and her friends, Ruth and Tommy. The student's lives seem relatively normal, but there is a sinister, over protective atmosphere at the school which grows as they, and the reader, gradually learn the truth about their purpose in life. Even then, nothing is grasped with certainty - the language is pervaded with qualifiers: "maybe", "somehow", "perhaps", and Kathy matter-of-factly accepts her own inability to grasp any certainty about her existence: "Of course, I'll never know for sure," and "I don't really understand it."


When they 'graduate' from the school, they are released into a society which seems alien to them - a world of relationships and economics in which they exist as observors, playing no real part, waiting for the next, mysterious phase of their life to begin. I am struck by a butterfly metaphor here - at Hailsham, the students are caterpillars, voraciously devouring the education that is fed to them, and when they are released, as they cling to each other and try to adjust to their new life, they seem to cocoon themselves in their memories of the life they have left. One by one they 'hatch' and move on to start their new futures - but here the metaphor fails - no glorious flight of freedom awaits them. In a way, the students' upbringing at Hailsham (and similar establishments across Britain) seems to have instilled in them a kind of mechanical detachment, so while in one sense they are learning to live and love as typical emotional adolescents, there is always that awareness of external complications and expectations that we can't quite see or understand. This is best illustrated by the intricate mechanical animals which Tommy begins to draw:


I was taken aback at how densely detailed each one was. in fact it took a moment to see they were animals at all. The first impression was like one you’d get if you took the back off a radio set: tiny canals, weaving tendons, miniature screws and wheels were all drawn with obsessive precision, and only when you held the page away could you see it was some kind of armadillo, say, or a bird. . . . For all their busy, metallic features, there was something sweet, even vulnerable about each of them.



The reality, which the reader has suspected from the start, is that Kathy and her friends are clones, created for the sole purpose of becoming organ donors. The real mystery of the novel is ostensibly why Hailsham placed such an emphasis on their personal development, seeing as they were destined never to have any real future. The reader is not the only one who finds this bewildering.


"Why train us, encourage us, make us produce all of that? If we're just going to give donations anyway, then die, why all of those lessons?"



However, a stronger underlying mystery which has kept me thinking and rethinking about this novel, is why, as adults, the students are so accepting of their fate. There is one scene where Kathy and Tommy are driving at night through a lonely countryside, returning from a meeting where all their hopes of - not escaping - but delaying their inevitable final donations have been destroyed. In a way, they are driving back to certain death. I found myself screaming at them to stop. To turn down some quiet side road and spend the rest of their lives together, instead of docilely submitting themselves to be used and thrown away - not in ignorance, but fully aware and willingly sacrificing themselves, because that is what they were born to do.


My feelings about this novel are brilliantly summed up in the following quote from The Guardian:


"It's about the steady erosion of hope. It's about repressing what you know, which is that in this life people fail one another, grow old and fall to pieces. It's about knowing that while you must keep calm, keeping calm won't change a thing. Beneath Kathy's flattened and lukewarm emotional landscape lies the pure volcanic turmoil, the unexpressed yet perfectly articulated, perfectly molten rage of the orphan. ... This extraordinary and, in the end, rather frighteningly clever novel isn't about cloning, or being a clone, at all. It's about why we don't explode, why we don't just wake up one day and go sobbing and crying down the street, kicking everything to pieces out of the raw, infuriating, completely personal sense of our lives never having been what they could have been." (M John Harrison, Clone Alone; Guardian Unlimited)



We are left wondering - but the temptation to dismiss the characters as not fully human, as somehow emotionally deficient, cannot stand against the caring relationships and creative expression that the reader has shared through Kathy's eyes. The worrying conclusion then becomes would we, too, with sufficient indoctrination, willingly acquiesce in such a fate?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

2. Saturday - Ian McEwan


This novel continues in the footsteps of Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway and James Joyce's Ulysses by encapsulating a single day in the life of its main character - in this case, a British neurosurgeon named Henry Perowne.

The edition I picked up from the library had 4 pages of "international praise" at the start of the book - quotes from many reviewers lauding the brilliance of McEwan's writing. It is certainly an achievement which any aspiring writer may envy and desire to emulate. A quick and easy read, it kept me turning the pages quite contentendly, but it somehow lacked that dazzling quality which would inspire me to want to read it again.

Perowne is generally an attractive and likeable, though somewhat apologetic character, and the action centres around him preparing for a small family reunion on a day when London is brought to a standstill by an immense peace demonstration against the war in Iraq.

Most of the novel's themes are summed up in the following passage, which takes place as Perowne chooses fish for the stew he plans to make that evening.

"He turns the corner into Paddington Street and stoops in front of the open-air display of fish on a steeply raked slab of white marble. He sees at a glance that everything he needs is here. Such abundance from the emptying seas. On the tiled floor by the open doorway, piled in two wooden crates like rusting industrial rejects, are the crabs and lobsters, and in the tangle of warlike body parts there is discernible movement. On their pincers they're wearing funereal black bands. It's fortunate for the fishmonger and his customers that sea creatures are not adapted to make use of sound waves and have no voice. Otherwise there'd be howling from those crates. Even the silence among the softly stirring crowd is troubling. He turns his gaze away, towards the bloodless white flesh, and eviscerated silver forms with their unaccusing stare, and the deep-sea fish arranged in handy overlapping steaks of innocent pink, like cardboard pages of a baby's first book. Naturally, Perowne the fly-fisherman has seen the recent literature: scores of polymodal nociceptor sites just like ours in the head and neck of rainbow trout. It was once convenient to think biblically, to believe we're surrounded for our benefit by edible automata on land and sea. Now it turns out that even fish feel pain. This is the growing complication of the modern condition, the expanding circle of moral sympathy. Not only distant people are our brothers and sisters, but foxes too, and laboratory mice, and now the fish. Perowne goes on catching and eating them, and though he'd never drop a live lobster into boiling water, he's prepared to order one in a restaurant. The trick, as always, the key to human success and domination, is to be selective in your mercies. For all the discerning talk, it's the close at hand, the visible that exerts the overpowering force. And what you don't see... That's why in gentle Marylebone the world seems so entirely at peace." (p 127)

This is not an environmental novel - and from memory, these fish are the only animals mentioned - but the ways in which human perceptions of our place in the universe have changed, the way in which world events and moral reactions to them are viewed broadly, ambiguously and with only partial understanding, and then narrowed to the realm of immediate individual decisions on how to act and think, how decisions are coloured by personality how they change and develop as events impact upon the characters - these concerns are typical of the novel as a whole.

Perowne is most human in his interactions with his family - his busy lawyer wife Rosalind, his poet daughter Daisy, and blues-singing son Theo. Poetry actually plays a major role in the novel - though Perowne has limited literary tastes, his cantankerous father-in-law is a published poet and his daughter has just had her first volume published. Perowne struggles to understand the fascination and is more interested in what Daisy's poems seem to reveal about her life away from the family. He forces himself to try and understand the art, both for her sake and because he worries he might have missed something worthwhile in his single-minded focus on a medical career.

"Novels and movies, being restlessly modern, propel you forwards or backwards through time, through days, years or even generations. But to do its noticing and judging, poetry balances itself on the pinprick of a moment. Slowing down, stopping yourself completely, to read and understand a poem is like trying to acquire an old-fashioned skill like drystone walling or trout tickling." (p129)

Poetry and literature and music are another element, just as the water was for Perowne's mother (a champion swimmer), or the physical structure of the human brain is for Perowne himself. There is a kind of escapist challenge in being able to immerse yourself in this 'other', abandoning your personality and temporarily forgetting the wash of events going on around you.

The only real action in the novel centers around a street thug named Baxter. Perowne narrowly escapes a violent confrontation with him by accurately diagnosing his medical condition, and the encounter leaves him physically and mentally uncomfortable for the rest of the day. That evening, when the family is finally gathered together, Baxter invades their home. There is potential for disaster, for Perowne's comfortable, luxurious world to be ripped apart, but in the end it is only Baxter who really gets hurt. Perowne assuages his guilt (feeling he should have handled the original altercation better) by operating to save Baxter's life, in the process deciding to forgive him and ensure he lives the rest of his short life expectancy with proper institutionalised care.

The turning point in the home invasion comes when Daisy, naked and vulnerable, quotes Mathew Arnold's poem 'Dover Beach' to Baxter (he had demanded she read something of her own from her book). I found this the most unconvincing moment of the story, perhaps because that poem has never been one that spoke to me.

"Daisy recited a poem that cast a spell on one man. Perhaps any poem would have done the trick, and thrown the switch on a sudden mood change. Still, Baxter fell for the magic, he was transfixed by it, and he was reminded how much he wanted to live. No one can forgive him the use of the knife. But Baxter heard what Henry never has, and probably never will, despite all Daisy's attempts to educate him." (p278)

Poetry, music, good food and wine - a comfortable existence transposed on a world of turmoil, of vaguely troubling thoughts and doubts about terrorism, war and genocide. At the end of the novel, Perowne stands at his window looking out at the pre-dawn, just as he did at the beginning, only now he thinks about what a doctor standing there a hundred years ago might have thought, about how lifestyles and expectations have changed over time. The novel was first published in 2005, but already it feels rather dated. I would be surprised if it endured to be a classic read in the next century.

Monday, August 06, 2007

723. Ulysses - James Joyce



When I first downloaded Ulysses from Gutenberg and started reading it, I was very much inclined to agree with Michelle from Scribbit's assessment of it as spam. Then I noticed that Alkeda the Gleeful (Saints and Spinners) counted it among her favourite books, and figured if a children's storyteller likes it, it must be worth another chance. There is also my renowned literary masochism. If I start reading something, I will finish it, no matter how bad it is (well, almost).After all, if I could wade my way through Something Happened (in which nothing happened except my increasing desire to throttle the narrator... and then hit him over the head with a sledgehammer... and maybe run him over with a garbage truck for good measure) then I ought to persist in finishing a classic text like Ulysses. I do want to read all 1001 on the "Books you must read before you die" list... and Ulysses is there at number 723.

Despite all this, the Gutenberg text was just not managing to attract my attention during my rare moments of computer time. Then my father's graduation present arrived. For some strange reason, knowing my love of literature, Dad carried an attractively boxed set of Joyce's complete works back to Australia from Amsterdam of all places. As Yeti said, of all the works in English literature, Dad managed to pick the one author whose works I had almost totally avoided studying (except for Dubliners, Joyce's collection of short stories, which I quite enjoyed). If it had been the complete works of Dickens, or Woolf, or any number of other authors, I would have been veraciously devouring it... but now, faced with a gorgeous green and gold copy of Ulysses in three tiny volumes, I had no excuse not to dive in.

To a large extent, I am still in agreement with Scribbit. I don't mind works being intellectually difficult, but I object when the lexicon needed to appreciate (or even begin to understand) a novel threatens to be three times the size of the actual novel! Not having such an aid to comprehension at hand, I found myself skimming pages with only a very very dim idea of what was being said (forget the Latin and French - half the time I can't figure out the English - even with a dictionary!).

However, in a way I can appreciate Joyce's experiment as a continuation of Virginia Woolf's view that "identity, rather than depending on the concrete circumstances of a person's life, is primarily constructed from within, through an individual's deployment of language." (Kate Flint, 'The Waves', in Julia Briggs (ed) Virginia Woolf - Introduction to the Major Works)

This is directly connected with one of my favourite Woolf quotes:

Supposing the looking-glass smashes, the image disappears, and the romantic figure with the green of forest depths all about it is there no longer, but only that shell of a person which is seen by other people - what an airless, shallow, bald, prominent world it becomes! A world not to be lived in. As we face each other in omnibuses and underground railways we are looking into the mirror; that accounts for the vagueness, the gleam of glassiness in our eyes. And the novelists in future will realize more and more the importance of these reflections, for of course there is not one reflection but an almost infinite number; those are the depths they will explore, those the phantoms they will pursue, leaving the description of reality more and more out of their stories, taking knowledge of it for granted. (Virginia Woolf, Mark on the Wall)

Despite my longstanding fascination with this quote, and my vague desire to one day put it into practice, I am finding myself reading Joyce purely for those momentary depictions of reality and avoiding (as much as possible) engaging with the characters musings in the 'mirror'. I must applaud Joyce's mastery, for each time I grow bored and my attention starts to drift, he tucks in a little gem of lovely poetic description which wins me back to his cause. I find some of these are too real for my taste. I will spare you the graphic picture of a dog investigating the decomposing corpse of another dog which is now indelibly fixed in my memory. Instead, here is a beautiful image of the sea:

It flows, purling, widely flowing, floating foampool, flower unfurling.
Under the upswelling tide he saw the writhing arms lift languidly and sway reluctant arms, hissing up their petticoats, in whispering water swaying and upturning coy silver fronds. Day by day: night by night: lifted, flooded and let fall. Lord, they are weary; and, whispered to, they sigh.


The success of Joyce's experiment in Woolf's theory also shines through the contrast between the inner worlds of Dedalus and Mr Bloom. We are catapulted from Stephen's shoreside symphony to the mundane musak of Leopold's thoughts, while making breakfast for his wife and feeding his cat.

As I read on... and on... and on... I became less enamoured with the experiment. Stephen Dedalus's long narrative in which he discourses on Shakespeare seemed interminable, and even Leopold Bloom's narrative became tedious over time, particularly when I realised he was engaging in what must be one of the longest descriptions of a fart in English literature.

There were moments of brilliance. I enjoyed the voyeurism of the scene with the three girls on the beach in the chapter called Nausicca, but then we were back to Bloom's musings on the event, which were less than inspiring. Once again, however, Joyce managed to tuck in that little poetic description that kept me reading for more - Bloom sees a bat in the evening air: "Like a little man in a cloak he is with tiny hands. Weeny bones. Almost see them shimmering, kind of a bluey white."

With most 'adult' books, when my one year old gets bored with Mummy reading, I can read a bit aloud to him and he is happy. My major grudge against Ulysses is that it is absolutely impossible to read aloud - even some of the bits that look like real words!!! Honestly, I thought lawyers were guilty of writing the most convoluted english, until I came upon this sentence (which is just one example among many):

Universally that person's acumen is esteemed very little perceptive concerning whatsoever matters are being held as most profitable by mortals with sapience endowed to be studied who is ignorant of that which the most in doctrine erudite and certainly by reason of that in them high mind's ornament deserving of veneration constantly maintain when by general consent they affirm that other circumstances being equal by no exterior splendour is the prosperity of a nation more efficaciously asserted than by the measure of how far forward may have progressed the tribute of its solicitude for that proliferant continuance which of evils the original if it be absent when fortunately present constitutes the certain sign of omnipollent benefaction.


This little snippet is followed, so far as I can gather, by a number of men (some of them doctors, but also including Bloom & Stephen Dedalus) holding a drunken feast in the dining room of a maternity hospital - an episode told in the language of medieval epic. Throughout Ulysses, Joyce borrows from various kinds of 'high-flown' discourse, covering almost every genre you can think of since the english novel began - but there's so much of it, it really gets incredibly tedious.

At the end of the chapter entitled Eumaeus, Joyce makes his clearest reference to the modernist thinking that I believe underlies this novel. Bloom and Dedalus are staggering back to Bloom's house when they see a sweeper horse. What follows is another of Joyce's classic moments of epiphany.

Bloom looked at the head of the horse ... suddenly in evidence in the dark quite near, so that it seemed new, a different grouping of bones and even flesh, because palpably it was a fourwalker, a hipshaker, a blackbuttocker, a taildangler, a headhanger, putting his hind foot foremost the while the lord of his creation sat on the perch, busy with his thoughts. But such a good poor brute, he was sorry he hadn't a lump of sugar, but as he wisely reflected, you could scarcely be prepared for every emergency that might crop up. He was just a big foolish nervous noodly kind of a horse, without a second care in the world. (my emphasis)


In addition to these moments of epiphany - the clear-seeing and clear-saying - my other reason for persevering with Ulysses right to the end is for the feel and flow of Dublin life at the start of the twentieth century.

I did regret my decision a number of times during the Circe chapter. There were several scenes in that which I would rather not have fed into my imagination. Uggghhh. In contrast, Molly Bloom's rambling amorous musings in the final chapter, Penelope, were at least slightly amusing and generally inoffensive so I was able to put the novel down having somewhat assuaged my general distaste.

The major flaw with Ulysses, in my opinion, is that it is too long - although the narrative covers only a single day, it also incorporates the entirety of english literature! If it were condensed into just one of these volumes, it would be a highly enjoyable novel! The great catch cry of the modernists was "make it new". This Joyce has certainly done. However, in my opinion, he has not managed to make it readable - and it is definitely not in the language of the common man!!!

Saturday, July 07, 2007

864. Therese Raquin - Emile Zola

I may be still plodding through Ulysses, but I raced through Therese Raquin.

Set in Paris, first published in 1867, I would classify it as a gothic novel - there are no castles, but there is a haunting. It has that classic mixture of romance and horror, with a macabre twist at the end.

Therese is the orphaned daughter of a French soldier and an African princess. Left with her aunt as a baby, Therese is raised as a companion for her invalid cousin. Every natural impulse is stifled as this healthy child lives an enforced existence of stillness and quiet. Therese is even made to take her cousin's medicines, as he won't take them unless she does too.

When the cousins are old enough, the aunt arranges for them to marry, to ensure that her beloved son will always have someone to look after him. As each piece of Therese's inner character is revealed, vibrant and alive, in contrast to the dark, damp shop in which the family come to live, the reader knows that eventually she must break free from these constraints.

This is how Therese sees the small circle of guests who gather at the Raquin table every Thursday night to play dominoes:

"Therese could not find one human being, not one living being among these grotesque and sinister creatures, with whom she was shut up; sometimes she had hallucinations, she imagined herself buried at the bottom of a tomb, in company with mechanical corpses, who, when the strings were pulled, moved their heads, and agitated their legs and arms. The thick atmosphere of the dining-room stifled her; the shivering silence, the yellow gleams of the lamp penetrated her with vague terror, and inexpressible anguish. ... until eleven o'clock, she remained oppressed in her chair, watching Francois (the cat) whom she held in her arms, so as to avoid seeing the cardboard dolls grimacing around her."


There are so many wild emotions bottled up inside Therese that an explosion of passion and tragedy seem inevitable. Nor is the reader disappointed.

The spark comes when Therese's husband, Camille, brings home an old friend from their childhood. Laurent's main attraction lies in his physical contrast to the weak creatures with whom Therese is surrounded. He is strong, with large hands and a thick "bull-like" neck that fascinates Therese. However, any sense that he will be a romantic saviour for Therese is offset by his self-confessed greed and laziness. Laurent is no hero - but compared to Camille, his brutish physical ardour is irresistable.

The reader's premonition of tragedy is enhanced by the portrait which Laurent paints of Camille:

"The next day, when Laurent had given the canvas the last touch, all the family assembled to go into raptures over the striking resemblance. The portrait was vile, a dirty grey colour with large violescent patches. Laurent could not use even the brightest colours, without making them dull and muddy. In spite of himself he had exaggerated the wan complexion of his model, and the countenance of Camille resembled the greenish visage of a person who had met death by drowning. The grimacing drawing threw the features into convulsions, thus rendering the sinister resemblance all the more striking. But Camille was delighted; he declared that he had the appearance of a person of distinction on the canvas."

An affair begins between Therese and Laurent, and to Laurent's surprise, he finds that Therese, whom he had thought ugly, flowers into beauty when her features are animated.

I will not spoil the rest of the story - you can go to Wikipedia if you want to know what happens next - or better still, read the book! Just don't expect a happy-ever-after ending!

Zola has a talent for description, and at each stage of the book, the environment mirrors the emotions of the characters:

"Nothing looks more painfully calm than an autumn twilight. The sun rays pale in the quivering air, the old trees cast their leaves. The country, scorched by the ardent beams of summer, feels death coming with the first cold winds. And, in the sky, there are plaintive sighs of despair. Night falls from above, bringing winding sheets in its shade."

This is not a book I would advise reading before bedtime! The scenes in the morgue are particularly gruesome.

It is a psychological horror story whose main theme is divine justice. Those who do wrong are not punished by social forces, but their guilt means they find no rest or happiness until they finally punish themselves. It is well written and the moral is conveyed through the actions and emotions of the characters - there is no external moralising by the author to interrupt the flow of the story.

I read Therese Raquin in easy installments emailed to me by Daily Lit.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

DailyLit

I am still slogging through Joyce's Ulysses, but have been making notes as I go, so the moment I finish I can post my review. Since I have it as an actual book, I am reading while I do my exercise each morning.

For many of the other books on this list, I don't own a copy, won't be able to afford to buy one, and am not hopeful of finding them in my rural library.

However, I have found a way to access some of them:

DailyLit has a large selection of titles, and will email you the the whole book, broken up into convenient small messages that take less than 5 minutes to read. You can choose how frequently the emails are sent.

Although not quite as convenient for me as reading while on my exercise bike, this does seem like a good way to read books which I can't obtain any other way. Maybe one day I will get lucky and be able to afford a PDA so I can still read & exercise at the same time!!!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The LIST

The list of 1001 books comes from a reference book written by Dr Peter Boxhall (an English literature professor at the University of Sussex) and his team. It has received a lot of attention (including a lot of complaints about peoples' favourite books being left of the list, or the inclusion of books people don't like). Despite that, it looks like my kind of fun - especially since most of my reading so far occurs at the far end of the list... I will have to make sure I choose some of the more modern novels as well :)

It will take me a while to get it all pasted into the side bar, so in the meantime, here is the FULL list. (I have italicized the ones I have read previously - though I do hope to read them again!)

2000s
1.Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro
2.Saturday – Ian McEwan
3.On Beauty – Zadie Smith
4.Slow Man – J.M. Coetzee
5.Adjunct: An Undigest – Peter Manson
6.The Sea – John Banville
7.The Red Queen – Margaret Drabble
8.The Plot Against America – Philip Roth
9.The Master – Colm Tóibín
10.Vanishing Point – David Markson
11.The Lambs of London – Peter Ackroyd
12.Dining on Stones – Iain Sinclair
13.Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
14.Drop City – T. Coraghessan Boyle
15.The Colour – Rose Tremain
16.Thursbitch – Alan Garner
17.The Light of Day – Graham Swift
18.What I Loved – Siri Hustvedt
19.The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon
20.Islands – Dan Sleigh
21.Elizabeth Costello – J.M. Coetzee
22.London Orbital – Iain Sinclair
23.Family Matters – Rohinton Mistry
24.Fingersmith – Sarah Waters
25.The Double – José Saramago
26.Everything is Illuminated – Jonathan Safran Foer
27.Unless – Carol Shields
28.Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami
29.The Story of Lucy Gault – William Trevor
30.That They May Face the Rising Sun – John McGahern
31.In the Forest – Edna O’Brien
32.Shroud – John Banville
33.Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides
34.Youth – J.M. Coetzee
35.Dead Air – Iain Banks
36.Nowhere Man – Aleksandar Hemon
37.The Book of Illusions – Paul Auster
38.Gabriel’s Gift – Hanif Kureishi
39.Austerlitz – W.G. Sebald
40.Platform – Michael Houellebecq
41.Schooling – Heather McGowan
42.Atonement – Ian McEwan
43.The Corrections – Jonathan Franzen
44.Don’t Move – Margaret Mazzantini
45.The Body Artist – Don DeLillo
46.Fury – Salman Rushdie
47.At Swim, Two Boys – Jamie O’Neill
48.Choke – Chuck Palahniuk
49.Life of Pi – Yann Martel
50.The Feast of the Goat – Mario Vargos Llosa
51.An Obedient Father – Akhil Sharma
52.The Devil and Miss Prym – Paulo Coelho
53.Spring Flowers, Spring Frost – Ismail Kadare
54.White Teeth – Zadie Smith
55.The Heart of Redness – Zakes Mda
56.Under the Skin – Michel Faber
57.Ignorance – Milan Kundera
58.Nineteen Seventy Seven – David Peace
59.Celestial Harmonies – Péter Esterházy
60.City of God – E.L. Doctorow
61.How the Dead Live – Will Self
62.The Human Stain – Philip Roth
63.The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood
64.After the Quake – Haruki Murakami
65.Small Remedies – Shashi Deshpande
66.Super-Cannes – J.G. Ballard
67.House of Leaves – Mark Z. Danielewski
68.Blonde – Joyce Carol Oates
69.Pastoralia – George Saunders

1900s
70.Timbuktu – Paul Auster
71.The Romantics – Pankaj Mishra
72.Cryptonomicon – Neal Stephenson
73.As If I Am Not There – Slavenka Drakuli?
74.Everything You Need – A.L. Kennedy
75.Fear and Trembling – Amélie Nothomb
76.The Ground Beneath Her Feet – Salman Rushdie
77.Disgrace – J.M. Coetzee
78.Sputnik Sweetheart – Haruki Murakami
79.Elementary Particles – Michel Houellebecq
80.Intimacy – Hanif Kureishi
81.Amsterdam – Ian McEwan
82.Cloudsplitter – Russell Banks
83.All Souls Day – Cees Nooteboom
84.The Talk of the Town – Ardal O’Hanlon
85.Tipping the Velvet – Sarah Waters
86.The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver
87.Glamorama – Bret Easton Ellis
88.Another World – Pat Barker
89.The Hours – Michael Cunningham
90.Veronika Decides to Die – Paulo Coelho
91.Mason & Dixon – Thomas Pynchon
92.The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy
93.Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
94.Great Apes – Will Self
95.Enduring Love – Ian McEwan
96.Underworld – Don DeLillo
97.Jack Maggs – Peter Carey
98.The Life of Insects – Victor Pelevin
99.American Pastoral – Philip Roth
100.The Untouchable – John Banville
101.Silk – Alessandro Baricco
102.Cocaine Nights – J.G. Ballard
103.Hallucinating Foucault – Patricia Duncker
104.Fugitive Pieces – Anne Michaels
105.The Ghost Road – Pat Barker
106.Forever a Stranger – Hella Haasse
107.Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace
108.The Clay Machine-Gun – Victor Pelevin
109.Alias Grace – Margaret Atwood
110.The Unconsoled – Kazuo Ishiguro
111.Morvern Callar – Alan Warner
112.The Information – Martin Amis
113.The Moor’s Last Sigh – Salman Rushdie
114.Sabbath’s Theater – Philip Roth
115.The Rings of Saturn – W.G. Sebald
116.The Reader – Bernhard Schlink
117.A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
118.Love’s Work – Gillian Rose
119.The End of the Story – Lydia Davis
120.Mr. Vertigo – Paul Auster
121.The Folding Star – Alan Hollinghurst
122.Whatever – Michel Houellebecq
123.Land – Park Kyong-ni
124.The Master of Petersburg – J.M. Coetzee
125.The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami
126.Pereira Declares: A Testimony – Antonio Tabucchi
127.City Sister Silver – Jàchym Topol
128.How Late It Was, How Late – James Kelman
129.Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis de Bernieres
130.Felicia’s Journey – William Trevor
131.Disappearance – David Dabydeen
132.The Invention of Curried Sausage – Uwe Timm
133.The Shipping News – E. Annie Proulx
134.Trainspotting – Irvine Welsh
135.Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
136.Looking for the Possible Dance – A.L. Kennedy
137.Operation Shylock – Philip Roth
138.Complicity – Iain Banks
139.On Love – Alain de Botton
140.What a Carve Up! – Jonathan Coe
141.A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
142.The Stone Diaries – Carol Shields
143.The Virgin Suicides – Jeffrey Eugenides
144.The House of Doctor Dee – Peter Ackroyd
145.The Robber Bride – Margaret Atwood
146.The Emigrants – W.G. Sebald
147.The Secret History – Donna Tartt
148.Life is a Caravanserai – Emine Özdamar
149.The Discovery of Heaven – Harry Mulisch
150.A Heart So White – Javier Marias
151.Possessing the Secret of Joy – Alice Walker
152.Indigo – Marina Warner
153.The Crow Road – Iain Banks
154.Written on the Body – Jeanette Winterson
155.Jazz – Toni Morrison
156.The English Patient – Michael Ondaatje
157.Smilla’s Sense of Snow – Peter Høeg
158.The Butcher Boy – Patrick McCabe
159.Black Water – Joyce Carol Oates
160.The Heather Blazing – Colm Tóibín
161.Asphodel – H.D. (Hilda Doolittle)
162.Black Dogs – Ian McEwan
163.Hideous Kinky – Esther Freud
164.Arcadia – Jim Crace
165.Wild Swans – Jung Chang
166.American Psycho – Bret Easton Ellis
167.Time’s Arrow – Martin Amis
168.Mao II – Don DeLillo
169.Typical – Padgett Powell
170.Regeneration – Pat Barker
171.Downriver – Iain Sinclair
172.Señor Vivo and the Coca Lord – Louis de Bernieres
173.Wise Children – Angela Carter
174.Get Shorty – Elmore Leonard
175.Amongst Women – John McGahern
176.Vineland – Thomas Pynchon
177.Vertigo – W.G. Sebald
178.Stone Junction – Jim Dodge
179.The Music of Chance – Paul Auster
180.The Things They Carried – Tim O’Brien
181.A Home at the End of the World – Michael Cunningham
182.Like Life – Lorrie Moore
183.Possession – A.S. Byatt
184.The Buddha of Suburbia – Hanif Kureishi
185.The Midnight Examiner – William Kotzwinkle
186.A Disaffection – James Kelman
187.Sexing the Cherry – Jeanette Winterson
188.Moon Palace – Paul Auster
189.Billy Bathgate – E.L. Doctorow
190.Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
191.The Melancholy of Resistance – László Krasznahorkai
192.The Temple of My Familiar – Alice Walker
193.The Trick is to Keep Breathing – Janice Galloway
194.The History of the Siege of Lisbon – José Saramago
195.Like Water for Chocolate – Laura Esquivel
196.A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving
197.London Fields – Martin Amis
198.The Book of Evidence – John Banville
199.Cat’s Eye – Margaret Atwood
200.Foucault’s Pendulum – Umberto Eco
201.The Beautiful Room is Empty – Edmund White
202.Wittgenstein’s Mistress – David Markson
203.The Satanic Verses – Salman Rushdie
204.The Swimming-Pool Library – Alan Hollinghurst
205.Oscar and Lucinda – Peter Carey
206.Libra – Don DeLillo
207.The Player of Games – Iain M. Banks
208.Nervous Conditions – Tsitsi Dangarembga
209.The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul – Douglas Adams
210.Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency – Douglas Adams
211.The Radiant Way – Margaret Drabble
212.The Afternoon of a Writer – Peter Handke
213.The Black Dahlia – James Ellroy
214.The Passion – Jeanette Winterson
215.The Pigeon – Patrick Süskind
216.The Child in Time – Ian McEwan
217.Cigarettes – Harry Mathews
218.The Bonfire of the Vanities – Tom Wolfe
219.The New York Trilogy – Paul Auster
220.World’s End – T. Coraghessan Boyle
221.Enigma of Arrival – V.S. Naipaul
222.The Taebek Mountains – Jo Jung-rae
223.Beloved – Toni Morrison
224.Anagrams – Lorrie Moore
225.Matigari – Ngugi Wa Thiong’o
226.Marya – Joyce Carol Oates
227.Watchmen – Alan Moore & David Gibbons
228.The Old Devils – Kingsley Amis
229.Lost Language of Cranes – David Leavitt
230.An Artist of the Floating World – Kazuo Ishiguro
231.Extinction – Thomas Bernhard
232.Foe – J.M. Coetzee
233.The Drowned and the Saved – Primo Levi
234.Reasons to Live – Amy Hempel
235.The Parable of the Blind – Gert Hofmann
236.Love in the Time of Cholera – Gabriel García Márquez
237.Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit – Jeanette Winterson
238.The Cider House Rules – John Irving
239.A Maggot – John Fowles
240.Less Than Zero – Bret Easton Ellis
241.Contact – Carl Sagan
242.The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
243.Perfume – Patrick Süskind
244.Old Masters – Thomas Bernhard
245.White Noise – Don DeLillo
246.Queer – William Burroughs
247.Hawksmoor – Peter Ackroyd
248.Legend – David Gemmell
249.Dictionary of the Khazars – Milorad Pavi?
250.The Bus Conductor Hines – James Kelman
251.The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis – José Saramago
252.The Lover – Marguerite Duras
253.Empire of the Sun – J.G. Ballard
254.The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
255.Nights at the Circus – Angela Carter
256.The Unbearable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera
257.Blood and Guts in High School – Kathy Acker
258.Neuromancer – William Gibson
259.Flaubert’s Parrot – Julian Barnes
260.Money: A Suicide Note – Martin Amis
261.Shame – Salman Rushdie
262.Worstward Ho – Samuel Beckett
263.Fools of Fortune – William Trevor
264.La Brava – Elmore Leonard
265.Waterland – Graham Swift
266.The Life and Times of Michael K – J.M. Coetzee
267.The Diary of Jane Somers – Doris Lessing
268.The Piano Teacher – Elfriede Jelinek
269.The Sorrow of Belgium – Hugo Claus
270.If Not Now, When? – Primo Levi
271.A Boy’s Own Story – Edmund White
272.The Color Purple – Alice Walker
273.Wittgenstein’s Nephew – Thomas Bernhard
274.A Pale View of Hills – Kazuo Ishiguro
275.Schindler’s Ark – Thomas Keneally
276.The House of the Spirits – Isabel Allende
277.The Newton Letter – John Banville
278.On the Black Hill – Bruce Chatwin
279.Concrete – Thomas Bernhard
280.The Names – Don DeLillo
281.Rabbit is Rich – John Updike
282.Lanark: A Life in Four Books – Alasdair Gray
283.The Comfort of Strangers – Ian McEwan
284.July’s People – Nadine Gordimer
285.Summer in Baden-Baden – Leonid Tsypkin
286.Broken April – Ismail Kadare
287.Waiting for the Barbarians – J.M. Coetzee
288.Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
289.Rites of Passage – William Golding
290.Rituals – Cees Nooteboom
291.Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
292.City Primeval – Elmore Leonard
293.The Name of the Rose – Umberto Eco
294.The Book of Laughter and Forgetting – Milan Kundera
295.Smiley’s People – John Le Carré
296.Shikasta – Doris Lessing
297.A Bend in the River – V.S. Naipaul
298.Burger’s Daughter - Nadine Gordimer
299.The Safety Net – Heinrich Böll
300.If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler – Italo Calvino
301.The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
302.The Cement Garden – Ian McEwan
303.The World According to Garp – John Irving
304.Life: A User’s Manual – Georges Perec
305.The Sea, The Sea – Iris Murdoch
306.The Singapore Grip – J.G. Farrell
307.Yes – Thomas Bernhard
308.The Virgin in the Garden – A.S. Byatt
309.In the Heart of the Country – J.M. Coetzee
310.The Passion of New Eve – Angela Carter
311.Delta of Venus – Anaïs Nin
312.The Shining – Stephen King
313.Dispatches – Michael Herr
314.Petals of Blood – Ngugi Wa Thiong’o
315.Song of Solomon – Toni Morrison
316.The Hour of the Star – Clarice Lispector
317.The Left-Handed Woman – Peter Handke
318.Ratner’s Star – Don DeLillo
319.The Public Burning – Robert Coover
320.Interview With the Vampire – Anne Rice
321.Cutter and Bone – Newton Thornburg
322.Amateurs – Donald Barthelme
323.Patterns of Childhood – Christa Wolf
324.Autumn of the Patriarch – Gabriel García Márquez
325.W, or the Memory of Childhood – Georges Perec
326.A Dance to the Music of Time – Anthony Powell
327.Grimus – Salman Rushdie
328.The Dead Father – Donald Barthelme
329.Fateless – Imre Kertész
330.Willard and His Bowling Trophies – Richard Brautigan
331.High Rise – J.G. Ballard
332.Humboldt’s Gift – Saul Bellow
333.Dead Babies – Martin Amis
334.Correction – Thomas Bernhard
335.Ragtime – E.L. Doctorow
336.The Fan Man – William Kotzwinkle
337.Dusklands – J.M. Coetzee
338.The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum – Heinrich Böll
339.Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – John Le Carré
340.Breakfast of Champions – Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
341.Fear of Flying – Erica Jong
342.A Question of Power – Bessie Head
343.The Siege of Krishnapur – J.G. Farrell
344.The Castle of Crossed Destinies – Italo Calvino
345.Crash – J.G. Ballard
346.The Honorary Consul – Graham Greene
347.Gravity’s Rainbow – Thomas Pynchon
348.The Black Prince – Iris Murdoch
349.Sula – Toni Morrison
350.Invisible Cities – Italo Calvino
351.The Breast – Philip Roth
352.The Summer Book – Tove Jansson
353.G – John Berger
354.Surfacing – Margaret Atwood
355.House Mother Normal – B.S. Johnson
356.In A Free State – V.S. Naipaul
357.The Book of Daniel – E.L. Doctorow
358.Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Hunter S. Thompson
359.Group Portrait With Lady – Heinrich Böll
360.The Wild Boys – William Burroughs
361.Rabbit Redux – John Updike
362.The Sea of Fertility – Yukio Mishima
363.The Driver’s Seat – Muriel Spark
364.The Ogre – Michael Tournier
365.The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison
366.Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick – Peter Handke
367.I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
368.Mercier et Camier – Samuel Beckett
369.Troubles – J.G. Farrell
370.Jahrestage – Uwe Johnson
371.The Atrocity Exhibition – J.G. Ballard
372.Tent of Miracles – Jorge Amado
373.Pricksongs and Descants – Robert Coover
374.Blind Man With a Pistol – Chester Hines
375.Slaughterhouse-five – Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
376.The French Lieutenant’s Woman – John Fowles
377.The Green Man – Kingsley Amis
378.Portnoy’s Complaint – Philip Roth
379.The Godfather – Mario Puzo
380.Ada – Vladimir Nabokov
381.Them – Joyce Carol Oates
382.A Void/Avoid – Georges Perec
383.Eva Trout – Elizabeth Bowen
384.Myra Breckinridge – Gore Vidal
385.The Nice and the Good – Iris Murdoch
386.Belle du Seigneur – Albert Cohen
387.Cancer Ward – Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn
388.The First Circle – Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn
389.2001: A Space Odyssey – Arthur C. Clarke
390.Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick
391.Dark as the Grave Wherein My Friend is Laid – Malcolm Lowry
392.The German Lesson – Siegfried Lenz
393.In Watermelon Sugar – Richard Brautigan
394.A Kestrel for a Knave – Barry Hines
395.The Quest for Christa T. – Christa Wolf
396.Chocky – John Wyndham
397.The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test – Tom Wolfe
398.The Cubs and Other Stories – Mario Vargas Llosa
399.One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel García Márquez
400.The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov
401.Pilgrimage – Dorothy Richardson
402.The Joke – Milan Kundera
403.No Laughing Matter – Angus Wilson
404.The Third Policeman – Flann O’Brien
405.A Man Asleep – Georges Perec
406.The Birds Fall Down – Rebecca West
407.Trawl – B.S. Johnson
408.In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
409.The Magus – John Fowles
410.The Vice-Consul – Marguerite Duras
411.Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys
412.Giles Goat-Boy – John Barth
413.The Crying of Lot 49 – Thomas Pynchon
414.Things – Georges Perec
415.The River Between – Ngugi wa Thiong’o
416.August is a Wicked Month – Edna O’Brien
417.God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater – Kurt Vonnegut
418.Everything That Rises Must Converge – Flannery O’Connor
419.The Passion According to G.H. – Clarice Lispector
420.Sometimes a Great Notion – Ken Kesey
421.Come Back, Dr. Caligari – Donald Bartholme
422.Albert Angelo – B.S. Johnson
423.Arrow of God – Chinua Achebe
424.The Ravishing of Lol V. Stein – Marguerite Duras
425.Herzog – Saul Bellow
426.V. – Thomas Pynchon
427.Cat’s Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut
428.The Graduate – Charles Webb
429.Manon des Sources – Marcel Pagnol
430.The Spy Who Came in from the Cold – John Le Carré
431.The Girls of Slender Means – Muriel Spark
432.Inside Mr. Enderby – Anthony Burgess
433.The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
434.One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich – Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn
435.The Collector – John Fowles
436.One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey
437.A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
438.Pale Fire – Vladimir Nabokov
439.The Drowned World – J.G. Ballard
440.The Golden Notebook – Doris Lessing
441.Labyrinths – Jorg Luis Borges
442.Girl With Green Eyes – Edna O’Brien
443.The Garden of the Finzi-Continis – Giorgio Bassani
444.Stranger in a Strange Land – Robert Heinlein
445.Franny and Zooey – J.D. Salinger
446.A Severed Head – Iris Murdoch
447.Faces in the Water – Janet Frame
448.Solaris – Stanislaw Lem
449.Cat and Mouse – Günter Grass
450.The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Muriel Spark
451.Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
452.The Violent Bear it Away – Flannery O’Connor
453.How It Is – Samuel Beckett
454.Our Ancestors – Italo Calvino
455.The Country Girls – Edna O’Brien
456.To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
457.Rabbit, Run – John Updike
458.Promise at Dawn – Romain Gary
459.Cider With Rosie – Laurie Lee
460.Billy Liar – Keith Waterhouse
461.Naked Lunch – William Burroughs
462.The Tin Drum – Günter Grass
463.Absolute Beginners – Colin MacInnes
464.Henderson the Rain King – Saul Bellow
465.Memento Mori – Muriel Spark
466.Billiards at Half-Past Nine – Heinrich Böll
467.Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote
468.The Leopard – Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
469.Pluck the Bud and Destroy the Offspring – Kenzaburo Oe
470.A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
471.The Bitter Glass – Eilís Dillon
472.Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe
473.Saturday Night and Sunday Morning – Alan Sillitoe
474.Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris – Paul Gallico
475.Borstal Boy – Brendan Behan
476.The End of the Road – John Barth
477.The Once and Future King – T.H. White
478.The Bell – Iris Murdoch
479.Jealousy – Alain Robbe-Grillet
480.Voss – Patrick White
481.The Midwich Cuckoos – John Wyndham
482.Blue Noon – Georges Bataille
483.Homo Faber – Max Frisch
484.On the Road – Jack Kerouac
485.Pnin – Vladimir Nabokov
486.Doctor Zhivago – Boris Pasternak
487.The Wonderful “O” – James Thurber
488.Justine – Lawrence Durrell
489.Giovanni’s Room – James Baldwin
490.The Lonely Londoners – Sam Selvon
491.The Roots of Heaven – Romain Gary
492.Seize the Day – Saul Bellow
493.The Floating Opera – John Barth
494.The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien
495.The Talented Mr. Ripley – Patricia Highsmith
496.Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
497.A World of Love – Elizabeth Bowen
498.The Trusting and the Maimed – James Plunkett
499.The Quiet American – Graham Greene
500.The Last Temptation of Christ – Nikos Kazantzákis
501.The Recognitions – William Gaddis
502.The Ragazzi – Pier Paulo Pasolini
503.Bonjour Tristesse – Françoise Sagan
504.I’m Not Stiller – Max Frisch
505.Self Condemned – Wyndham Lewis
506.The Story of O – Pauline Réage
507.A Ghost at Noon – Alberto Moravia
508.Lord of the Flies – William Golding
509.Under the Net – Iris Murdoch
510.The Go-Between – L.P. Hartley
511.The Long Goodbye – Raymond Chandler
512.The Unnamable – Samuel Beckett
513.Watt – Samuel Beckett
514.Lucky Jim – Kingsley Amis
515.Junkie – William Burroughs
516.The Adventures of Augie March – Saul Bellow
517.Go Tell It on the Mountain – James Baldwin
518.Casino Royale – Ian Fleming
519.The Judge and His Hangman – Friedrich Dürrenmatt
520.Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison
521.The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway
522.Wise Blood – Flannery O’Connor
523.The Killer Inside Me – Jim Thompson
524.Memoirs of Hadrian – Marguerite Yourcenar
525.Malone Dies – Samuel Beckett
526.Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham
527.Foundation – Isaac Asimov
528.The Opposing Shore – Julien Gracq
529.The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
530.The Rebel – Albert Camus
531.Molloy – Samuel Beckett
532.The End of the Affair – Graham Greene
533.The Abbot C – Georges Bataille
534.The Labyrinth of Solitude – Octavio Paz
535.The Third Man – Graham Greene
536.The 13 Clocks – James Thurber
537.Gormenghast – Mervyn Peake
538.The Grass is Singing – Doris Lessing
539.I, Robot – Isaac Asimov
540.The Moon and the Bonfires – Cesare Pavese
541.The Garden Where the Brass Band Played – Simon Vestdijk
542.Love in a Cold Climate – Nancy Mitford
543.The Case of Comrade Tulayev – Victor Serge
544.The Heat of the Day – Elizabeth Bowen
545.Kingdom of This World – Alejo Carpentier
546.The Man With the Golden Arm – Nelson Algren
547.Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell
548.All About H. Hatterr – G.V. Desani
549.Disobedience – Alberto Moravia
550.Death Sentence – Maurice Blanchot
551.The Heart of the Matter – Graham Greene
552.Cry, the Beloved Country – Alan Paton
553.Doctor Faustus – Thomas Mann
554.The Victim – Saul Bellow
555.Exercises in Style – Raymond Queneau
556.If This Is a Man – Primo Levi
557.Under the Volcano – Malcolm Lowry
558.The Path to the Nest of Spiders – Italo Calvino
559.The Plague – Albert Camus
560.Back – Henry Green
561.Titus Groan – Mervyn Peake
562.The Bridge on the Drina – Ivo Andri?
563.Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
564.Animal Farm – George Orwell
565.Cannery Row – John Steinbeck
566.The Pursuit of Love – Nancy Mitford
567.Loving – Henry Green
568.Arcanum 17 – André Breton
569.Christ Stopped at Eboli – Carlo Levi
570.The Razor’s Edge – William Somerset Maugham
571.Transit – Anna Seghers
572.Ficciones – Jorge Luis Borges
573.Dangling Man – Saul Bellow
574.The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
575.Caught – Henry Green
576.The Glass Bead Game – Herman Hesse
577.Embers – Sandor Marai
578.Go Down, Moses – William Faulkner
579.The Outsider – Albert Camus
580.In Sicily – Elio Vittorini
581.The Poor Mouth – Flann O’Brien
582.The Living and the Dead – Patrick White
583.Hangover Square – Patrick Hamilton
584.Between the Acts – Virginia Woolf
585.The Hamlet – William Faulkner
586.Farewell My Lovely – Raymond Chandler
587.For Whom the Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway
588.Native Son – Richard Wright
589.The Power and the Glory – Graham Greene
590.The Tartar Steppe – Dino Buzzati
591.Party Going – Henry Green
592.The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
593.Finnegans Wake – James Joyce
594.At Swim-Two-Birds – Flann O’Brien
595.Coming Up for Air – George Orwell
596.Goodbye to Berlin – Christopher Isherwood
597.Tropic of Capricorn – Henry Miller
598.Good Morning, Midnight – Jean Rhys
599.The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler
600.After the Death of Don Juan – Sylvie Townsend Warner
601.Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day – Winifred Watson
602.Nausea – Jean-Paul Sartre
603.Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier
604.Cause for Alarm – Eric Ambler
605.Brighton Rock – Graham Greene
606.U.S.A. – John Dos Passos
607.Murphy – Samuel Beckett
608.Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
609.Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
610.The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien
611.The Years – Virginia Woolf
612.In Parenthesis – David Jones
613.The Revenge for Love – Wyndham Lewis
614.Out of Africa – Isak Dineson (Karen Blixen)
615.To Have and Have Not – Ernest Hemingway
616.Summer Will Show – Sylvia Townsend Warner
617.Eyeless in Gaza – Aldous Huxley
618.The Thinking Reed – Rebecca West
619.Gone With the Wind – Margaret Mitchell
620.Keep the Aspidistra Flying – George Orwell
621.Wild Harbour – Ian MacPherson
622.Absalom, Absalom! – William Faulkner
623.At the Mountains of Madness – H.P. Lovecraft
624.Nightwood – Djuna Barnes
625.Independent People – Halldór Laxness
626.Auto-da-Fé – Elias Canetti
627.The Last of Mr. Norris – Christopher Isherwood
628.They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? – Horace McCoy
629.The House in Paris – Elizabeth Bowen
630.England Made Me – Graham Greene
631.Burmese Days – George Orwell
632.The Nine Tailors – Dorothy L. Sayers
633.Threepenny Novel – Bertolt Brecht
634.Novel With Cocaine – M. Ageyev
635.The Postman Always Rings Twice – James M. Cain
636.Tropic of Cancer – Henry Miller
637.A Handful of Dust – Evelyn Waugh
638.Tender is the Night – F. Scott Fitzgerald
639.Thank You, Jeeves – P.G. Wodehouse
640.Call it Sleep – Henry Roth
641.Miss Lonelyhearts – Nathanael West
642.Murder Must Advertise – Dorothy L. Sayers
643.The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas – Gertrude Stein
644.Testament of Youth – Vera Brittain
645.A Day Off – Storm Jameson
646.The Man Without Qualities – Robert Musil
647.A Scots Quair (Sunset Song) – Lewis Grassic Gibbon
648.Journey to the End of the Night – Louis-Ferdinand Céline
649.Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
650.Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
651.To the North – Elizabeth Bowen
652.The Thin Man – Dashiell Hammett
653.The Radetzky March – Joseph Roth
654.The Waves – Virginia Woolf
655.The Glass Key – Dashiell Hammett
656.Cakes and Ale – W. Somerset Maugham
657.The Apes of God – Wyndham Lewis
658.Her Privates We – Frederic Manning
659.Vile Bodies – Evelyn Waugh
660.The Maltese Falcon – Dashiell Hammett
661.Hebdomeros – Giorgio de Chirico
662.Passing – Nella Larsen
663.A Farewell to Arms – Ernest Hemingway
664.Red Harvest – Dashiell Hammett
665.Living – Henry Green
666.The Time of Indifference – Alberto Moravia
667.All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque
668.Berlin Alexanderplatz – Alfred Döblin
669.The Last September – Elizabeth Bowen
670.Harriet Hume – Rebecca West
671.The Sound and the Fury – William Faulkner
672.Les Enfants Terribles – Jean Cocteau
673.Look Homeward, Angel – Thomas Wolfe
674.Story of the Eye – Georges Bataille
675.Orlando – Virginia Woolf
676.Lady Chatterley’s Lover – D.H. Lawrence
677.The Well of Loneliness – Radclyffe Hall
678.The Childermass – Wyndham Lewis
679.Quartet – Jean Rhys
680.Decline and Fall – Evelyn Waugh
681.Quicksand – Nella Larsen
682.Parade’s End – Ford Madox Ford
683.Nadja – André Breton
684.Steppenwolf – Herman Hesse
685.Remembrance of Things Past – Marcel Proust
686.To The Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf
687.Tarka the Otter – Henry Williamson
688.Amerika – Franz Kafka
689.The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway
690.Blindness – Henry Green
691.The Castle – Franz Kafka
692.The Good Soldier Švejk – Jaroslav Hašek
693.The Plumed Serpent – D.H. Lawrence
694.One, None and a Hundred Thousand – Luigi Pirandello
695.The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – Agatha Christie
696.The Making of Americans – Gertrude Stein
697.Manhattan Transfer – John Dos Passos
698.Mrs. Dalloway – Virginia Woolf
699.The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
700.The Counterfeiters – André Gide
701.The Trial – Franz Kafka
702.The Artamonov Business – Maxim Gorky
703.The Professor’s House – Willa Cather
704.Billy Budd, Foretopman – Herman Melville
705.The Green Hat – Michael Arlen
706.The Magic Mountain – Thomas Mann
707.We – Yevgeny Zamyatin
708.A Passage to India – E.M. Forster
709.The Devil in the Flesh – Raymond Radiguet
710.Zeno’s Conscience – Italo Svevo
711.Cane – Jean Toomer
712.Antic Hay – Aldous Huxley
713.Amok – Stefan Zweig
714.The Garden Party – Katherine Mansfield
715.The Enormous Room – E.E. Cummings
716.Jacob’s Room – Virginia Woolf
717.Siddhartha – Herman Hesse
718.The Glimpses of the Moon – Edith Wharton
719.Life and Death of Harriett Frean – May Sinclair
720.The Last Days of Humanity – Karl Kraus
721.Aaron’s Rod – D.H. Lawrence
722.Babbitt – Sinclair Lewis
723.Ulysses – James Joyce
724.The Fox – D.H. Lawrence
725.Crome Yellow – Aldous Huxley
726.The Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton
727.Main Street – Sinclair Lewis
728.Women in Love – D.H. Lawrence
729.Night and Day – Virginia Woolf
730.Tarr – Wyndham Lewis
731.The Return of the Soldier – Rebecca West
732.The Shadow Line – Joseph Conrad
733.Summer – Edith Wharton
734.Growth of the Soil – Knut Hamsen
735.Bunner Sisters – Edith Wharton
736.A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – James Joyce
737.Under Fire – Henri Barbusse
738.Rashomon – Akutagawa Ryunosuke
739.The Good Soldier – Ford Madox Ford
740.The Voyage Out – Virginia Woolf
741.Of Human Bondage – William Somerset Maugham
742.The Rainbow – D.H. Lawrence
743.The Thirty-Nine Steps – John Buchan
744.Kokoro – Natsume Soseki
745.Locus Solus – Raymond Roussel
746.Rosshalde – Herman Hesse
747.Tarzan of the Apes – Edgar Rice Burroughs
748.The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists – Robert Tressell
749.Sons and Lovers – D.H. Lawrence
750.Death in Venice – Thomas Mann
751.The Charwoman’s Daughter – James Stephens
752.Ethan Frome – Edith Wharton
753.Fantômas – Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre
754.Howards End – E.M. Forster
755.Impressions of Africa – Raymond Roussel
756.Three Lives – Gertrude Stein
757.Martin Eden – Jack London
758.Strait is the Gate – André Gide
759.Tono-Bungay – H.G. Wells
760.The Inferno – Henri Barbusse
761.A Room With a View – E.M. Forster
762.The Iron Heel – Jack London
763.The Old Wives’ Tale – Arnold Bennett
764.The House on the Borderland – William Hope Hodgson
765.Mother – Maxim Gorky
766.The Secret Agent – Joseph Conrad
767.The Jungle – Upton Sinclair
768.Young Törless – Robert Musil
769.The Forsyte Sage – John Galsworthy
770.The House of Mirth – Edith Wharton
771.Professor Unrat – Heinrich Mann
772.Where Angels Fear to Tread – E.M. Forster
773.Nostromo – Joseph Conrad
774.Hadrian the Seventh – Frederick Rolfe
775.The Golden Bowl – Henry James
776.The Ambassadors – Henry James
777.The Riddle of the Sands – Erskine Childers
778.The Immoralist – André Gide
779.The Wings of the Dove – Henry James
780.Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
781.The Hound of the Baskervilles – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
782.Buddenbrooks – Thomas Mann
783.Kim – Rudyard Kipling
784.Sister Carrie – Theodore Dreiser
785.Lord Jim – Joseph Conrad

1800s
786.Some Experiences of an Irish R.M. – Somerville and Ross
787.The Stechlin – Theodore Fontane
788.The Awakening – Kate Chopin
789.The Turn of the Screw – Henry James
790.The War of the Worlds – H.G. Wells
791.The Invisible Man – H.G. Wells
792.What Maisie Knew – Henry James
793.Fruits of the Earth – André Gide
794.Dracula – Bram Stoker
795.Quo Vadis – Henryk Sienkiewicz
796.The Island of Dr. Moreau – H.G. Wells
797.The Time Machine – H.G. Wells
798.Effi Briest – Theodore Fontane
799.Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
800.The Real Charlotte – Somerville and Ross
801.The Yellow Wallpaper – Charlotte Perkins Gilman
802.Born in Exile – George Gissing
803.Diary of a Nobody – George & Weedon Grossmith
804.The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
805.News from Nowhere – William Morris
806.New Grub Street – George Gissing
807.Gösta Berling’s Saga – Selma Lagerlöf
808.Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
809.The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
810.The Kreutzer Sonata – Leo Tolstoy
811.La Bête Humaine – Émile Zola
812.By the Open Sea – August Strindberg
813.Hunger – Knut Hamsun
814.The Master of Ballantrae – Robert Louis Stevenson
815.Pierre and Jean – Guy de Maupassant
816.Fortunata and Jacinta – Benito Pérez Galdés
817.The People of Hemsö – August Strindberg
818.The Woodlanders – Thomas Hardy
819.She – H. Rider Haggard
820.The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson
821.The Mayor of Casterbridge – Thomas Hardy
822.Kidnapped – Robert Louis Stevenson
823.King Solomon’s Mines – H. Rider Haggard
824.Germinal – Émile Zola
825.The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
826.Bel-Ami – Guy de Maupassant
827.Marius the Epicurean – Walter Pater
828.Against the Grain – Joris-Karl Huysmans
829.The Death of Ivan Ilyich – Leo Tolstoy
830.A Woman’s Life – Guy de Maupassant
831.Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson
832.The House by the Medlar Tree – Giovanni Verga
833.The Portrait of a Lady – Henry James
834.Bouvard and Pécuchet – Gustave Flaubert
835.Ben-Hur – Lew Wallace
836.Nana – Émile Zola
837.The Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoevsky
838.The Red Room – August Strindberg
839.Return of the Native – Thomas Hardy
840.Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
841.Drunkard – Émile Zola
842.Virgin Soil – Ivan Turgenev
843.Daniel Deronda – George Eliot
844.The Hand of Ethelberta – Thomas Hardy
845.The Temptation of Saint Anthony – Gustave Flaubert
846.Far from the Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
847.The Enchanted Wanderer – Nicolai Leskov
848.Around the World in Eighty Days – Jules Verne
849.In a Glass Darkly – Sheridan Le Fanu
850.The Devils – Fyodor Dostoevsky
851.Erewhon – Samuel Butler
852.Spring Torrents – Ivan Turgenev
853.Middlemarch – George Eliot
854.Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There – Lewis Carroll
855.King Lear of the Steppes – Ivan Turgenev
856.He Knew He Was Right – Anthony Trollope
857.War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
858.Sentimental Education – Gustave Flaubert
859.Phineas Finn – Anthony Trollope
860.Maldoror – Comte de Lautréaumont
861.The Idiot – Fyodor Dostoevsky
862.The Moonstone – Wilkie Collins
863.Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
864.Thérèse Raquin – Émile Zola
865.The Last Chronicle of Barset – Anthony Trollope
866.Journey to the Centre of the Earth – Jules Verne
867.Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoevsky
868.Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
869.Our Mutual Friend – Charles Dickens
870.Uncle Silas – Sheridan Le Fanu
871.Notes from the Underground – Fyodor Dostoevsky
872.The Water-Babies – Charles Kingsley
873.Les Misérables – Victor Hugo
874.Fathers and Sons – Ivan Turgenev
875.Silas Marner – George Eliot
876.Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
877.On the Eve – Ivan Turgenev
878.Castle Richmond – Anthony Trollope
879.The Mill on the Floss – George Eliot
880.The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
881.The Marble Faun – Nathaniel Hawthorne
882.Max Havelaar – Multatuli
883.A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
884.Oblomovka – Ivan Goncharov
885.Adam Bede – George Eliot
886.Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
887.North and South – Elizabeth Gaskell
888.Hard Times – Charles Dickens
889.Walden – Henry David Thoreau
890.Bleak House – Charles Dickens
891.Villette – Charlotte Brontë
892.Cranford – Elizabeth Gaskell
893.Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lonely – Harriet Beecher Stowe
894.The Blithedale Romance – Nathaniel Hawthorne
895.The House of the Seven Gables – Nathaniel Hawthorne
896.Moby-Dick – Herman Melville
897.The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne
898.David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
899.Shirley – Charlotte Brontë
900.Mary Barton – Elizabeth Gaskell
901.The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – Anne Brontë
902.Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë
903.Agnes Grey – Anne Brontë
904.Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
905.Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
906.The Count of Monte-Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
907.La Reine Margot – Alexandre Dumas
908.The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
909.The Purloined Letter – Edgar Allan Poe
910.Martin Chuzzlewit – Charles Dickens
911.The Pit and the Pendulum – Edgar Allan Poe
912.Lost Illusions – Honoré de Balzac
913.A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
914.Dead Souls – Nikolay Gogol
915.The Charterhouse of Parma – Stendhal
916.The Fall of the House of Usher – Edgar Allan Poe
917.The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby – Charles Dickens
918.Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
919.The Nose – Nikolay Gogol
920.Le Père Goriot – Honoré de Balzac
921.Eugénie Grandet – Honoré de Balzac
922.The Hunchback of Notre Dame – Victor Hugo
923.The Red and the Black – Stendhal
924.The Betrothed – Alessandro Manzoni
925.Last of the Mohicans – James Fenimore Cooper
926.The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner – James Hogg
927.The Albigenses – Charles Robert Maturin
928.Melmoth the Wanderer – Charles Robert Maturin
929.The Monastery – Sir Walter Scott
930.Ivanhoe – Sir Walter Scott
931.Frankenstein – Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
932.Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen
933.Persuasion – Jane Austen
934.Ormond – Maria Edgeworth
935.Rob Roy – Sir Walter Scott
936.Emma – Jane Austen
937.Mansfield Park – Jane Austen
938.Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
939.The Absentee – Maria Edgeworth
940.Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
941.Elective Affinities – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
942.Castle Rackrent – Maria Edgeworth

1700s
943.Hyperion – Friedrich Hölderlin
944.The Nun – Denis Diderot
945.Camilla – Fanny Burney
946.The Monk – M.G. Lewis
947.Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
948.The Mysteries of Udolpho – Ann Radcliffe
949.The Interesting Narrative – Olaudah Equiano
950.The Adventures of Caleb Williams – William Godwin
951.Justine – Marquis de Sade
952.Vathek – William Beckford
953.The 120 Days of Sodom – Marquis de Sade
954.Cecilia – Fanny Burney
955.Confessions – Jean-Jacques Rousseau
956.Dangerous Liaisons – Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
957.Reveries of a Solitary Walker – Jean-Jacques Rousseau
958.Evelina – Fanny Burney
959.The Sorrows of Young Werther – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
960.Humphrey Clinker – Tobias George Smollett
961.The Man of Feeling – Henry Mackenzie
962.A Sentimental Journey – Laurence Sterne
963.Tristram Shandy – Laurence Sterne
964.The Vicar of Wakefield – Oliver Goldsmith
965.The Castle of Otranto – Horace Walpole
966.Émile; or, On Education – Jean-Jacques Rousseau
967.Rameau’s Nephew – Denis Diderot
968.Julie; or, the New Eloise – Jean-Jacques Rousseau
969.Rasselas – Samuel Johnson
970.Candide – Voltaire
971.The Female Quixote – Charlotte Lennox
972.Amelia – Henry Fielding
973.Peregrine Pickle – Tobias George Smollett
974.Fanny Hill – John Cleland
975.Tom Jones – Henry Fielding
976.Roderick Random – Tobias George Smollett
977.Clarissa – Samuel Richardson
978.Pamela – Samuel Richardson
979.Jacques the Fatalist – Denis Diderot
980.Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus – J. Arbuthnot, J. Gay, T. Parnell, A. Pope, J. Swift
981.Joseph Andrews – Henry Fielding
982.A Modest Proposal – Jonathan Swift
983.Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift
984.Roxana – Daniel Defoe
985.Moll Flanders – Daniel Defoe
986.Love in Excess – Eliza Haywood
987.Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe
988.A Tale of a Tub – Jonathan Swift

Pre-1700
989.Oroonoko – Aphra Behn
990.The Princess of Clèves – Marie-Madelaine Pioche de Lavergne, Comtesse de La Fayette
991.The Pilgrim’s Progress – John Bunyan
992.Don Quixote – Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
993.The Unfortunate Traveller – Thomas Nashe
994.Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit – John Lyly
995.Gargantua and Pantagruel – Françoise Rabelais
996.The Thousand and One Nights – Anonymous
997.The Golden Ass – Lucius Apuleius
998.Aithiopika – Heliodorus
999.Chaireas and Kallirhoe – Chariton
1000.Metamorphoses – Ovid
1001.Aesop’s Fables – Aesopus

Wow - I've read 88 of them - better than I thought ;) but not even 10% :P I have a few quibbles with the list myself. Some of the books on it that I have read are far from my favourites - Voss, Lord of the Flies, Jack Maggs... but still, I could see why they were classics - just rather unreadable (Ulysses will also fall into this category). Despite that, I like the list - enough of my favourites are on there to tempt me to discover why the others are there... and even the ones I have read and didn't enjoy are important as works of fiction and have shaped my thinking and who I am today... maybe in re-reading them I will discover something in them I didn't see before. I think you have to be something of an intellectual masochist to want to read them all (yup, that's me) but I will review them as I read them, so stick around and I'll let you know which ones I think are worth the effort - and why!