Anthony Burgess’ list of the best novels in the English language from 1940-1983.
Burgess is British, so there is a bias here in favor of British novelists and against Irish, Canadian, Australian, and to a lesser extent, American novelists. I am not as up on British novelists as I am on American novelists, so this is probably part of the problem here in a lot of these books I am not familiar with.
The first yes/no statement is whether I have heard of the book.
The second yes/no statement is whether I have read the book.
This is how I did. See how you can do. You don’t have to tally them all up like I did here. Feel free to discuss any of the listed books or authors below if you are familiar with them or heave read them.
Party Going, Henry Green YES NO
After Many a Summer Dies the Swan, Aldous Huxley YES NO
Finnegans Wake, James Joyce YES NO (OWN, PART)
At Swim-Two-Birds, Flann O’Brien YES NO
The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene YES NO
For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway YES YES (FORMER OWN)
Strangers and Brothers (to 1970), C. P. Snow NO NO
The Aerodrome, Rex Warner YES NO
The Horse’s Mouth, Joyce Cary YES NO
The Razor’s Edge, W. Somerset Maugham YES NO
Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh YES NO
Titus Groan, Mervyn Peake YES NO
1947 The Victim, Saul Bellow YES NO
Under the Volcano, Malcolm Lowry YES NO
The Heart of the Matter, Graham Greene YES NO
The Naked and the Dead, Norman Mailer YES NO
No Highway, Nevil Shute YES NO
The Heat of the Day, Elizabeth Bowen YES NO
Ape and Essence, Aldous Huxley YES NO
Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell YES YES (FORMER OWN)
The Body, William Sansom NO NO
Scenes from Provincial Life, William Cooper NO NO
The Disenchanted, Budd Schulberg YES NO (OWN)
1951 A Dance to the Music of Time (to 1975), Anthony Powell YES NO
The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger YES YES (FORMER OWN)
A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight (to 1969), Henry Williamson NO NO
The Caine Mutiny, Herman Wouk YES NO
Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison YES NO
The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway YES YES (FORMER OWN)
Wise Blood, Flannery O’Connor YES NO
Sword of Honor (to 1961), Evelyn Waugh NO NO
The Long Goodbye, Raymond Chandler YES YES (FORMER OWN)
The Groves of Academe, Mary McCarthy YES NO
Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis YES YES (FORMER OWN)
Room at the Top, John Braine NO NO
The Alexandria Quartet (to 1960), Lawrence Durrell YES NO
The London Novels (to 1960), Colin MacInnes NO NO
The Assistant, Bernard Malamud YES NO
The Bell,, Iris Murdoch YES NO
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning Alan Sillitoe NO NO
The Once and Future King, T. H. White YES (OWN, PART)
The Mansion, William Faulkner YES NO
Goldfinger, Ian Fleming YES NO
Facial Justice, L. P. Hartley NO NO
The Balkan Trilogy (to 1965), Olivia Manning YES NO
The Mighty and Their Fall, Ivy Compton-Burnett NO NO
Catch-22 Joseph Heller, YES YES (FORMER OWN)
The Fox in the Attic, Richard Hughes NO NO
Riders in the Chariot, Patrick White NO NO
The Old Men at the Zoo, Angus Wilson NO NO
Another Country, James Baldwin YES NO
An Error of Judgement, Pamela Hansford Johnson NO NO
Island, Aldous Huxley YES NO
The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing YES YES (FORMER OWN)
Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov YES NO
1963 The Girls of Slender Means, Muriel Spark YES NO
The Spire, William Golding YES NO
Heartland, Wilson Harris NO NO
A Single Man, Christopher Isherwood YES NO
The Defense, Vladimir Nabokov YES NO
Late Call, Angus Wilson NO NO
The Lockwood Concern, John O’Hara NO NO
Cocksure, Mordecai Richler NO NO
The Mandelbaum Gate, Muriel Spark YES NO
A Man of the People, Chinua Achebe YES NO
The Anti-Death League, Kingsley Amis YES NO
Giles Goat-Boy, John Barth YES NO
The Late Bourgeois World, Nadine Gordimer NO NO
The Last Gentleman, Walker Percy NO NO
The Vendor of Sweets, R. K. Narayan YES NO
The Image Men, J. B. Priestley NO NO
Pavane, Keith Roberts NO NO
The French Lieutenant’s Woman, John Fowles YES NO Portnoy’s Complaint, Philip Roth YES YES (FORMER OWN)
1970 Bomber, Len Deighton YES NO
Sweet Dreams, Michael Frayn NO NO
Gravity’s Rainbow Thomas Pynchon YES YES (OWN)
Humboldt’s Gift, Saul Bellow YES YES (FORMER OWN)
The History Man, Malcolm Bradbury NO NO
The Doctor’s Wife, Brian Moore NO NO
Falstaff, Robert Nye NO NO
How To Save Your Own Life, Erica Jong YES NO
Farewell Companions, James Plunkett NO NO
Staying On, Paul Scott NO NO
The Coup, John Updike YES NO
The Unlimited Dream Company, J. G. Ballard NO NO
Dubin’s Lives, Bernard Malamud YES NO
A Bend in the River, V. S. Naipaul YES NO
Sophie’s Choice, William Styron YES NO
Life in the West, Brian Aldiss NO NO
Riddley Walker, Russell Hoban YES NO
How Far Can You Go?, David Lodge NO NO
A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole YES YES (FORMER OWN)
Lanark, Alasdair Gray YES NO
Darconville’s Cat, Alexander Theroux YES NO
The Mosquito Coast, Paul Theroux YES NO (MOVIE)
Creation, Gore Vidal NO NO
1982 The Rebel Angels, Robertson Davies YES NO
1983 Ancient Evenings, Norman Mailer YES NO
I am familiar with 66 out of the 99 books or 2/3 of them. It doesn’t seem real great, but I bet if you asked 100 people, my score would be better than almost all of them.
So I’m not familiar with 1/3 of the best books from 1935-1985, which is a bit pathetic. But if you asked 100 people again, my score is probably better than almost all of them.
I have read 12 out of the 99 books or 12% of them. I’ve read 12% of the best books from 1935-1985. Pathetic. But still it’s probably better than 95% of the people you ask. So I haven’t read 88% of these books. However, I have read a 2% out of those 88% but only a few pages in each. In one case, I saw the movie but didn’t read the book.
But I also read 25 novels, partly read four others and 10 cases of short story collections and nonfiction written by the authors above that did not make the list. So I read 39 books that did not make the list by the authors above.
In quite a few cases, I am familiar with the author but not his books or at least not that particular book. There seem to be 89 authors listed above of those 99 books. The numbers don’t line up because some writers have more than one work up there. I have heard of 74 of the top 89 novelists of 1940-1983, or 83% of them. I am not familiar with 15 of the authors of 17%. Once again that’s probably better than 95% of the people you will talk to.
For some of these authors, I have read some of their works but not others.
Light in August
Brave New World
The Doors of Perception
Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man
Ulysses (few pages)
The Sun Also Rises
Across the River and into the Trees
J. D. Salinger
Franny and Zooey
Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters
The Loved One
You Only Live Twice (few pages)
Lord of the Flies
Things Fall Apart (few pages)
The Sot-Weed Factor
The Crying of Lot 49
The Green Berets
Fear of Flying
Hugging the Shore
To the End of Time (50 pages)
Cities of the Night
An American Dream
5 thoughts on “Test: Anthony Burgess List of the 99 Greatest Modern Novels 1940-1983”
My scores. I’m adding another value: “read online.” Either Kindle or an eBook version.
Heard: 17 – I may have heard a few other names and may have seen them at a bookstore but I don’t recall them as easily.
Read the physical edition: 6 – This list includes “own currently” and “formerly owned”
Rad online: 5
Total read = 6 + 5 = 11
17 out of 99 for me– I think it’s an impressive score considering that I don’t read that much fiction really.
11 out of 99, almost at your level, yeah. Some of these books I read multiple times; Sophie’s Choice is my favorite, Hemingway, Heartland, R K Narayan
Only 2 Indian authors in the list of 99 is a bit of a disappointment. This list is fucking rigged – I must protest!
R K Narayan’s “The Guide” is a fiction masterpiece which should have been there way ahead of “The Vendor of Sweets” although that’s pretty fantastic too. R K Narayan was a real genius.
Why didn’t Salman Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children” (1981) make the list?
Out of the list you proposed, I completely agree with “An American Dream”, “Lolita” (it should have been included), “Lord of the Flies” and each and everyone of the James Joyce novels. Have read or partially read all of them.
Here is my final tally based on the Anthony Burgess list. Merry Christmas!
Finnegans Wake, James Joyce YES YES (READ ONLINE)
For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway YES YES (OWN CURRENTLY)
The Razor’s Edge, W. Somerset Maugham YES NO
Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell YES YES (READ ONLINE)
The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger YES YES (OWN CURRENTLY)
The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway YES YES (OWN CURRENTLY)
Goldfinger, Ian Fleming YES NO (FORMERLY OWNED)
The Fox in the Attic, Richard Hughes YES NO
Heartland, Wilson Harris YES YES (READ ONLINE)
The Mandelbaum Gate, Muriel Spark YES NO
A Man of the People, Chinua Achebe YES YES (READ ONLINE)
The Vendor of Sweets, R. K. Narayan YES YES (FORMERLY OWNED) – Only Indian novelist worth including, damn that racist Brit who created this list!
Philip Roth YES NO
Falstaff, Robert Nye YES NO
A Bend in the River, V. S. Naipaul YES YES (OWN CURRENTLY) – So, another Indian writer he did include although I’m not a big Naipaul fan, I acknowledge his genius.
Sophie’s Choice, William Styron YES YES (READ ONLINE) – This is my favorite book in this entire list. You should check it out.
A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole YES NO
The Joyce novels were written before 1940, so they were too early to make the list. I am glad you liked American Dream, Lolita and Lord of the Flies! Three great books.
I’d really like to read
R K Narayan, “The Vendor of Sweets”
Salman Rushdie* “Midnight’s Children”
V. S. Naipaul, “A Bend in the River”
William Styron, “Sophie’s Choice”
W. Somerset Maugham, “The Razor’s Edge”
Ian Fleming, “Goldfinger”
Chinua Achebe, “A Man of the People”
Fuck the “Wake.” I’ve had that book on shelf for 35 years now and I still haven’t read it. I’ve read a few pages. To me, it’s unreadable.
*Read half of “The Satanic Verses.”
Is “Heartland” any good? I’ve never heard of either it or the author. I assume he’s some Brit.
Wilson Harris, The author is Guyanese. The novel is set in the Caribbean country which was a British colony. It basically gives you a Caribbean perspective of the dark, mysterious forces of nature that affect the lives of human beings.
Deep down it’s about Black pride stuff…there’s are subtle themes which talk about the presence of melanin in human skin as a way to communicate with God…how White people are evil etc. I’m sure you’re going to love it.
For me, it was more like an introduction to the beautiful Caribbean country. It’s like taking a mini-vacation to the lush green forests and beautiful sandy white beaches.
You can find it on Kindle for sure.
Sounds similar to the Green Frontier TV series. The lush green jungles of the Amazon appeal to me. Just woke from a dream pondering why bald eagles favor North America? Well, they favor Alaska specifically. The last remnant of old untapped forrests that was the early North American frontier.