The 100 Best English-Language Novels since 1900

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The 100 Best English-Language Novels since 1900

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Editat: juny 29, 2012, 2:54pm

Some friends and I decided to try our hand at making one of those “Top 100 novels” lists. So here is our list of the 100 Best English-Language Novels since 1900. Suggestions welcome.

1. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (1949)
2. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)
3. The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (2008)
4. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (1980)
5. The Secret History by Donna Tartt (1992)
6. A Good Man in Africa by William Boyd (1981)
7. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (1937)
8. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
9. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2006)
10. Flashman by George MacDonald Fraser (1969)
11. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (2001)
12. Heartburn by Nora Ephron (1983)
13. Burr by Gore Vidal (1973)
14. Little Big Man by Thomas Berger (1964)
15. I, Claudius by Robert Graves (1934)
16. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (1958)
17. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955)
18. All the King’s Men by Robert Penn (1946)
19. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939)
20. The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood (2005)
21. A Mercy by Toni Morrison (2008)
22. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (2004)
23. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (1995)
24. Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner (1972)
25. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (1962)
26. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)
27. Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene (1958)
28. The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith (1955)
29. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway (1940)
30. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck (1931)
31. The Girl Who Played Go by Shan Sa (2003)
32. The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien (1937)
33. Scoop by Evelyn Waugh (1938)
34. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (2002)
35. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (2003)
36. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (2003)
37. Doc by Mary Doria Russell (2012)
38. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1962)
39. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin (1969)
40. July's People by Nadine Gordimer (1981)
41. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (1979)
42. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (1962)
43. The Winds of War by Herman Wouk (1971)
44. Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine by Bebe Moore Campbell (1993)
45. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson (1971)
46. The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara (1974)
47. Possessing the Secret of Joy by Alice Walker (1992)
48. Roots by Alex Haley (1976)
49. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (1911)
50. The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver (1988)
51. On Gold Mountain by Lisa See (1995)
52. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn (1989)
53. Regeneration by Pat Barker (1991)
54. How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez (1991)
55. Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe (1987)
56. The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay (1989)
57. In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje (1987)
58. The Persian Boy by Mary Renault (1988)
59. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (1989)
60. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger (1951)
61. The Grass Is Singing by Doris Lessing (1950)
62. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953)
63. The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O'Connor (1960)
64. King Rat by James Clavell (1962)
65. Cool Hand Luke by Donn Pearce (1965)
66. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick (1968)
67. Grendel by John Gardner (1971)
68. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (1985)
69. Animal Farm by George Orwell (1945)
70. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932)
71. The Book of Saladin by Tariq Ali (1998)
72. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (1980)
73. Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh (2008)
74. Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee (1999)
75. White Teeth by Zadie Smith (2000)
76. Watership Down by Richard Adams (1972)
77. The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat (1998)
78. Schindler's Ark by Thomas Keneally (1982)
79. The Great Indian Novel by Shashi Tharoor (1989)
80. Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks (2001)
81. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry (1985)
82. The African Safari Papers by Robert Sedlack (2002)
83. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (1997)
84. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley (1983)
85. Dune by Frank Herbert (1965)
86. Wild Ginger by Anchee Min (2002)
87. Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga (2004)
88. No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy (2005)
89. The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai (2006)
90. A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz (2008)
91. People of the Deer by Farley Mowat (1952)
92. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (1966)
93. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (2009)
94. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (1943)
95. The Call of the Wild by Jack London (1903)
96. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather (1927)
97. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J. K. Rowling (1997)
98. Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (2003)
99. The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett (1983)
100. Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff by Christopher Moore (2002)

juny 29, 2012, 12:24pm

Just for curiosity, why 'since 1900'?

juny 29, 2012, 12:30pm

Because that was the starting date used by the Modern Library top 100 list ( and the Radcliffe top 100 list (

And because I've read more books from the 20th/21st century than from the 18th or 19th.

Editat: juny 30, 2012, 6:09am

Fair enough. Thanks.

Editat: juny 30, 2012, 8:14pm

Editat: feb. 20, 2013, 1:19am

#1 - I commend you on putting together such a list. It's really interesting to see what other readers value the most. However, I can't help but suspect it reflects your personal preferences rather than a more objective consideration of what might be "best" aesthetically. It's certain that complete objectivity can't be achieved - that would defy the whole purpose of writing fiction - but I think we can do a good job of getting as close to it as possible. I also have my own preferences, of course, but I have tried to include writers I think are excellent despite my not really liking them that much. So, since you asked for suggestions, here are mine:

I would have included Palace of the Peacock by Wilson Harris in my top 10 list. Yep, top 10! An astonishing novella that pushes all sorts of boundaries.

I would have made room for If on a Winter's Night a Traveller and Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino.

I'm surprised you didn't include The Trial by Franz Kafka.

Patrick White's novels Voss and A Fringe of Leaves and Riders in the Chariot could easily displace Frank Herbert, Richard Adams, Ken Kesey and Jack London. That's if you're looking for the best in terms of aesthetic excellence.

Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker is a tour de force. Written in a kind of pidgin English!

I'd also have included Mervyn Peake's Titus Groan and Gormenghast.

I'm also surprised that you couldn't fit in Camus' The Outsider and The Plague.

Wolf Solent by John Cowper Powys is definitely within the top 100 best books of the 20th century. Some would also want to include A Glastonbury Romance.

It was pleasing to see Rushdie's Midnight's Children in your list, but I think The Satanic Verses is only now starting to be appreciated more for its literary achievement and at least deserves some serious consideration. As does his novel about Pakistan, Shame.

The novels of William Golding, while not my among personal favourites, are nevertheless superb literary achievements.

Then there are the novels of R. K. Narayan, especially The Guide and The Financial Expert.

The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass, while not a favourite of mine, is worthy of consideration. It was an influence upon Rushdie and Garcia Marquez whose novels One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera are highly distinguished.

While thinking about Latin American writing, it's hard to go past the novels of Alejo Carpentier.

Christina Stead's The Man Who Loved Children also deserves consideration.

I would have included Peter Carey's Oscar and Lucinda and Illywhacker.

I would also have added Andre Gide's The Immoralist and Alain-Fournier's Le Grand Meaulnes. And I'm sure that there would be readers out there who would insist that it's a travesty to exclude Marcel Proust from any such list. They may have a very good case.

I was glad to see some African writing in English represented by Achebe's Things Fall Apart, but there are other novels that I would argue are just as good in their own way, such as Ayi Kwei Armah's The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, Elechi Amadi's The Great Ponds, Wole Soyinka's A Dance of the Forest and Amos Tutuola's amazing The Palm-Wine Drinkard and His Dead Palm-Wine Tapster in the Dead's Town.

Other novels worth considering are Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint, Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and The Thief's Journal and Our Lady of the Flowers by Jean Genet. I think I would have made room for them in my list of BEST 100 novels of the 20th century.

And no William Faulkner??? How could he possibly be overlooked?

I would not exclude James Joyce, Virginia Woolf or D. H. Lawrence from my list. I would eliminate authors like Alice Walker, Bryce Courtney, Alex Haley, Don Pearce, Tom Wolfe, Terry Pratchett, J. R. R. Tolkein, Anthony Burgess and J. K. Rowling. Some people might question the inclusion of authors like Toni Morrison, Kazuo Ishiguro, Geraldine Brooks, Thomas Keneally and even Hemingway, as good as they are.

I was delighted to see Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness in your list, but I think you included Doris Lessing for the wrong reason: it should have been for The Golden Notebook.

I also notice that you've pretty much ignored all Russian and Eastern European literature too. Room could have been made for Maxim Gorky, Boris Pasternak, Witold Gombrowicz and Mikhail Bulgakov.

OK, I know, it's likely that we have not read everything written in the 20th century, so our judgements must be limited and conditional. However, even though I am unfamiliar with some of the other authors you have included, and at the risk of sounding presumptuous, I remain quietly confident that my suggestions would be more than a literary match for them.