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by Polly Whitney

Home Forums Aspects of the Novel The Ten Best Novels?

This topic contains 22 replies, has 6 voices, and was last updated by  davidsmith 2 years, 7 months ago.

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  • #206

    Polly Whitney
    Moderator

    These are my candidates:
    MRS. DALLOWAY by Virginia Woolf
    ANNA KARENINA by Leo Tolstoy
    LONESOME DOVE by Larry McMurtry
    LIFE AFTER LIFE by Kate Atkinson
    THE ART OF FIELDING by Chad Harbach
    THE SCARLET LETTER by Nathaniel Hawthorne
    100 YEARS OF SOLITUDE by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
    THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN by Mark Twain
    EMPIRE FALLS by Richard Russo * (kicked off the list and replaced by
    SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE by Kurt Vonnegut)
    A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY by John Irving
    and, for science fiction lovers:
    A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ by Walter M. Miller

    • This topic was modified 2 years, 9 months ago by  Polly Whitney.
    • This topic was modified 2 years, 9 months ago by  Polly Whitney.
  • #208

    Adam Brandenburg
    Keymaster

    Great list. I’d add a few of my favorites:

    A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
    The Stranger by Albert Camus

    Although I have to say I don’t get Empire Falls. What makes that novel great? Maybe I didn’t have it in me to relate to it.

    • #209

      Polly Whitney
      Moderator

      I almost listed A FAREWELL TO ARMS, but the antifeminism stopped me. About EMPIRE FALLS, for me it’s the tightly woven past and present, the blue collar with the wealthy, the environment with the people who made it what it is. EMPIRE FALLS works against its own optimism with the contradictory truisms: romance is possible, even praiseworthy, except for the fact that people always screw it up; our understanding of history is faulty because we have it confused with the future; happiness eludes us because we confuse settings with substance. Russo also manages to be a loud voice in defense of the environment without actually screaming in our ears. But, finally, what made me an ardent fan was Russo’s use of language. He is smooth, undistracted, inventive — while insisting that those things are not possible. Russo’s rhetoric is at the service of ordinary people. I won’t spoil the book, but I think few mainstream writers would have DARED to do what Russo did at the end. EMPIRE FALLS is our town, our people, our river, our hope for the future, and even our cat — and he forces us to give a damn.

      • This reply was modified 2 years, 9 months ago by  Polly Whitney.
      • #211

        Polly Whitney
        Moderator

        Adam: I’ve considered my response to your question about EMPIRE FALLS, and, even to me, that response seems lame and overwrought. So, I’m kicking EMPIRE FALLS off my list and replacing it with SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE by Kurt Vonnegut. Thanks for making me think.

        • This reply was modified 2 years, 9 months ago by  Polly Whitney.
  • #235

    medill
    Participant

    You were so wrong to eliminate Empire Falls. Russo is one of the great writers of our time, and his stories are beautifully told with well defined, memorable characters and warm, real settings. So I’d put it back on the list, and add Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.

  • #241

    Odysseus
    Participant

    Hi Polly,

    Great topic, forever debatable. I don’t think that the antifeminist turns of A FAREWELL TO ARMS make it any less worthy of a place on this list. After all a novel is a product of its time and of the people living in it, and Hemingway’s time was not exactly a great one for feminists around the world, at least I imagine not. That said, here is my personal list, with many similarities:

    A FAREWELL TO ARMS by Ernest Hemingway
    ON THE ROAD by Jack Kerouac
    MEMORIES OF MY MELANCHOLY WHORES by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
    TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee
    THE STRANGER by Albert Camus
    THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN by Mark Twain
    THE GRAPES OF WRATH by John Steinbeck
    PEDRO PARAMO by Juan Rulfo
    A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN by James Joyce
    IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME by Marcel Proust

    I haven’t read Toni Morrison yet, but I’m willing to bet I’ll change my list once I do.

  • #244

    Polly Whitney
    Moderator

    Ah, Odysseus! I’m so glad to see Gabriel Garcia Marquez so well represented. Have you read LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA? That novel breaks my heart. It may be the greatest love story ever told.

  • #247

    jopusa
    Participant

    I’m not sure what my 10 are, but for sure THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING by T.H. White is on my list.

    • #314

      davidsmith
      Participant

      Thanks for the recommendation of Cholera. Have you read it in English or Spanish? Or both?

      • This reply was modified 2 years, 8 months ago by  davidsmith. Reason: Thought I'd submitted it on the item above. Where it appeared, though, it didn't make sense without the addition of "of Cholera"
      • #336

        Polly Whitney
        Moderator

        I read LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA in translation (English). I’m not fluent in Spanish; I’ve only just enough understanding to get by on the streets of Taxco.

  • #250

    Polly Whitney
    Moderator

    Wow. I’ve never even read THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING. I’d better go make Amazon richer.
    Thanks.

  • #258

    Adam Brandenburg
    Keymaster

    After much thought and with an eternally changing order:

    1. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway (misogyny notwithstanding)

    2. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

    3. The Stranger by Albert Camus

    4. A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean (technically a novella)

    5. Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry

    6. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

    7. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

    8. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

    9. Moby Dick by Herman Melville

    10. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (minus the political preaching)

  • #261

    Polly Whitney
    Moderator

    Moby Dick. Wow. Many people have struggled with that monster (Ahab or the Whale?). My favorite part of MOBY DICK is the cook’s sermon to the sharks. Your list is impressive and the work of a versatile reader. I’m also glad to see Vonnegut up where he belongs. His early science fiction gets overlooked, but it was SIRENS OF TITAN that turned me on to Vonnegut. * Too, way too, bad that his life ended in so much bitterness concerning the reception of his books.

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 9 months ago by  Polly Whitney.
  • #302

    davidsmith
    Participant

    La Peste, Camus.

  • #304

    davidsmith
    Participant

    South Riding, Winifred Holtby

  • #309

    Polly Whitney
    Moderator

    I see I have some research to do. I’m way out of the loop with Holtby.

    • #312

      davidsmith
      Participant

      There are few Holtby books. Died young. I just became aware of her. Both funny and deep.

      My French is only elementary to intermediate, but la Peste isn’t that hard a read, as I recall. (Zola, on the other hand, is a slog, mainly because of the vocabulary. Otherwise, I’d probably nominate something from the Rougon-Macquart. Awesome.)

      • This reply was modified 2 years, 8 months ago by  davidsmith.
  • #319

    Polly Whitney
    Moderator

    David: Oh, good. I’ve been needing a “French” person. Can you explain to me why MADAME BOVARY is such a bore? Is it because we want to kick Madame or because her husband is so blind and bovine or because her choice in lovers is pathetic? What is it about that book that I’ve missed? I find it repulsive and morally inconclusive and sexually backwards. Why does it hold a place in the literary canon?

    • #331

      davidsmith
      Participant

      Beats me. I *think* I’ve read it in French, but all I remember is that I didn’t care much for it. Alas, I’m not a cultured, properly educated person. I just like what I like.

      Is there still a literary canon? I though all that had been violently smashed on top of the trash heap of colonialism and imperialism.

      French is a lovely language – or maybe I just have a vested interest it. Have you read Simenon in French? Wonderful stuff.

      • #369

        davidsmith
        Participant

        I just googled “bovary boring”. The first hit was a long, boring introduction by A. S. Byatt to a Norwegian edition of Madame Bovary:

        http://www.theguardian.com/books/2002/jul/27/classics.asbyatt

        I confess I didn’t finish it. Almost – maybe mid-way down the second page – but not quite. Life is too short to be consumed in this sort of thing, especially when the reader has an abnormally short concentration span.

        But Byatt does give an answer to your question, why is it such a bore?

        It is not a nice story. So why is it one of the greatest novels of all time? To answer that, it is necessary to look at the history of its writing, and Flaubert’s ideas about what he was trying to achieve.

        So, there. It’s <b>supposed</b> to be boring, and you, the reader, are supposed to like it because of that. Academics.

        Oh, I think, looking at the passages Byatt quotes in French, that I probably did not read the novel in French. I doubt my French vocabulary would have been up to it.

        • #370

          davidsmith
          Participant

          And reading a good novel in translation is probably something one should do only if one’s completely unable to tackle it in its own language. Translation is, in fact, of course, impossible. What you get is a rough approximation, the plot without the poetry.

          That’s why, I think, it’s good to read Simenon in French, if you choose to read him at all. Before I could read French, I once read a Penguin translation of a Maigret and though I found it interesting enough to quote a snippet in a collection of quotes I was keeping, I know I was completely blind to what I now love.

          If you’re interested in a quick look at a GS title, here’s a link:

          http://www.simenonnumerique.com/

          You won’t find Simenon ebooks in French on amazon.com, alas.

  • #383

    Polly Whitney
    Moderator

    I feel much the same as you do about reading in translation. And, your coinage “plot without the poetry stopped me in my tracks. What a precise rendering of the problems of the translators, bless their presence.

    • #413

      davidsmith
      Participant

      Translation is hard and, I’m pretty sure, thankless. I imagine most translators are poorly paid and little regarded. I once considered translating a Pierre Véry mystery into English but gave it a pass. The charm is in the language, not in the story.

      Robert Lowell, who did not, I think, speak or read Russian, did an “imitation” of a Russian poet or two. I assume he communed with the authors’ spirits. Well….

      http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2011/nov/30/translating-dark/

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