Saturday, May 30, 2020

Best 99 Novels in English Since 1939 (to 1984), According to Anthony Burgess -- BOOK LIST

Anthony Burgess made a list of the Best 99 Novels in English. At least, they were the Best 99 Novels in English between 1939 and 1984, according to him.

Burgess was entitled to offer an opinion with some authority. Burgess was a British author who wrote 33 novels as well as poetry, biography, criticism, and other works. He was also a journalist, linguist, and music composer. He died in 1993. He is best known for his dystopian satire, A Clockwork Orange, an excellent book I put off reading for too long because the movie was so disturbing.

In 1984, Burgess published a book he called 99 Novels: The Best in English Since 1939 (reviewed here). The time span of 1939 to 1984 is described as "a period that encompasses the start of a world war and ends with the nonfulfillment of Orwell's nightmare."

His book included mini-reviews of the 99 novels (some are sets or series), which he chose on the basis of personal preference. Burgess described his process and his choices like this:

In my time, I have read a lot of novels in the way of duty; I have read a great number for pleasure as well. The 99 novels I have chosen, I have chosen with some, though not with total, confidence. I have concentrated on works which have brought something new – in technique or view of the world – to the form.

If there is a great deal of known excellence not represented here, that is because 99 is a comparatively low number. The reader can decide on his own hundredth. He may even choose one of my own novels.

The Anthony Burgess list of 99 Best Novels and Erica Jong's list of Top 20th Century Novels by Women are my go to lists when I'm looking for something good to read. There is some crossover with other Must Read lists, but a lot of originality. There are many authors I tried and books I read only because they were on the Anthony Burgess list and they are now all-time favorites.

Also, I would include Burgess's Earthly Powers book as the 100th. I think it deserves a spot on a top 100 midcentury novel list.

Here is the list, in the same chronological order by publication date that Burgess lists them in his book, with notes if I've read the book, it is on my TBR shelf, or if it is available in an audiobook from my library. So far, I've finished 53 of the books on this list. There are a few I will most likely never read.

Party Going, Henry Green FINISHED

After Many a Summer Dies the Swan, Aldous Huxley TBR SHELF

Finnegans Wake, James Joyce (discussed hereFINISHED

At Swim-Two-Birds, Flann O'Brien TBR SHELF

The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene FINISHED

For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway FINISHED

Strangers and Brothers, C. P. Snow (an 11-novel series George Passant, reviewed here FINISHEDA Time of Hope, reviewed here FINISHEDThe Consciousness of the Rich FINISHEDThe Light and the Dark FINISHEDThe Masters FINISHED; The New Men TBR SHELF; Homecomings TBR SHELF; The Affair TBR SHELF; Corridors of Power TBR SHELF; The Sleep of Reason TBR SHELF; Last Things TBR SHELF)

The Aerodrome, Rex Warner TBR SHELF

The Horse's Mouth, Joyce Cary TBR SHELF

The Razor's Edge, Somerset Maugham (reviewed hereFINISHED

Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh FINISHED

Titus Groan, Mervyn Peake (reviewed hereFINISHED

The Victim, Saul Bellow FINISHED

Under the Volcano, Malcolm Lowry FINISHED

The Heart of the Matter, Graham Greene FINISHED

Ape and Essence, Aldous Huxley FINISHED

The Naked and the Dead, Norman Mailer (reviewed hereFINISHED

No Highway, Nevil Shute

The Heat of the Day, Elizabeth Bowen FINISHED

Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell FINISHED

The Body, William Sansom

Scenes from Provincial Life, William Cooper

The Disenchanted, Budd Schulberg

A Dance to the Music of Time, Anthony Powell (a 12-novel series; my desert island pick; discussed hereFINISHED

The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger FINISHED

A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight, Henry Williamson (a 15-book series, not easy to find, and only gets Burgess's halfhearted endorsement)

The Caine Mutiny, Herman Wouk TBR SHELF

Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison FINISHED

The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway FINISHED

The Groves of Academe, Mary McCarthy (one of my favorite books ever; reviewed hereFINISHED

Wise Blood, Flannery O'Connor FINISHED

Sword of Honour, Evelyn Waugh (a trilogy)  TBR SHELF

The Long Goodbye, Raymond Chandler TBR SHELF

Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis (I love this one) FINISHED TWICE

Room at the Top, John Braine FINISHED

The Alexandria Quartet, Lawrence Durrell FINISHED

The London Novels, Colin MacInnes (a trilogy) TBR SHELF

The Assistant, Bernard Malamud (reviewed hereFINISHED

The Bell, Iris Murdoch FINISHED

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Alan Sillitoe (I was supposed to read it in college but was hungover - the irony) TBR SHELF

The Once and Future King, T. H. White TBR SHELF

The Mansion, William Faulkner

Goldfinger, Ian Fleming FINISHED

Facial Justice, L. P. Hartley TBR SHELF

The Balkans Trilogy, Olivia Manning TBR SHELF

The Mighty and Their Fall, Ivy Compton-Burnett

Catch-22, Joseph Heller FINISHED

The Fox in the Attic, Richard Hughes TBR SHELF

Riders in the Chariot, Patrick White TBR SHELF

The Old Men at the Zoo, Angus Wilson (my favorite unknown novel) FINISHED

Another Country, James Baldwin ON OVERDRIVE

Error of Judgment, Pamela Hansford Johnson TBR SHELF

Island, Aldous Huxley TBR SHELF

The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing FINISHED

Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov (brilliant) FINISHED

The Girls of Slender Means, Muriel Spark (my favorite Spark) FINISHED

The Spire, William Golding FINISHED

Heartland, Wilson Harris TBR SHELF

A Single Man, Christopher Isherwood (reviewed hereFINISHED

Defense, Vladimir Nabokov (also called The Luzhin Defense)

Late Call, Angus Wilson TBR SHELF

The Lockwood Concern, John O'Hara TBR SHELF

The Mandelbaum Gate, Muriel Spark (reviewed hereFINISHED

A Man of the People, Chinua Achebe

The Anti-Death League, Kingsley Amis (reviewed hereFINISHED

Giles Goat-Boy, John Barth TBR SHELF

The Late Bourgeois World, Nadine Gordimer

The Last Gentleman, Walker Percy FINISHED

The Vendor of Sweets, R. K. Narayan TBR SHELF

Image Men, J. B. Priestley (two volumes)

Cocksure, Mordecai Richler TBR SHELF

Pavane, Keith Roberts TBR SHELF

The French Lieutenant's Woman, John Fowles FINISHED

Portnoy's Complaint, Philip Roth FINISHED

Bomber, Len Deighton

Sweet Dreams, Michael Frayn TBR SHELF

Gravity's Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon ON OVERDRIVE

Humboldt's Gift, Saul Bellow FINISHED

The History Man, Malcolm Bradbury FINISHED

The Doctor's Wife, Brian Moore TBR SHELF

Falstaff, Robert Nye TBR SHELF

How to Save Your Own Life, Erica Jong (reviewed here; I love all the Isadora Wing books) FINISHED

Farewell Companions, James Plunkett TBR SHELF

Staying On, Paul Scott (Booker Prize winnerFINISHED

The Coup, John Updike TBR SHELF

The Unlimited Dream Company, J. G. Ballard

Dubin's Lives, Bernard Malamud TBR SHELF

A Bend in the River, V. S. Naipaul FINISHED

Sophie's Choice, William Stryon (reviewed hereFINISHED

Life in the West, Brian Aldiss

Riddley Walker, Russell Hoban TBR SHELF

How Far Can You Go?, David Lodge (reviewed here) (one of my favorites) FINISHED

A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole FINISHED

Lanark, Alasdair Gray

Darconville's Cat, Alexander Theroux

The Mosquito Coast, Paul Theroux FINISHED

Creation, Gore Vidal

The Rebel Angels, Robertson Davies (reviewed here; my love of Davies started with this one) FINISHED

Ancient Evenings, Norman Mailer TBR SHELF


Updated October 26, 2023.

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