So McCrum’s listing of the best 100 novels (written originally in the English language by people who belong to an Anglo-American culture, with only one per author) finally comes to an end, and what a remarkably predictable list it is. Even in its occasionally unpredictable choices (Hadrian VII in particular came in for a lot of criticism; he should obviously have chosen The Desire and Pursuit of the Whole) it felt to me thoroughly predictable. Who, save those just starting out, doesn’t know all this already?
A commenter voiced my own desire: for another list of 100 worthy books (in English, though extended perhaps beyond that narrow Anglo-American culture), which contains none of these writers. But when I say that, I am not (please) considering a list which is made up of Galsworthys and Bennetts; I don’t want the second-raters who didn’t qualify for the first list (particularly since I’ve already read and dismissed them); I want a leftfield list; a list of writers I should read but don’t know about, because they’ve accidentally fallen by the wayside.
Of course, having already “exhausted” the first list (which is not to say I’ve read them all – I haven’t; only 44 of them, or thereabouts – there’s actually a few books on there I’m not even sure whether I’ve read or not (Wells’ The History of Mr Polly, for instance); – just that I have noted them), for many years now I’ve been seeking out these leftfield writers (English language, I remind you) – a fairly thankless and for the most part unrewarding task (one book I am reading at the moment is Rex Warner’s The Professor – and really, it’s not that good).
A list of such books which I can see on the shelves from where I’m sitting but which I’ve not yet read and which were mentioned (neither writer nor book) I think by nobody (neither McCrum nor his commenters) during the entire elucidatory exercise:
- Bid Me To Live, by HD (Hilda Doolittle)
- A Grain of Wheat, by Ngugi wa Thiong’o
- Nothing to Pay, by Caradoc Evans
- Travels to the Enu, by Jakov Lind (unlike WG Sebald, he actually turned to writing in English)
- The Book of Ebenezer Le Page, by GB Edwards
- The Blaze of Noon, by Rayner Heppenstall (bought day before yesterday)
- Pilgrimage, by Dorothy Richardson (on-going)
- The Sheltering Sky, by Paul Bowles (may have been mentioned at some point)
- Darkness at Noon, by Arthur Koestler (ok, I’m kind of suprised this wasn’t on the first list – someone bought it for me)
- Something by the perennially underrated but nonetheless wonderful stylist and still much read Lawrence Durrell
- Snooty Baronet, by Wyndham Lewis
- Come, The Restorer, by William Goyen
- The King, by Donald Barthelme
- The Brook Kerith, by George Moore
- The Mighty Atom, by Marie Corelli (I do like Corelli, against all my better judgment)
- An Adultery, by Alexander Theroux
- Novel on Yellow Paper, by Stevie Smith
- The Hearing Trumpet, by Leonora Carrington
- Kanthapura, by Raja Rao
- Sartor Resartus, by Thomas Carlyle
- In Parenthesis, by David Jones
- Marius the Epicurean, by Walter Pater
- Once Upon a Time, by John Barth (no one ever mentions John Barth)
- The Complete Works of Ronald Firbank
- Nightwood, by Djuna Barnes
- My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, by Amos Tutuola
- The African Trilogy, by Chinua Achebe
- (even) English Eccentrics, by Edith Sitwell (I’m undecided so far on its fictional status)
- and the book which, spurred on by McCrum’s list, where it wasn’t mentioned, I’ve just started, All About H Hatterr, by GV Desani
As I say, just what I can see, without moving too many books around – and all things I’ve not yet read (or only partly); which is all just to reiterate an on-going project (which I call reading), – but I do feel I’ve been neglecting English novels over the last few years (though not plays), so maybe I should incline back to them a little more – and also because I need your recommendations (in this all too dangerous area, where you have to base your recommendation on quality, not what you’ve been told, or on spurious ideas like originality (it wasn’t) or influence (it was entirely forgotten)) – the very recommendations which I didn’t garner from Robert McCrum. (Is, for instance, the book I saw the other day but didn’t buy by Nigel Dennis any good? Who anyway is Nigel Dennis? I’ve got this far in life never hearing of him.)
But then there’s lots of non-English books I want to read too.
(Rest of the month though will be Spanish-language reviews).