100 Greatest Novels (Nos 90 to 81)

Continuing where I left off last week…

90 The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner (1960)
A novel for teenagers (or young adults as they are now treated for market segmentation purposes) about teenagers drawn into a battle between good and evil. The supernatural baddies are defeated by a mix of childish pluck and a lot if help from mysterious good guys whose motives are sometimes called into question. Sounds like the blueprint for a wizard series to me. Stuck with me notably because of a particularly graphic evocation of the claustrophobia of crawling through a tunnel to make an escape. Still brings me out in sweats thinking about it.

89 The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (1989)
A beautiful study of the pent up emotions of a man who fails to recognise and/or supresses the feelings he has for a woman who clearly lives him if he could but see it. This personal blindness mirrors a public blindness in his unquestioning belief in the appeasement stance of his employer towards the growing Nazi threat.

88 1984 by George Orwell (1948)
Prophetic in its view on totalitarianism, this novel gave the world the concepts of “doublethink” and the Ministry of Truth which is responsible for propaganda and airbrushing out inconvenient facts from history. It also explores how this impacts at a personal level and how it can push a decent man to betray the people and things he loves most.

87 The Alchemist by Paulo Ceolho (1988)
A sort if magic realism pervades this novel. I’m not sure I buy into the underlying philosophy about the world will conspure with you to filfill your dreams but it provides an interesting escape from some of the harsher realities.

86 Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut (1969)
This is an anarchic almost chaotic story which manages to cram an awful lot of anger into a relatively short length. It manages to direct this anger at various targets with reasonable success. Not for the faint of heart.

85 L’Assommoir by Emil Zola (1877)
Part of Zola’s great Rougon-Macquart series in which Zola sought to show how hereditary and circumstances act inexorably on characters to determine their fates. Here Genvieve tries through hard work and her own efforts but ultimately fails, as Zola believed inevitable, to escape the poverty and degeneracy that her blood and her life doom her to suffer. A detailed study which resonates with today’s society of sink estates and the long-term unemployed.

84 Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)
This novel didn’t invent vampires but it codified them for all future treatments of the topic. A gothic novel but actually not so melodramatic as might be expected of the genre. This is in part due to the device of narrating the story as a series of letters, written by various participating characters and newspaper extracts thereby reducing the sensationalism to the imagination of the reader. And much less gore than later schlock horror stories, relying on atmosphere and suspense.

83 The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass (1959)
Life under the Nazis seen through the all-knowing, all-seeing eyes of a dwarf who “refused” to grow up. He’s not as mad as he seems or as the authorities who have locked him away believe but nor is he completely sane, making him a disturbingly unreliable narrator of his own story.

82 The Catcher In The Rye by JD Salinger (1951)
Probably the best capture of what it is to be an alienated teenager trying and failing to cope with an adult world that doesn’t give the central character nearly as much thought, let alone respect, as he believes it ought.

81 Jobathan Livingstone Seagull by Richard Bach (1970)
Sometimes dismissed as a slight self help book in the vein of positive thinking is what it takes. It certainly gets a bit mystical at times but I don’t think it ever loses sight of a core message which is whatever you try to do, do it as well as you can. And keep trying to improve. Even when you’re better than anyone else. Especially then. Think Beethoven. Think Tanni Grey Thompson. That’s how it inspired me anyway.


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