Friday, June 20, 2014

99 Novels by Anthony Burgess, 1984

This anthology by the English writer is considered “neglected” by some which makes it a suitable entry for Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott’s blog Pattinase.

As a rule, I don’t publish lists of novels or short stories I read or come across in an anthology or collection. However, I'm making an exception in the case of 99 Novels: The Best in English since 1939 by Anthony Burgess.

Neither do I have the book and nor have I read it, but I'm excited enough to share it with those who didn’t know about it until now. I read about it online and I'm ashamed to admit that I've read less than half of the ninety-nine novels which, according to the late English writer and composer, were the best since 1939. Worse still, I have not read anything by Burgess himself, not even A Clockwork Orange.

The anthology covers a forty-four year period between 1939 and 1983. Fiction of the fifties and sixties finds pride of place in the author’s personal choice of books.

Burgess, who was a prolific writer, reader, and reviewer of books, was comfortable with all types of authors including “practitioners of well-wrought sensational fiction” like Irving Wallace, Arthur Hailey, Frederick Forsyth, and Ken Follett.

© Simon & Schuster
He once revealed in an interview that the book was originally commissioned by a Nigerian publishing company and that he wrote it in two weeks. You can listen to the interview at Wired for Books.

I'm tempted to reproduce passages from his introduction to 99 Novels but that would be neither here nor there. Instead, you can read it at The New York Times where Anthony Burgess gives his reasons for choosing the books he did. It makes interesting reading. The book is available at Amazon.

The 99 novels, sorted by year, are given below, courtesy Wikipedia. The author has kept himself out of his own list.


1939 – Henry Green – Party Going (1939)
1939 – Aldous Huxley – After Many a Summer (1939)
1939 – James Joyce – Finnegans Wake (1939)
1939 – Flann O'Brien – At Swim-Two-Birds (1939)


1940 – Graham Greene – The Power and the Glory (1940)
1940 – Ernest Hemingway – For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940)
1940 – C.P. Snow – Strangers and Brothers (1940)
1941 – Rex Warner – The Aerodrome (1941)
1944 – Joyce Cary – The Horse's Mouth (1944)
1944 – W. Somerset Maugham – The Razor's Edge (1944)
1945 – Evelyn Waugh – Brideshead Revisited (1945)
1946 – Mervyn Peake – Titus Groan (1946)
1947 – Saul Bellow – The Victim (1947)
1947 – Malcolm Lowry – Under the Volcano (1947)
1949 – Elizabeth Bowen – The Heat of the Day (1949)
1948 – Graham Greene – The Heart of the Matter (1948)
1948 – Aldous Huxley – Ape and Essence (1948)
1948 – Nevil Shute – No Highway (1948)
1948 – Norman Mailer – The Naked and the Dead (1948)
1949 – George Orwell – Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)
1949 – William Sansom – The Body (1949)


1950 – William Cooper – Scenes from Provincial Life (1950)
1950 – Budd Schulberg – The Disenchanted (1950)
1951 – Anthony Powell – A Dance to the Music of Time (1951)
1951 – J.D. Salinger – The Catcher in the Rye (1951)
1951 – Henry Williamson – A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight (1951)
1951 – Herman Wouk – The Caine Mutiny (1951)
1952 – Ralph Ellison – Invisible Man (1952)
1952 – Ernest Hemingway – The Old Man and the Sea (1952)
1952 – Mary McCarthy – The Groves of Academe (1952)
1952 – Flannery O'Connor – Wise Blood (1952)
1952 – Evelyn Waugh – Sword of Honour (1952)
1953 – Raymond Chandler – The Long Goodbye (1953)
1954 – Kingsley Amis – Lucky Jim (1954)
1957 – John Braine – Room at the Top (1957)
1957 – Lawrence Durrell – The Alexandria Quartet (1957)
1957 – Colin MacInnes – The London Novels (1957)
1957 – Bernard Malamud – The Assistant (1957)
1958 – Iris Murdoch – The Bell (1958)
1958 – Alan Sillitoe – Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958)
1958 – T.H. White – The Once and Future King (1958)
1959 – William Faulkner – The Mansion (1959)
1959 – Ian Fleming – Goldfinger (1959)


1960 – L.P. Hartley – Facial Justice (1960)
1960 – Olivia Manning – The Balkan Trilogy (1960)
1961 – Ivy Compton-Burnett – The Mighty and Their Fall (1961)
1961 – Joseph Heller – Catch-22 (1961)
1961 – Richard Hughes – The Fox in the Attic (1961)
1961 – Patrick White – Riders in the Chariot (1961)
1961 – Angus Wilson – The Old Men at the Zoo (1961)
1962 – James Baldwin – Another Country (1962)
1962 – Aldous Huxley – Island (1962)
1962 – Pamela Hansford Johnson – An Error of Judgement (1962)
1962 – Doris Lessing – The Golden Notebook (1962)
1962 – Vladimir Nabokov – Pale Fire (1962)
1963 – Muriel Spark – The Girls of Slender Means (1963)
1964 – William Golding – The Spire (1964)
1964 – Wilson Harris – Heartland (1964)
1964 – Christopher Isherwood – A Single Man (1964)
1964 – Vladimir Nabokov – The Defense (1964)
1964 – Angus Wilson – Late Call (1964)
1965 – John O'Hara – The Lockwood Concern (1965)
1965 – Muriel Spark – The Mandelbaum Gate (1965)
1966 – Chinua Achebe – A Man of the People (1966)
1966 – Kingsley Amis – The Anti-Death League (1966)
1966 – John Barth – Giles Goat-Boy (1966)
1966 – Nadine Gordimer – The Late Bourgeois World (1966)
1966 – Walker Percy – The Last Gentleman (1966)
1967 – R.K. Narayan – The Vendor of Sweets (1967)
1968 – J.B. Priestley – The Image Men (1968)
1968 – Mordecai Richler – Cocksure (1968)
1968 – Keith Roberts – Pavane (1968)
1969 – John Fowles – The French Lieutenant's Woman (1969)
1969 – Philip Roth – Portnoy's Complaint (1969)


1970 – Len Deighton – Bomber (1970)
1973 – Michael Frayn – Sweet Dreams (1973)
1973 – Thomas Pynchon – Gravity's Rainbow (1973)
1975 – Saul Bellow – Humboldt's Gift (1975)
1975 – Malcolm Bradbury – The History Man (1975)
1976 – Robert Nye – Falstaff (1976)
1977 – Erica Jong – How to Save Your Own Life (1977)
1977 – James Plunkett – Farewell Companions (1977)
1977 – Paul Mark Scott – Staying On (1977)
1978 – John Updike – The Coup (1978)
1979 – J.G. Ballard – The Unlimited Dream Company (1979)
1979 – Bernard Malamud – Dubin's Lives (1979)
1979 – Brian Moore – The Doctor's Wife (1976)
1979 – V.S. Naipaul – A Bend in the River (1979)
1979 – William Styron – Sophie's Choice (1979)


1980 – Brian Aldiss – Life in the West (1980)
1980 – Russell Hoban – Riddley Walker (1980)
1980 – David Lodge – How Far Can You Go? (1980)
1980 – John Kennedy Toole – A Confederacy of Dunces (1980)
1981 – Alasdair Gray – Lanark (1981)
1981 – Alexander Theroux – Darconville's Cat (1981)
1981 – Paul Theroux – The Mosquito Coast (1981)
1981 – Gore Vidal – Creation (1981)
1982 – Robertson Davies – The Rebel Angels (1982)
1983 – Norman Mailer – Ancient Evenings (1983)

This list goes on my tackboard.


  1. I'll hold my hands up to having read 2 of them! Salinger and Orwell. I've started others and given up - CATCH-22 and A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES.
    I'll read some of the Graham Greene's and maybe Amis - Lucky Jim, but I won't be bothering with the other 90-odd.

    1. Col, I hope to read some of these books that I haven't read although quite a few of them are already on my list. I remember liking Malcolm Bradbury's A HISTORY MAN and Hemingway's FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS. At some point I also plan to re-read CATCH-22 and CATCHER IN THE RYE. Since it's a personal list, you can't question the author's choice which, by the way, doesn't include the Harper Lee classic.

  2. Nice find, Prashant! I like the look of this one; I've probably only read half a dozen of the novels on that list, but I'm intrigued to read Burgess on all of them.

    1. Nick, thank you! I only read about the book online. My understanding is that Burgess selected the ninety-nine stories and analysed each of them as he thought fit, which would be interesting to read. His introduction to the book, linked above, gives us an idea about his choices.

  3. I personally hate lists like this. It makes me feel like some kind of dummy. I read what I enjoy and lists that tell me what I should have read for whatever reason just, I don't know - irk me. Usually because I haven't read many on the list and I know I'm not a dummy. I think there is some literary snobbery at work in making lists like these.

    Maybe I should make my own list :)

    1. Rebecca, this is as subjective as any other list, and Burgess makes it clear that his is a personal choice. It's up to the reader to agree or disagree, or ignore it altogether. While I haven't read many of the books on his list, I was already aware of the existence of nearly all of the books some of which I'd been aiming to read as and when. I find lists useful to the extent that they tell me what I'm missing.

  4. I spent a few years working my way through these 99 NOVELS. I enjoyed Burgess' commentary, too. Unlike Rebecca, I find lists like this addicting.

    1. George, I hope to read many of these novels, particularly those by Aldous Huxley, Saul Bellow, Graham Greene, Norman Mailer, Iris Murdoch, Kingsley Amis, and William Styron, among others. A lot of short stories I read in recent times came from lists.

  5. I've read more of these than I thought I would have but still not very many.

    1. Charles, I've a long trek ahead through the ninety-nine novels. I'll probably start with authors I've never read.

  6. I'll need to pick this up soonish. I enjoyed Burgess's reviewing for THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY in its last good years one of the bright spots of that magazine, and I, too, am fond of the explication particularly of the kind of idiosyncratic list that includes the likes of GOLDFINGER. There are certainly fine similar volumes dealing with fields within literature (horror, sf, fantasy, mystery and suspense) and others' volumes dealing with even wider compasses than Burgess's (such as the Great Books five-feet shelves of the last century)...

    1. Todd, I read online that Anthony Burgess reviewed some 350 novels and these were published in leading newspapers and magazines including the one you mentioned. It'd be interesting to see why he chose a novel like GOLDFINGER although it could be because he liked reading "sensational" paperbacks and this one was probably his favourite Ian Fleming novel. You have delighted me with your own regular reviews of anthologies and collections of sf, fantasy, horror, and mystery.

  7. The first thing I do with lists like this is compare the number of men and women writers named. I always do it, no matter what kind of book list. And as usual the men win. There are only eleven women writers named (Muriel Spark luckily gets a nod twice) out 99 and the first one doesn't appear until 1949. Surprised Rebecca didn't mention the boy's club aura that pervades these lists as well as the literary snobbishness. (Don't I sound like a hotheaded feminist? Can't help but side with the underdog, the under appreciated, and the "invisible." Just in my nature.)

    1. John, I never thought of the ratio between men and women writers. I've only read three out of the eleven women authors. With only eleven in Burgess' list, who do you think has been left out or rather should have made it to the list? I read fewer women authors though not by intention. I think Huxley tops the list with three honourable mentions.

  8. What a great list! I've read a decent number of them (up until the 80s), mostly in school, though. This could be a nice start to a summer reading list. Thanks, Prashant

    1. Elizabeth, you're welcome. It does look like a great list, doesn't it? I think the best way to judge it is after reading all or at least most of the ninety-nine novels and seeing whether they deserved to be on it. I've a very long way to go.

  9. I've only read nine that I remember, Prashant. But then most of my faves were left off this list so the heck with it. (Still, it was interesting to peruse.) I never think to check the sex of the writer. What's wrong with me, John? Ha!

    1. Yvette, I've read other titles by some of the authors on this list though I can't say whether those ought to have been included. I also wonder if Burgess read every single pre-1983 novel by each of these authors before deciding which one went on his list. I think it's a tough call.

  10. I count 34 that I've read, including the four novel (which are counted as one here) Alexandria Quartet. There are a lot of books here I don't care if I ever read, and some I think should be here that are not, such as WATERSHIP DOWN by Richard Adams.

    1. Richard, I checked out the Richard Adams book and found that it's an adventure novel about a bunch of rabbits. I liked the plot summary and the characters and I'll see if I can get hold of the book. Thanks for mentioning it. I've not read Lawrence Durrell's THE ALEXANDRIA QUARTET.

    2. Well, it's one of several animal fantasies, and the most popular of them, by Adams, anyway...about as imbued with religious feeling as Tolkien's work, I'd suggest. It is interesting the degree to which a lot of fantasy looks upon religious supernaturalism as a more uncharged set of metaphors (at least for the writers) for literary play than others (see as an example the degree of rummaging around Christianity done by the likes of such Japanese anime as the Evagelion sequence).

    3. Todd, thanks for the additional details about Richard Adams' book and your insight into fantasies. I've yet to read Tolkien.

  11. Very interesting, Prashant, and interesting comments as well. I did like John's comments about the count of male vs. female authors. A few books here I have read and a few more I might try. But still interesting to check out.

    1. Tracy, thank you. Comments by well-read and more informed bloggers often lifts my post as it does in this case. John has a point for my own reading of women writers, irrespective of lists, is lesser than that of men writers. However, I think I've read more short stories by women this year.

  12. Prashant: I have read about 6 or 7 of the books on the list. Most of the books on the list seemed to be heavy reading. I do not look for heavy thinking books when reading fiction.

    1. Bill, I agree. I usually allow myself one or two "heavy" books including classics out of, say, 10 novels. It is my plan to read as many past writers as possible, restricting myself to two or three books which could either be their most famous or their best work though this, too, is open to debate. In the end it boils down to personal choice.

  13. I love lists and this one is a goody. I mostly agree though I would switch out some titles for others. But that's the beauty of lists, right?

    1. Right, David, though the prolificacy of an author, particularly one I've never read, often poses a problem. At such times I choose their most famous works.

  14. I have this book somewhere - I read through it with interest many years ago and certainly took some recommendations from it. I must get it out again and see what I think now - and see how many I have read. there is a particularly fascinating collection of comments on this post, how interesting to hear everyone's views.

    1. Moira, thank you. As I mentioned to Tracy (in a revised response on account of a grammatical error), comments by fellow bloggers enrich my posts and I look forward to what everyone has to say, which is usually a lot more interesting and informative than what I have to say. I hope you'll review some of the stories in this book on your own blog.