99 Novels: The Best in English since 1939 by Anthony Burgess

Anthony Burgess knew what he liked and why he liked it, which is a lot more than I can say about some of today's supposed critics so quick with clichés, but slow on real insight.  Burgess' selections are often whimsical, perhaps sentimental a few times too, as when he picks Goldfinger (1959) by Ian Fleming or Bomber (1970) by Len Deighton, for inclusion among such literary luminaries as Vladimir Nabokov and Iris Murdoch, but he admits as much, and offers sound rationale for why he'd intermingle lightweight adventure thrillers with serious literature.  I happen to like the surprising mix, and wish other critics would be just as quick to meld works of genre with literature in similar fashion, much like FM radio did in its heyday, back before the mega-conglomerates seized control of the airwaves, and you could hear the delicate sitar strumming of a Ravi Shankar one minute followed by the head bashing of Black Sabbath the next.

Before I read 99 Novels: The Best in English since 1939, I'd never heard of so many of the wonderful writers Burgess included, and have since heeded his advice and "discovered" their work for myself, and so owe the late great Anthony Burgess a deep debt of gratitude.  Thank you, Sir Anthony!  I might add that if A Clockwork Orange is your only reading experience with Burgess, do know he was as creative a critic as he was that iconic and innovative novelist.

Thanks to Burgess, I've "discovered" C.P. Snow (Strangers and Brothers, a twelve novel sequence, 1940-70); Olivia Manning (The Balkans Trilogy, 1960-65); Angus Wilson (not just his largely forgotten novels, but his criticism too, especially the introduction to Zola he published in 1952 when Zola wasn't even in fashion in Britain); and hope to one day yet "discover" the nearly completely unknown writer, Henry Williamson, and his fifteen volume opus, A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight, (1951-1969) -- very pricey to obtain; and hope to find Ivy Compton-Burnett too, whom I've heard lots of good stuff about in LibraryThing as well.  God, I could go on foaming at the keyboard forever:  Paul Scott, Alexander Theroux, Henry Green, Muriel Spark, but I'll stop.

For those interested in reading a complete itemization of the books listed in Burgess' 99 Novels: The Best in English since 1939, and an accompanying discussion on nearly all of the books included, go here.


  1. I think I want this book! I love your analogy to non-corporate radio, too.

  2. Thank you, Marie! It's a great book by a great writer who wrote A LOT more than A Clockwork Orange (not that I'm denigrating that novel, just hopefully helping expand Burgess awareness).


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