Which are the best novels ever written? These lists focus on classic novels from around the world, either written in English or that have been translated into English. These are the kind of books that may have featured on your school reading list if you grew up in a country or studied its literature as a student, but may not be familiar with if you didn't.
Possibly the Platonic ideal of a novel remains Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace or his slightly shorter and more tragic work, Anna Karenina. Less well-known in English are the much earlier Asian classics, including the Story of the Stone, from China, and The Tale of Genji, written by Murasaki Shikibu, a lady-in-waiting at the Japanese imperial court, in the 11th century.
The stories we tell ourselves affect our decision-making in profound ways, says psychotherapist turned bestselling author Salley Vickers. Here, she recommends five novels that delve into the psychology of the self—and of society.
Journalist Robert McCrum spent two years selecting the best novels ever written in English. Here he narrows it down to just five: a perfect introduction to the best fiction the English language has to offer.
From magical realism to political upheaval, John King, Professor Emeritus at Warwick University, recommends five essential works of Latin American fiction – and reveals what Jorge Luis Borges was like in person.
“We are connected to the spirit and it’s an active connection. It’s not somewhere that’s only in the afterlife, it’s here in the present as well. That, I think, is endemic across all African cultures and traditions,” says Zimbabwean novelist and poet Blessing Musariri. Here she recommends some of the best African novels, books that had a big personal impact and have stayed with her.
They’re among the finest novels ever written, often vast in their scope and ambitious in their subject matter. Some are long, others can be read in an afternoon. They’re also one of the best ways of understanding Russian history. Historian Orlando Figes, author of The Story of Russia, recommends his favourite Russian novels, from the 19th century to today.
Albeit an object of satire and overreach, the ‘Great American Novel’ remains a vital concept in American literature, encouraging writers to capture the essence of national culture and history, argues Lawrence Buell, Professor of American Literature Emeritus at Harvard University. He talks us through the origins of the phrase and nominates five novels as contenders.
Recollections of Things to Come
by Elena Garro, translated by Ruth L.C. Simms, illustrated by Alberto Beltrán
by Nellie Campobello, translated by Doris Meyer
by Castellanos Rosario
by Juan Rulfo, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden
by Carlos Fuentes, translated by Lysander Kemp
We asked the award-winning Mexican novelist Ave Barrera—whose latest book, The Forgery, has recently been translated into English—to recommend five classic Mexican novels. Here she discusses her choices, which include books by Juan Rulfo, Elena Garro and Nellie Campobello.
Europe may be made up of many cultures but its component parts share an artistic and literary sensibility, says Everyman’s Library publisher David Campbell. Here, he recommends five European classics that everyone should read at least once in their life, including “the greatest novel ever written” and some lesser-known masterpieces.
Booker Prize-winning translator David Bellos says Les Misérables is the greatest novel of all time. When it came out, “it was an event bigger than the launch of Titanic and Avatar put together.” He picks the five greatest French novels.
In the decades following Italian unification, its authors started writing in the new common language: Italian. Italy-based novelist Tim Parks introduces us to some of the best novels by some of Italy's greatest writers.
Vietnam has had a tumultuous history and its literature is one powerful way of trying to understand it better. Journalist, author and publisher Sherry Buchanan—who has spent two decades introducing Vietnam’s culture to English-speaking audiences—talks us through the best Vietnamese novels available in English, spanning the years from French colonialism to the 2016 Pulitzer Prize.
Australia is a highly urban place and yet the imagination of its writers goes to remote places and times, says Australian novelist Nicholas Jose. He picks the best Australian novels.
The skills of a philosopher and those of a novelist are often in tension, but they have much to learn from each other, says novelist and philosopher, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein. She chooses her favourite philosophical novels.