clas­sics

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1. TESS OF THE D’URBERVILLES THOMAS HARDY

The one thing you could never say to Thomas Hardy is, ‘Cheer up – it might never hap­pen.’ Hap­pen it al­ways does: lovers are forced apart, chil­dren die, in­no­cents are hanged. But this cos­mic doom is al­ways framed by a strange beauty: of the English coun­try­side, and of his prose.

2. MIDDLEMARCH GE­ORGE ELIOT

For at least 30 years Sal­man Rushdie has taken ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to boast that he has never read Middlemarch. Why ever not? It has ev­ery­thing – won­der­fully drawn char­ac­ters, a se­ries of beau­ti­fully in­ter­lock­ing plots and, in the pedan­tic Mr Casaubon, one of the great tragic/ comic fig­ures in lit­er­a­ture. And it also con­tains that rarest of lit­er­ary qual­i­ties: wis­dom.

3. COUSIN HENRY AN­THONY TROLLOPE

It might al­most have been writ­ten by Sa­muel Beck­ett: a novel about pre­var­i­ca­tion and in­de­ci­sion, with an anti-hero who freezes when­ever ac­tion is called for. Henry Jones is to in­herit an es­tate, but his un­cle, who can’t bear him, just has time to change his will be­fore drop­ping down dead. Henry is the only per­son who knows the will has been al­tered to ex­clude him. He | doesn’t want to give up the es­tate, but nei­ther does he have the nerve to com­mit a crime by de­stroy­ing the will. Some­how, Trollope man­aged to cre­ate a fast-mov­ing novel about some­one do­ing noth­ing.

4. GREAT EX­PEC­TA­TIONS CHARLES DICK­ENS

There are many things I wish I liked more, in­clud­ing whiskey, Howard Hodgkin’s ab­stract art... and Dick­ens. I en­joy him for long stretches, but then along comes a comic grotesque,

talk­ing pho­net­i­cally, and I can’t go on. But Great Ex­pec­ta­tions is clearly a mas­ter­piece, and the me­chan­ics of its plot are un­sur­pass­able.

5. ALICE’S AD­VEN­TURES IN WON­DER­LAND

LEWIS CAR­ROLL The White Rab­bit, the Queen

6. CRIME AND PUN­ISH­MENT

FYODOR DOSTOEVSKY In many ways it’s a thriller. It cer­tainly had a deep in­flu­ence on Ruth Ren­dell and Pa­tri­cia High­smith, who were both ex­cited by Dostoevsky’s ex­plo­ration of the na­ture of guilt. For no good rea­son, a stu­dent drop-out mur­ders a mean old wo­man with an axe. Al­most against our will, we find our­selves hop­ing that Raskol­nikov will evade de­tec­tion. Dostoevsky cre­ates a moral whirlpool into which the reader will­ingly plunges. of Hearts, the Mad Hat­ter and stub­born lit­tle Alice her­self: they are not just part of the lan­guage but part of our lives. The world gone mad, but abid­ing by in­san­ity’s own pe­cu­liar logic: by turns funny and fright­en­ing, lib­er­at­ing and claus­tro­pho­bic.

7. THE AD­VEN­TURES OF HUCK­LE­BERRY FINN

‘You don’t know about me with­out you have read a book by the name of The

Ad­ven­tures Of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no mat­ter.’ Was any first sen­tence bet­ter de­signed to bam­boo­zle and frus­trate English pedants who in­sist on the supremacy of Cor­rect English? And was any novel so full of life, fun, colour­ful de­scrip­tion, scathing satire and ad­ven­ture that knows no bounds?

8. THE BEAST WITHIN

There hasn’t been a novel by Zola that I haven’t en­joyed. He be­lieved in real­ism, the earth­ier the bet­ter. This one is about sex­ual jeal­ousy, and the way that tech­nol­ogy – ex­em­pli­fied here by the train – can un­leash the in­ner beast in man. The Beast Within some­times veers to­ward melo­drama but nev­er­the­less re­mains as shock­ing and as raw as steak cut fresh from the car­cass.

9. THE WAY WE LIVE NOW

‘I’m read­ing a Trollope,’ said my wife. ‘Which one? Jackie Collins?’ replied her low­brow friend, quite in­no­cently. This is the fastest-paced Trollope of them all, the long­est, the most de­li­ciously satir­i­cal, and also the most pre­scient: the dodgy fi­nancier Au­gus­tus Mel­motte is feted by smart so­ci­ety, but then his care­fully crafted em­pire starts to un­ravel...

10. JOSEPH AN­DREWS

I read Joseph An­drews in my early 20s, be­fore get­ting round to Field­ing’s more fa­mous Tom Jones, and this may be why I still pre­fer it. That an 18th-cen­tury novel could be so sexy and so funny was an eye­opener. Plea­sure of­ten takes a back seat to self-im­prove­ment where clas­sics are con­cerned, but Joseph An­drews is one of the rol­lick­ing ex­cep­tions.

11. NO NAME

WILKIE COLLINS Like Pa­tri­cia High­smith, Wilkie Collins – friend and con­tem­po­rary of Dick­ens – had a soft spot for liars and frauds. In the at times un­bear­ably tense No

Name, his hero­ine dons a bo­gus iden­tity in or­der to se­duce her weedy cousin into mar­ry­ing her in or­der to gain the for­tune that, but for a fault in the law, should rightly be hers. Will she suc­ceed in her du­plic­ity? We all hope so.

12. NEW GRUB STREET

GE­ORGE GISSING A grip­ping, gloomy para­ble of lit­er­ary life in Vic­to­rian Lon­don. Gissing con­trasts the for­tunes of the hon­est and im­pov­er­ished Rear­don and the slick and suc­cess­ful Mil­vain. Few con­tem­po­rary au­thors could read this novel with­out ask­ing them­selves which of the two they most re­sem­ble. MARK TWAIN EMILE ZOLA AN­THONY TROLLOPE HENRY FIELD­ING

13. JUST WIL­LIAM

RICHMAL CROMP­TON ‘I don’t want to be­have like a civ­i­lized yu­man bein’,’ says Wil­liam Brown (no re­la­tion). The cre­ation of a former se­nior clas­sics mistress at Brom­ley High School for girls in Lon­don, Wil­liam is the scruffy school­boy who cre­ates havoc wher­ever he goes. Fun fact: the orig­i­nal for Wil­liam was Richmal’s brother John. In the Second World War, John served un­der Air Com­modore Wigglesworth, who had been the orig­i­nal for the air-ace Big­gles.

14. THE DI­ARY OF A NO­BODY

GE­ORGE AND WEEDON GROSSMITH First pub­lished in 1892, this gen­tle satire on self-im­por­tance has been the inspiration for an amaz­ing amount of com­edy ever since. Like Jekyll and Hyde, Mac­beth and Uriah Heep, the name of Mr Pooter, the prim diarist, has en­tered the lan­guage. We call some­one ‘Pooter­ish’ if he or she mixes ba­nal­ity with self-re­gard. And the joke goes on: over the past decade, the Twit­terati have given The Di­ary Of A No­body fresh res­o­nance.

15. THE ED­U­CA­TION OF HY­MAN KA­PLAN

LEO ROSTEN Surely the most touch­ingly funny book ever writ­ten, and one of the clever­est, too, full of ver­bal gym­nas­tics. Bound­lessly op­ti­mistic and self-as­sured, Hy­man Ka­plan has ar­rived in Thir­ties New York from East­ern Europe and is learn­ing English at night school. ‘Who can tell us the mean­ing of “vast?”’ asks the tu­tor. Ka­plan’s hand shoots up. ‘Vast! It’s com­mink from dirac­tion. Ve have four dirac­tions: de naut, de sot, de heast, and de vast.’

16. RIGHT HO, JEEVES

PG WODE­HOUSE If you’re a writer’s writer then you’re gen­er­ally not a reader’s writer, but PG Wode­house is both. The only thing he’s not is an aca­demic’s writer, be­cause he is far too en­joy­able, and re­quires no ex­pla­na­tion. He wrote 93 books as well as hun­dreds of short sto­ries. I have cho­sen Right Ho, Jeeves be­cause it con­tains his fun­ni­est scene of all: the soz­zled Gussie Fink-Not­tle pre­sent­ing the prizes at Mar­ket Sn­ods­bury Gram­mar School.

17. HIS MON­KEY WIFE

JOHN COL­LIER Out in the Congo a book­ish chim­panzee called Emily falls hope­lessly in love with a school­mas­ter called Mr Fati­gay. Emily is thrilled to ac­com­pany him on a visit to Eng­land, but on ar­rival she dis­cov­ers that he in­tends to give her to his haughty fi­ancée as a maid. Her fury knows no bounds. Funny ha-ha and funny pe­cu­liar at the same time.

18. SEVEN MEN AND TWO OTH­ERS

MAX BEERBOHM Max Beerbohm is best known for his one and only novel, Zuleika Dobson. To my mind, these short sto­ries are snap­pier and clev­erer, with el­e­ments of time travel and the su­per­nat­u­ral as well as satire. The author pre­sents por­traits of cranky con­tem­po­raries who never re­ally ex­isted. Or did they? Though Beerbohm is of­ten seen as old-fash­ioned, this ex­tra­or­di­nary book was post­mod­ern decades be­fore the term came into be­ing.

19. THE COL­LECTED SHORT STO­RIES OF JORGE LUIS BORGES

If you can only take mag­i­cal real­ism in short doses, then Borges is your man. In one story, a map is as large as the world it de­picts. Borges’s sto­ries are like vivid dreams in which, in a flash, the world is re­duced and ex­plained, and all in a cou­ple of pages.

20. HENRY JAMES’S SHORT STO­RIES

It has been said of Henry James that he chews more than he bites off. Some peo­ple find his more mon­u­men­tal nov­els like Por­trait Of A Lady or

The Golden Bowl too wordy and ef­fort­ful. But his short sto­ries have a greater sense of pur­pose and per­haps, as a re­sult, linger longer in the mem­ory.

21. THE COM­PLETE STO­RIES OF SHER­LOCK HOLMES

There are, of course, mys­ter­ies ga­lore in the Sher­lock Holmes sto­ries. Why is a job ad­ver­tised only for ap­pli­cants with red hair? Who stole a doc­u­ment from the dis­patch box of the sec­re­tary of state for Euro­pean af­fairs? Need­less to say, each has a sat­is­fy­ing so­lu­tion. But the cen­tral mys­tery – and the one that has kept read­ers glued since they were pub­lished – is the mys­tery of Sher­lock Holmes him­self. He tan­ta­lises. The more we yearn to know about him, the less his cre­ator re­veals. Therein lies his mag­netic pull.

22. THE COL­LECTED STO­RIES OF WIL­LIAM TREVOR

A typ­i­cal short story by Cork writer Wil­liam Trevor will end with a char­ac­ter’s sud­den com­pre­hen­sion of an es­sen­tial truth about her­self or some event in the past that has shaped her life. There is sad­ness in his sto­ries, but beauty in the sad­ness.

23. THE STO­RIES OF JOHN CHEEVER

Cheever was a se­cret ho­mo­sex­ual and a se­cret al­co­holic. His short sto­ries are about the se­crets that lurk be­hind the cur­tains in the mid­dle-class sub­urbs of Amer­ica. Be­neath the suave sur­face sheen of his sen­tences, any­thing can hap­pen.

24. THE COM­PLETE SAKI

Dark to the point of jet-black, of­ten vi­o­lent and sadis­tic, lan­guid, worldly and tinged with camp, the Saki sto­ries have in­flu­enced ev­ery­one from Eve­lyn Waugh to The League Of

Gentle­men. Un­usu­ally, their jokes have not aged: ‘I knew it was dawn be­cause there were lark noises in the sky, and the grass looked as if it had been left out all night.’

25. CHEKHOV’S SHORT STO­RIES

We like to equate ge­nius with ob­scu­rity and mad­ness, but Chekhov’s is lo­cated in clar­ity and san­ity. I find his plays ever so slightly bor­ing, per­haps be­cause bore­dom is one of their themes, and the theme leaks into the treat­ment. But his short sto­ries pulse with the heartbeat of hu­man­ity; they are, as John Carey once said, ‘san­ity raised to the power of ge­nius’.

Who would have guessed that, af­ter 250 years, there would still be new ways to write a novel?

26. A JUDGE­MENT IN STONE

RUTH REN­DELL Sus­pense is to fic­tion what melody is to mu­sic. Most nov­els rely on some mea­sure of sus­pense. It’s the na­ture of nar­ra­tive: the reader is pulled along by the need to know what hap­pens next. But some nov­els ac­cen­tu­ate the sus­pense above all else. This one be­gins: ‘Eu­nice Parch­man killed the Coverdale fam­ily be­cause she could not read or write.’ So in just 13 words we are told who did it and why. The second sen­tence goes: ‘There was no real mo­tive and no pre­med­i­ta­tion; no money was gained and no se­cu­rity.’ How could you not read on?

27. TRUE GRIT

CHARLES PORTIS ‘Peo­ple do not give it cre­dence that a 14-year-old girl could leave home and go off in win­ter­time to avenge her fa­ther’s blood...’ In old age, Mat­tie Ross tells the story of her quest, all those years ago, for jus­tice. It’s hard to think of a more per­fectly re­alised novel than True Grit. There is so much to en­joy: the pluck of the voice, the crud­di­ness of the vil­lain, and all the surprises along the way.

29. MAX­I­MUM BOB

DONNA TARTT JOHN LE CARRE

28. ROGUE MALE

GE­OF­FREY HOUSE­HOLD It is 1938. The would-be as­sas­sin of an un­named Euro­pean dic­ta­tor is be­ing chased both by the Bri­tish au­thor­i­ties and the mur­der­ous agents of this for­eign power. They track him down to Dorset, where he is forced to bur­row into an un­der­ground hole. The hun­ters and the hunted: the two vi­tal in­gre­di­ents of any thriller, ruth­lessly dis­tilled and then placed lov­ingly within the beauty of the English coun­try­side. EL­MORE LEONARD Funny and tense: a rare com­bi­na­tion. El­more Leonard used prose like no one else. Like PG Wode­house, he cre­ated his own uni­verse of spivs, idiots and chancers, and then in­vented a bril­liantly com­pacted and elec­tri­fied lan­guage to go with it. The Max­i­mum Bob of the ti­tle is a Florida judge no­to­ri­ous for award­ing the max­i­mum sen­tence for any crime. Throw in a drug-ad­dicted doc­tor, a crazy wife, nu­mer­ous shady con­victs and an al­li­ga­tor, and you have one of this great ma­gi­cian’s most per­fect nov­els.

30. THE SE­CRET HIS­TORY

An elite group of col­lege friends kills some­one by mis­take, and are then preyed upon by a needy fel­low stu­dent who dis­cov­ers their se­cret. A nerve­jan­gling study of cliques, guilt and para­noia.

31. THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD

I’ve tried read­ing longer and weight­ier and more com­plex books by Le Carré, but none has matched the per­fect Ru­bik’s-cube in­tri­cacy of this, his third novel.

32. DEEP WATER PA­TRI­CIA HIGH­SMITH

Hun­dreds of lesser crime writ­ers still at­tempt to ape High­smith’s spare, mat­ter-of-fact style, but no one can do it quite like her. In her un­set­tling nov­els, the reader’s sym­pa­thies tend to be with what she called ‘my hero psy­chopaths’ rather than the vic­tim. Any idea of a set­tled moral uni­verse is sent spin­ning. She is the op­po­site of Agatha Christie. ‘Nei­ther life nor na­ture cares if jus­tice is ever done or not,’ she once said.

33. RESER­VOIR 13

JON McGRE­GOR A 13-year-old girl goes miss­ing from a vil­lage in the Peak Dis­trict. Over the next 13 years her con­tem­po­raries grow up and leave home; some vil­lagers split up, oth­ers get to­gether. Shops open and close. Rit­u­als of birth, death and mar­riage go on; each sea­son brings fresh an­i­mals, fresh crops, fresh ru­mours. Reser­voir 13 was first pub­lished last year. It has an en­tirely orig­i­nal voice, con­struc­tion and point of view. Who would have guessed that, af­ter 250 years, there would still be new and ex­cit­ing ways to write a novel?

34. THE MEZ­ZA­NINE

NI­CHOL­SON BAKER It’s billed as a novel but has vir­tu­ally no story. It is more of an ex­tended tour around the tini­est of things: the ob­scure plea­sure of draw­ing on an eraser with a biro, the me­chan­ics of the pa­per drink­ing straw, the prac­tice of pre-bunch­ing socks be­fore plac­ing them on your feet. There’s even a four-page foot­note de­voted to the whys and where­fores of the grooves on the treads of es­ca­la­tors. The more ob­ses­sively de­tailed it grows, the fun­nier and more won­der­ful it be­comes. The

Mez­za­nine turns nerdish­ness into art.

35. MARY SWANN

CAROL SHIELDS An un­pub­lished Cana­dian poet dies in com­plete ob­scu­rity. Overnight, her rep­u­ta­tion starts to rise and rise. Ev­ery­one wants a bit of her – the bi­og­ra­pher, the fem­i­nist critic, the world of academia. Carol Shields wrote 10 sharp nov­els and lots of equally sharp short sto­ries. It’s hard to know which to pick. Some, like Larry’s Party, are broader and kin­der, but this mer­ci­less satire on the am­bi­tions and pre­ten­sions of the lit­er­ary world is hard to beat.

36. MID­DLE­SEX

JEF­FREY EUGENIDES ‘I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a re­mark­ably smog­less Detroit day in Jan­uary of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy...’ Thus be­gins the ex­hil­a­rat­ing tale of Cal, a her­maph­ro­dite born to the child of Greek sib­lings. It’s a rol­lick­ing, pi­caresque fan­tasy, but so minutely grounded in ev­ery­day life that it’s a joy to sus­pend dis­be­lief, and no ef­fort at all.

37. TA­MARA DREWE

POSY SIM­MONDS

A graphic novel based loosely on Far From The Madding

Crowd; in a just world, Posy Sim­monds would have won both the Booker Prize and the Turner Prize, as she writes just as well as she draws. Wickedly ob­ser­vant of the con­tem­po­rary scene (par­tic­u­larly as re­gards lit­er­ary types and dis­en­gaged teenagers), and beau­ti­fully re­alised, Ta­mara Drewe can also claim to have the first plot in which mo­bile phones played a cru­cial role.

38. LIFE: A USER’S MAN­UAL

GE­ORGES PEREC A play­ful, labyrinthine, de­light­fully dotty French novel about jig­saw puz­zles. The char­ac­ters are all the res­i­dents of the same vast apart­ment block in Paris. ‘Ev­ery move the puzzler makes, the puz­zle­maker has made be­fore; ev­ery piece the puzzler picks up, and picks up again, and stud­ies and strokes, ev­ery com­bi­na­tion he tries, and tries a second time, ev­ery blun­der and ev­ery in­sight, each hope and each dis­cour­age­ment have all been de­signed, cal­cu­lated, and de­cided by the other.’

39. THE TEN-YEAR NAP

MEG WOLITZER Sharply drawn char­ac­ters, a wry and witty nar­ra­tive voice, a strong plot and a great con­tem­po­rary theme: The Ten

Year Nap has it all. I dis­cov­ered Meg Wolitzer a cou­ple of years ago, then raced through her most re­cent five nov­els. It’s hard to choose a favourite but this ex­plo­ration of the peren­nial clash be­tween work and moth­er­hood has ev­ery­thing she does best.

40. SAINT MAYBE

ANNE TYLER How to pick a favourite Anne Tyler? She is re­mark­ably con­sis­tent. Saint Maybe is equal first with about seven oth­ers. Tyler is one of the few nov­el­ists who can cap­ture fam­ily life, its joys as well as its con­stric­tions. Her writ­ing seems as nat­u­ral as breath­ing: read­ing her is like liv­ing, only more so.

41. TINTIN IN TIBET

HERGÉ A boy at my board­ing school reg­u­larly used to wake our dor­mi­tory by shout­ing, ‘Tintin! Tintin! Help me!’ dur­ing his night­mares. Age blunts the sense of sheer ex­cite­ment you once felt while read­ing a Tintin book, but it also in­creases one’s ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the draughts­man­ship, the colours, the zest and the sheer joie de vivre.

42. THE RAB­BIT BOOKS

JOHN UPDIKE Updike pub­lished his first novel about the feck­less, slob­bish, self­ish and un­ex­pect­edly love­able Harry ‘Rab­bit’ Angstrom in 1960. He fol­lowed it up with a Rab­bit novel in each of the next four decades, end­ing with Rab­bit At Rest in 1990. This meant, re­mark­ably, that Rab­bit – surely the pro­to­type for Homer Simp­son – seemed to live, and to die, in real time. There is some­thing tan­ta­lis­ing about the com­bi­na­tion of Rab­bit’s galumph­ing out­look with his cre­ator’s pre­cise and del­i­cate prose. ‘My duty was to de­scribe re­al­ity as it had come to me – to give the mun­dane its beau­ti­ful due,’ Updike once wrote. Re­mark­ably, he suc­ceeded.

43. THE BAL­LAD OF PECK­HAM RYE

MURIEL SPARK The devil comes to south Lon­don in the form of Dou­gal Dou­glas, a cor­po­rate man hell-bent on temp­ta­tion, ruin and de­struc­tion. Spark is the most aptly named of all nov­el­ists. Never has wicked­ness been ren­dered so nim­bly.

44. SAB­BATH’S THEATER

PHILIP ROTH Filthy, scabrous, dis­gust­ing, un­rea­son­able, an­gry, in­con­ti­nent, misog­y­nis­tic, de­ranged; so why is Sab­bath’s

Theater so amaz­ingly en­joy­able? It’s to do with Roth’s fu­ri­ous en­ergy, and the se­duc­tive power of his sa­tanic glee.

45. MRS BRIDGE

EVAN S CON­NELL She’s a well-off Amer­i­can house­wife in the Fifties with a hard-work­ing hus­band and two chil­dren. Life has been good to her, and in re­turn she does her best to meet its ex­act­ing stan­dards with for­ti­tude. But she has a nag­ging sense that some­thing is miss­ing, what­ever it may be. In short, tight-lipped scenes, Evan S Con­nell cre­ates a unique mix of gen­tle hu­mour and deep­est melan­choly.

46. THE MIDWICH CUCKOOS

JOHN WYN­D­HAM I hadn’t read John Wyn­d­ham since I was 13. Some­times when you re­visit a writer, you feel strangely de­flated. But 50 years on, I read Wyn­d­ham’s eerie nov­els once again and found them even more pow­er­ful. In The Midwich Cuckoos, all the women in an English vil­lage fall preg­nant at once and give birth to men­ac­ing chil­dren with weird ki­netic pow­ers. Both a creepy sci-fi ad­ven­ture, and a dead­pan satire on mid­dle-class mores in the Fifties.

47. Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Road

Richard Yates For years, I thought F Scott Fitzger­ald’s Ten­der Is The Night the per­fect novel. I re-read it not long ago, and though many pas­sages were still sub­lime, I no­ticed many more glitches, non-se­quiturs and drunken ram­bles than I had be­fore. Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Road has echoes of Ten­der Is The Night. Both por­tray the death of the Amer­i­can dream, the grad­ual de­struc­tion of do­mes­tic hap­pi­ness. But to my mind, Yates tack­les the theme with clearer eyes than Fitzger­ald: his lyri­cism is less self­con­scious, his vi­sion less de­ceived.

48. END­ING UP

KINGS­LEY AMIS Kings­ley Amis turned ir­ri­ta­tion into an art form. This, his short­est novel, is a dis­til­la­tion of his hi­lar­i­ous mis­an­thropy. A group of friends de­cide to share a house in the au­tumn of their years; within weeks they are get­ting on each other’s nerves. Re­venge en­sues. Hu­mour can get no darker.

49. TO SERVE THEM ALL OUR DAYS

RF DELDERFIELD A shell-shocked World War One sol­dier takes up a post as a teacher in an un­re­mark­able public school. This long, absorbing novel chron­i­cles the ups and down of the fol­low­ing 22 years. To­wards the end, he hears news of his former pupils as they re­turn – or fail to re­turn – from the next war. Writ­ten in straight­for­ward, work­man­like prose, oc­ca­sion­ally a teeny bit clunky in its char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion, this novel tran­scends its solid, mid­dle­brow roots by hav­ing so much to say about love, loss, teach­ing and the pas­sage of time, and say­ing it so mov­ingly.

50. THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

JD SALINGER The great Amer­i­can novel may still elude them, but this is surely the great ado­les­cent novel. Six­teen-year-old Holden Caulfield is awk­ward, randy, con­fused, un­com­fort­able, a self-pro­claimed liar who can’t stop search­ing for the truth, with a burn­ing zeal to sift the real from the phoney. We’ve all been there, and most of us have a nag­ging feel­ing of what we lost when we left it be­hind.

51. THE CUS­TOM OF THE COUN­TRY

EDITH WHAR­TON ‘Un­dine was fiercely in­de­pen­dent and yet pas­sion­ately im­i­ta­tive. She wanted to sur­prise ev­ery one by her dash and orig­i­nal­ity, but she could not help mod­el­ling her­self on the last per­son she met.’ Pos­ter­ity doesn’t al­ways get it right, but it so hap­pens that the three or four most fa­mous Edith Whar­ton nov­els are also her best: and this one –with a most un­ex­pected twist at its cen­tre – is the best of all.

52. TWENTY THOU­SAND STREETS UN­DER THE SKY

PA­TRICK HAMIL­TON Hamil­ton was the master of the dingy, the drunken and the dis­rep­utable.

Twenty Thou­sand Streets is a tril­ogy of in­ter­lock­ing nov­els, all flow­ing from the same dead­beat Lon­don pub in the late Twen­ties and early Thir­ties. If you went into the same sort of pub to­day, you’d spot the same sort of char­ac­ters, all let down by life. We are of­ten told that John Os­borne pi­o­neered this sort of thing with Look Back In Anger: but Hamil­ton beat him to it by a good quar­ter-cen­tury, and did it far more acutely.

Mys­tery: Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch as Sher­lock Holmes

AsK ALICE: Johnny Depp in Alice In Won­der­land (2010) and Paula Wilcox, left, as Miss Hav­isham in Dick­ens’s Great Ex­pec­ta­tions (2013)

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