A recent local Facebook thread invites us to list ten favourite novels. Novels are not my main reading and I have no system for how to read novels. However, here are ten novels I have read at times in my life when they made a significant impact. Each has a one sentence comment. The list does not even begin to describe my passion for Italian literature, let alone what has come out of say England or the United States since Samuel Johnson. I will return for a second or third list anon.
The Magic Pudding (Norman Lindsay): My grandmother gave me this book when I was six, its rumbustious Ballarat-types fighting over a scrumptious possession as though someone (boat people?) would take it from them.
The Vivisector (Patrick White): Sometimes we find the book that meets a need, as in my 20s I read this sprawling story of a Sydney painter, which spoke in infinite and caring detail of my own country.
Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy): From the opening scenes at the ice rink to the end at the railway line, he is unstoppable as he enlarges our lives with his imaginative world.
The Brothers Karamazov (Fyodor Dostoevsky): This is a book for grown-ups, fraught by the reality of evil and leavened by the beauty of holy relationship.
The Trial (Franz Kafka): I read this at school, my first encounter with a novel that was not there to entertain, that could be read at the same time as realism, satire, psychodrama, and parable.
Too Loud a Solitude (Bohumil Hrabal): The shortest novel in the list, about a man who works in a paper pulp factory and who, when not drinking pilsener, reads Lao-Tze &c., which he rescues from pulp oblivion – salutary for a librarian!
Ulysses (James Joyce): The author claimed “on my word as a gentleman” there is not a serious word in it; in my view, the greatest comic novel in English.
Finnegans Wake (James Joyce): The most terrifying verbal object in world literature, by turns entrancing and unreadable, sometimes within the same minute.
Gargantua and Pantagruel (François Rabelais): No one knows who wrote the first novel, but this is one of them, as it shows how the vibrancy of medieval life knows no bounds except for mortality and the love of Christ.
Life, a User’s Manual (Georges Perec): Although I am a huge fan of Italo Calvino, the greatest novel to come from the Oulipos is about the contiguous lives of residents of a Parisian apartment block, 11 Rue Simon-Crubellier, an address that does not exist in reality.