Novel is now the most widely read of all kinds of literature, and one is surprised to find that it is fairly new. Indeed, it was not until the eighteenth century that people began to read and write the sort of books that we now call ‘Novels’. The following list contains the best novels of all time. These are considered the greatest because they are very well written and have stood the test of time.
1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Ranked as one of the greatest and most perennially popular works of English fiction, this title portrays the heroine, who although poor and of plain appearance, possesses an indomitable spirit, a sharp wit and great courage. She is forced to battle against the exigencies of a cruel guardian, a harsh employer and a rigid social order.
2. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Crime and Punishment deftly delves into the mind of Raskolnikov, a destitute and desperate former student, who wanders through the slums of St Petersburg and commits a random murder without remorse or regret. He imagines himself to be beyond conventional moral laws. But as he embarks on a dangerous game of cat and mouse with a police investigator, Raskolnikov is pursued by the growing voice of his conscience and finds the noose of his own guilt tightening around his neck.
3. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Anna Karenina has beauty, wealth, popularity and an adored son, but feels that her life is empty until she encounters the impetuous officer Count Vronsky. Their subsequent affair scandalizes society and family alike, and brings jealousy and bitterness in its wake. Contrasting with this is the vividly observed story of Levin, a farmer who is striving to find contentment and meaning to his life.
The novel explores the conflicting relationships, death and the controversy between traditions and liberal thoughts.
4. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Brothers Karamazov is a murder mystery, a courtroom drama, and an exploration of erotic rivalry in a series of triangular love affairs involving Karamazov and his three sons – the impulsive and sensual Dmitri; the coldly rational Ivan; and the healthy young novice Alyosha. Through the gripping events of their story, Dostoevsky portrays the social and spiritual strivings in what was both a golden age and a tragic turning point in Russian history.
5. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
In this epic story of love, envy, betrayal and revenge, Heathcliff and Catherine come together in a romance that destroys them and those around them. Set in the lonely and bleak Yorkshire moors, this classic tale of thwarted passion begins when the new tenant of Thrushcross Grange, a Mr Lockwood, is forced to seek shelter for a night at Wuthering Heights. As the night passes, Lockwood learns of the tumultuous past of Wuthering Heights and of those connected with it.
6. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
War and Peace begins at a glittering society party in St Petersburg in 1805, where conversations are dominated by the prospect of war. Terror swiftly engulfs the country as Napoleon’s army marches on Russia, and the lives of three young people are changed forever. The stories of quixotic Pierre, cynical Andrey and impetuous Natasha interweave with a huge cast, from aristocrats and peasants to soldiers and Napoleon himself.
7. 1984 by George Orwell
Among the seminal texts of the 20th century, Nineteen Eighty-Four is a rare work that grows more haunting as its futuristic purgatory becomes more real. Published in 1949, the book offers political satirist George Orwell’s nightmarish vision of a totalitarian, bureaucratic world and one poor stiff’s attempt to find individuality. The brilliance of the novel is Orwell’s prescience of modern life — the ubiquity of television, the distortion of the language — and his ability to construct such a thorough version of hell. Required reading for students since it was published, it ranks among the most terrifying novels ever written.
8. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man traces the religious and intellectual awakening of young Stephen Dedalus, a fictional alter ego of Joyce and an allusion to Daedalus, the consummate craftsman of Greek mythology. Stephen questions and rebels against the Catholic and Irish conventions under which he has grown, culminating in his self-exile from Ireland to Europe.
9. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
When Elizabeth Bennet meets Fitzwilliam Darcy for the first time at a ball, she writes him off as an arrogant and obnoxious man. As life pits them against each other again and again, Darcy begins to fall for Elizabeth’s wit and intelligence and Elizabeth begins to question her feelings about Darcy.
Through this tale about two warring hearts, Austen weaves a witty satire about life in eighteenth century England. And though it was published more than two centuries ago, Pride and Prejudice continues to enthrall readers to this very day.
10. Bleak House by Charles Dickens
Bleak house is an extraordinary classic that not only presents the importance of human values and relationships but also throws light on the British judicial system of the time.
Unaware of her past, Esther arrives in John Jarndyce’s house as his ward. She becomes good friends with Jarndyce’s distant cousins, Ada and Richard. Richard marries Ada secretly, but his obsession with the epic case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce destroys him. He fights a long Court battle to claim his inheritance, losing his health, wealth, happiness and peace of mind.
11. Animal Farm by George Orwell
Manor Farm is like any other English farm, expect for a drunken owner, Mr Jones, incompetent workers and oppressed animals. Fed up with the ignorance of their human masters, the animals rise up in rebellion and take over the farm. Led by intellectually superior pigs like Snowball and Napoleon, the animals how to take charge of their destiny and remove the inequities of their lives. But as time passes, the realize that things aren’t happening quite as expected.
Animal Farmis, one level, a simple story about barnyard animals. On a much deeper level, it is a savage political satire on corrupted ideals, misdirected revolutions and class conflict-themes as valid today as they were sixty years ago.
12. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Great Expectations revolves around the life of an orphan nicknamed Pip. The novel, set in the 19th century, traces the psychological growth of Pip in three stages: His childhood in the marshes of Kent, his journey from the rural environs to the London metropolis and finally his reluctant reconciliation with the vanity of false promises and values. The touching, first-person narrative makes the story all the more appealing.
13. The Stranger by Albert Camus
The Stranger, also known as The Outsider, is a story about an Algerian, Meursault, who commits a murder after attending his mother’s funeral. His understanding of the world, his emotional spectrum, and the general absurdities of the time all combine to form a compelling read.
14. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Set against the dramatic backdrop of the American Civil War, Margaret Mitchell’s magnificent historical epic is an unforgettable tale of love and loss, of a nation mortally divided and a people forever changed. Above all, it is the story of beautiful, ruthless Scarlett O’Hara and the dashing soldier of fortune, Rhett Butler.
15. The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
It’s the Roaring Twenties and New York City is the place to be. Everything can be purchased, everyone can be bought. But, can you make money erase your past? As more and more people lose themselves to the lure of money, ironically the only person who remains unaffected is Jay Gatsby, the enigmatic host of the most extravagant parties.
In this definitive tale on American culture, Fitzgerald pits a chaste dream against the corrupting influences of wealth and comes up with an epic story that can only be defined as ‘a Great American novel’.
16. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Madame Bovary depicts a woman’s gradual corruption and the human mind in search of transcendence. When Emma Rouault marries Charles Bovary she imagines she will pass into the life of luxury and passion that she reads about in sentimental novels and women’s magazines. But Charles is a dull country doctor, and provincial life is very different from the romantic excitement for which she yearns. In her quest to realize her dreams she takes a lover, and begins a devastating spiral into deceit and despair.
17. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
The Catcher in Rye is told by Holden Caulfield, a seventeen year old dropout who has just been kicked out of his fourth school. Throughout, Holden dissects the ‘phony’ aspects of society, and the ‘phonies’ themselves. Written with the clarity of a boy leaving childhood, it deals with society, love, loss, and expectations without ever falling into the clutch of a cliche.
18. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird is a coming-of-age story, an anti-racist novel, a historical drama of the Great Depression and a sublime example of the Southern writing tradition.
‘Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.’
A lawyer’s advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of Harper Lee’s classic novel – a black man charged with the rape of a white girl. Through the young eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores with exuberant humour the irrationality of adult attitudes to race and class in the Deep South of the thirties. The conscience of a town steeped in prejudice, violence and hypocrisy is pricked by the stamina of one man’s struggle for justice. But the weight of history will only tolerate so much.
19. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”
David Copperfield lives happily with his mother until she decides to marry the tyrannical Edward Murdstone. Abused and ill-treated by his stepfather, David is sent to the Salem House, a boarding school where he makes friends with the self-centred James Steerforth and the hapless Tom Taddles.
David returns home upon his mother and half-brother’s demise, only to be neglected by his stepfather who sends him to work at their family bottling factory. What happens when after a miserable life at the factory, David runs away to his great-aunt Betsy Trotwood.
20. The Trial by Franz Kafka
A terrifying psychological trip into the life of one Joseph K., an ordinary man who wakes up one day to find himself accused of a crime he did not commit, a crime whose nature is never revealed to him. Once arrested, he is released, but must report to court on a regular basis – an event that proves maddening, as nothing is ever resolved.
As he grows more uncertain of his fate, his personal life – including work at a bank and his relations with his landlady and a young woman who lives next door – becomes increasingly unpredictable. As K. tries to gain control, he succeeds only in accelerating his own excruciating downward spiral.
21. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
The well-known artist Basil Hallward becomes immediately infatuated with Dorian, who is cultured, wealthy, and remarkably beautiful. Such beauty, Basil believes, is responsible for a new mode of art, and he decides to paint a portrait of the young man. While finishing the painting, Basil reluctantly introduces Dorian to his friend Lord Henry Wotton, a man known for scandal and exuberance. Wotton inspires Dorian to live life through the senses, to feel beauty in everyday experience. Dorian becomes enthralled by Wotton’s ideas, and more so becomes obsessed with remaining young and beautiful. He expresses a desire to sell his soul and have the portrait of him age, while he, the man, stays eternally young.
22. Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee
After years teaching Romantic poetry at the Technical University of Cape Town, David Lurie, middle-aged and twice divorced, has an impulsive affair with a student. The affair sours; he is denounced and summoned before a committee of inquiry. Willing to admit his guilt, but refusing to yield to pressure to repent publicly, he resigns and retreats to his daughter Lucy’s isolated smallholding.
For a time, his daughter’s influence and the natural rhythms of the farm promise to harmonise his discordant life. But the balance of power in the country is shifting. He and Lucy become victims of a savage and disturbing attack which brings into relief all the faultlines in their relationship.
23. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Set in the rich farmland of California’s Salinas Valley, this sprawling and often brutal novel follows the intertwined destinies of two families — the Trasks and the Hamiltons — whose generations helplessly reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel.
24. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Clarissa Dalloway, elegant and vivacious, is preparing for a party and remembering those she once loved. In another part of London, Septimus Warren Smith is suffering from shell-shock and on the brink of madness. Smith’s day interweaves with that of Clarissa and her friends, their lives converging as the party reaches its glittering climax.
25. Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
Far from the Madding Crowd tells the tale of Gabriel Oak, one of three suitors for the hand of the beautiful and spirited Bathsheba Everdene. He must compete with the dashing young soldier Sergeant Troy and the respectable, middle-aged Farmer Boldwood. And while their fates depend upon the choice Bathsheba makes, she discovers the terrible consequences of an inconstant heart.
26. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
Moby Dick is a travel experience of Ishmael along with Ahab, in the hunt of a savage whale called Moby dick, which has ripped apart Ahab’s one leg. With some sinister crew members in their midst and the hazardous conditions of the sea, the expedition becomes increasingly dangerous the closer it gets to its end.
27. Middlemarch by George Eliot
George Eliot’s nuanced and moving novel is a masterly evocation of connected lives, changing fortunes and human frailties in a provincial community. Peopling its landscape are Dorothea Brooke, a young idealist whose search for intellectual fulfilment leads her into a disastrous marriage to the pedantic scholar Casaubon; Dr Lydgate, whose pioneering medical methods, combined with an imprudent marriage to the spendthrift beauty Rosamond, threaten to undermine his career; and the religious hypocrite Bulstrode, hiding scandalous crimes from his past.
28. Herzog by Saul Bellow
Moses Herzog’s wife Madeleine has left him for his best friend, and Herzog is left alone with his whirling thoughts – yet he still sees himself as a survivor, raging against private disasters and the myriad catastrophes of the modern age. In a crumbling house which he shares with rats, his head buzzing with ideas, he writes frantic, unsent letters to friends and enemies, colleagues and famous people, the living and the dead, revealing the spectacular workings of his labyrinthine mind and the innermost secrets of his troubled heart.
29. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
Blood Meridian is an epic and potent account of the barbarous violence that man visits upon man. Through the hostile landscape of the Texas-Mexico border wanders the Kid, a fourteen year-old Tennessean who is quickly swept-up in the relentless tide of blood. But the apparent chaos is not without its order: while Americans hunt Indians – collecting scalps as their bloody trophies – they too are stalked as prey. Powerful and savagely beautiful, it has emerged as one of the most important works in American fiction of the last century.
30. Atonement by Ian McEwan
On the hottest day of the summer of 1934, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis sees her sister Cecilia strip off her clothes and plunge into the fountain in the garden of their country house. Watching her is Robbie Turner, her childhood friend who, like Cecilia, has recently come down from Cambridge.
By the end of that day, the lives of all three will have been changed for ever. Robbie and Cecilia will have crossed a boundary they had not even imagined at its start, and will have become victims of the younger girl’s imagination. Briony will have witnessed mysteries, and committed a crime for which she will spend the rest of her life trying to atone.
31. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
The nameless narrator describes growing up in a black community in the South, attending a college from which he is expelled, moving to New York and becoming the chief spokesman of the Harlem branch of “the Brotherhood”, before retreating amid violence and confusion to the basement lair of the Invisible Man he imagines himself to be.
32. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
Ignatius J. Reilly lives at home with his mother in New Orleans, pens his magnum opus on Big Chief writing pads he keeps hidden under his bed, and relays to anyone who will listen the traumatic experience he once had on a Greyhound Scenicruiser bound for Baton Rouge. But Ignatius’s quiet life of tyrannizing his mother and writing his endless comparative history screeches to a halt when he is almost arrested by the overeager Patrolman Mancuso – who mistakes him for a vagrant – and then involved in a car accident with his tipsy mother behind the wheel. One thing leads to another, and before he knows it, Ignatius is out pounding the pavement in search of a job.
33. One Hundred Years Of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the story of the rise and fall, birth and death of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendiá family. Inventive, amusing, magnetic, sad and alive with unforgettable men and women — brimming with truth, compassion, and a lyrical magic that strikes the soul— this novel is a masterpiece in the art of fiction.
34. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
On The Road is based on the author Jack Kerouac and his friends’ travels across North America. The story is set against the backdrop of music, poetic literature, and drug abuse.
35. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
A plane crashes on a desert island. The only survivors are a group of schoolboys. At first they revel in the freedom and celebrate the absence of grown-ups. Soon though, as the boys’ fragile sense of order begins to collapse, their fears start to take on a sinister, primitive significance. Suddenly, the world of cricket, homework and adventure stories seems a long way away. The boys are faced with a more pressing reality – survival – and the appearance of a terrifying beast who haunts their dreams.
36. Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth
Portnoy’s Complaint tells the tale of young Jewish lawyer Alexander Portnoy and his scandalous sexual confessions to his psychiatrist. Portnoy takes the reader on a journey through his childhood to adolescence to present day while articulating his sexual desire, frustration and neurosis in shockingly candid ways.
37. The Rainbow by D. H. Lawrence
Set in the conformist society of the late nineteenth century England, The Rainbow delves into the lives of three generations of the Brangwen family, grappling in the throes of rapidly industrializing and materializing economy.
While Tom is shackled in the ethos of the traditional, the later generations ascend into modernist avenues and find themselves progressively urbanized. Banned, back in the day, for its exploration of the sensual and sexual autonomy of Ursula, the novel forays into the emotional growth of an individual, the workings of a vulnerable psyche, which makes sense even in the contemporary epoch.
38. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Rebecca marries handsome widower Maxim de Winter and moves to his great house at Manderley in Cornwall, only to find that all is not as it first seems. aRebecca is the haunting story of a young woman consumed by love and the struggle to find her identity.
39. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Slaughterhouse-Five combines science fiction, autobiography, humor, historical fiction, and satire in an account of the life of Billy Pilgrim – hapless barber’s assistant, successful optometrist, alien abductee, senile widower and soldier – has become unstuck in time. Hiding in the basement of a slaughterhouse in Dresden, with the city and its inhabitants burning above him, he finds himself a survivor of one of the most deadly and destructive battles of the Second World War.
40. Beloved by Toni Morrison
It is the mid-1800s and as slavery looks to be coming to an end, Sethe is haunted by the violent trauma it wrought on her former enslaved life at Sweet Home, Kentucky. Her dead baby daughter, whose tombstone bears the single word, Beloved, returns as a spectre to punish her mother, but also to elicit her love. Told with heart-stopping clarity, melding horror and beauty, Beloved is Toni Morrison’s enduring masterpiece.
41. Tess Of The D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
Tess of the D’Urbervilles, a brilliant tale of seduction, love, betrayal, and murder. It tells of Tess Durbeyfield, the daughter of a poor and dissipated villager, who learns that she may be descended from the ancient family of d’Urbeville. In her search for respectability her fortunes fluctuate wildly, and the story assumes the proportions of a Greek tragedy.
42. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
The Corrections is a rich, realistic and hilarious story about a family breakdown. The story revolves around the troubles that are faced by an elderly couple and their three adult children. It follows their lives from the mid – twentieth century to one last Christmas together at the turn of the millennium.
43. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
Every summer, the Ramsays visit their summer home on the beautiful Isle of Skye, surrounded by the excitement and chatter of family and friends. But as time passes and in its wake the First World War, the transience of life becomes ever more apparent through the vignette of the thoughts and observations of the novel’s disparate cast.
A landmark of high modernism and the most autobiographical of Virginia Woolf’s novels, To the Lighthouse explores themes of loss, class structure and the question of perception, in a hauntingly beautiful memorial to the lost but not forgotten.
44. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Catch-22 is a hilarious and tragic satire on military madness, and the tale of one man’s efforts to survive it. It’s the closing months of World War II and Yossarian has never been closer to death. Stationed in an American bomber squadron off the coast of Italy, each flight mission introduces him to thousands of people determined to kill him. But the enemy above is not Yossarian’s problem – it is his own army intent on keeping him airborne, and the maddening ‘Catch-22’ that allows for no possibility of escape.
45. The Grapes Of Wrath by John Steinbeck
The Grapes of Wrath is Steinbeck’s Pultizer Prize-winning epic of the Joad family, forced to travel west from Dust Bowl era Oklahoma in search of the promised land of California. Their story is one of false hopes, thwarted desires and powerlessness, yet out of their struggle Steinbeck created a drama that is both intensely human and majestic in its scale and moral vision.
46. A Passage to India by E. M. Forster
A Passage to India is set in pre-Independence India. A compelling portrait of a society in the grip of imperialism, this classic depicts the fate of individuals caught in the great political and cultural conflicts of their age. It begins when Adela and her elderly companion Mrs Moore arrive in the Indian town of Chandrapore, and feel trapped by its insular and prejudiced British community. Determined to explore the ‘real India’, they seek the guidance of the charming and mercurial Dr Aziz. But a mysterious incident occurs while they are exploring the Marabar caves, and the well-respected doctor soon finds himself at the centre of a scandal.
47. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Brave New World is set in the far future, in 2540 AD and features a utopian view of the society at that time, with a lot of material dedicated to sleep learning, reproductive technology, and classical conditioning.
48. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Poet and pervert, Humbert Humbert becomes obsessed by twelve-year-old Lolita and seeks to possess her, first carnally and then artistically, out of love, ‘to fix once for all the perilous magic of nymphets’. Humbert’s seduction is one of many dimensions in Nabokov’s dizzying masterpiece, which is suffused with a savage humour and rich, elaborate verbal textures.
49. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCuller
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter explores loneliness, the human need for understanding and the search for love. Set in a small town in the middle of the deep South, it is the story of John Singer, a lonely deaf-mute, and a disparate group of people who are drawn towards his kind, sympathetic nature.
The owner of the café where Singer eats every day, a young girl desperate to grow up, an angry socialist drunkard, a frustrated black doctor each pours their heart out to Singer, their silent confidant, and he in turn changes their disenchanted lives in ways the could never imagine.
50. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
At an Edinburgh school in the 1930s, glamorous, outspoken Miss Jean Brodie is quite certain of her role as teacher: to devote the wisdom of her prime years to six young girls, the creme de la creme, who will receive an education of the most unique kind. Known in school as the infamous Brodie set, the girls are soon entangled in their teacher’s world of unconventional ideas and manipulative schemes – destined to live in Miss Brodie’s shadow for the rest of their lives.
51. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Scarlet Letter is a tale of an adulterous entanglement that results in an illegitimate birth. The mother of the child, Hester Prynne, is publicly disgraced and ostracized but emerges as the first true heroine of American fiction.
52. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
The most enduring account we have of the modern African experience as seen from within. Starting with the intricate pattern of duties and traditions, and the universal human conflicts of a tribal village in what is now Nigeria, Things Fall Apart encompasses the advent of European colonialism, the intrusion of Christianity, and the shattering effects of an entire historical era on the immemorial culture of Africa.
53. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
The Sun Also Rises is the story of a group of young men from America and Britain, who travel to Spain in order to witness the Festival of San Fermin in Pamplona. There, they witness bullfights and bulls running. The chief protagonist of the story is Jake Barnes, who is a journalist with war wounds. In Spain, he falls madly in love with a twice-divorced woman, Lady Brett Ashley.
54. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
Brideshead Revisited is a stunning novel of duty and desire set amongst the decadent, faded glory of the English aristocracy in the run-up to the Second World War. It tells the story of Charles Ryder’s infatuation with the Marchmains and the rapidly disappearing world of privilege they inhabit. Enchanted first by Sebastian Flyte at Oxford, then by his doomed Catholic family, in particular his remote sister, Julia, Charles comes finally to recognise his spiritual and social distance from them.
55. Ulysses by James Joyce
Ulysses chronicles the passage of Leopold Bloom through Dublin during an ordinary day, 16 June 1904. Ulysses’ stream-of-consciousness technique, careful structuring, and experimental prose ― full of puns, parodies, and allusions, as well as its rich characterisations and broad humour, made the book a highly regarded novel in the Modernist pantheon
56. White Noise by Don DeLillo
White Noise tells the story of Jack Gladney, his fourth wife, Babette, and four ultramodern offspring as they navigate the rocky passages of family life to the background babble of brand-name consumerism.