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My 10 Classics Club Favourites

Now that I’ve completed my Classics Club project (whoopee) I thought it would be fun to look back over the 50 books I read and and pick my 10 favourites.

The books I’ve listed were those I consider the most memorable and thought provoking out of the 50 books I read in the last seven and half years. They are also books I think that perfectly fit Italio Calvino’s definition of a classic as

a book which which each rereading offers as much of a sense of discovery as the first reading.

Though I seldom seem to find the time to re-read, these 10 novels are all ones I know will prove as rewarding the second, third or even fourth time around.

L’Assommoir by Emile Zola

You knew there would be a Zola in the list didn’t you? My all-time favourite is Germinal but L’Assommoir comes a very close second. Paris is the setting for this tale of a woman from the bottom rungs of society who tries to make something meaningful in her life. Her lazy, drunk of a husband thwarts her ambitions. There are some magnificent set pieces including a brawl between women in a wash house and a wedding “banquet”.

Published: 1877. Read 2014

Author’s origin: France

All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West

This was a joy to read. Elderly women are not often portrayed in a positive light in fiction but Sackville-West gives us a memorable tale of a woman who decides at the age of 80 to assert her independence.

Published: 1931 Read 2019

Author’s origin: UK

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

On the surface this would seem to be a novel about a crime and the hunt to bring the culprit to justice. But actually it’s more a study of the criminal mind and whether it is ever acceptable to commit murder. Completely engrossing.

Published: 1866 Read 2013

Author’s origin: USSR

Heart Of The Matter by Graham Greene

This has become my all-time favourite Graham Greene novel. It’s an intense novel in which a decent and well-meaning man takes an action that leads to spiritual conflict and despair. The West African setting adds to the atmosphere of oppression and suffocation.

Published: 1948 Read 2013

Author’s origin: UK

North And South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Nothing I’ve read by Gaskell has come anywhere close to being as good as this tale of conflict in an industrial city (it”s loosely based on Manchester.) In what is considered a classic Industrial Novel, Gaskell shows the desperate poverty of the mill workers and the consequent effects on their health.

Published: 1855 Read 2012

Author’s origin: UK

Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

New York in Wharton’s novel is a city where the individual spirit is hampered by codes of behaviour that govern everything from the time at which dinner is served to what to wear to the opera. It takes a brave spirit to try to break out from the constraints of this society.

Published: 1920 Read 2020

Author’s origin: USA

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

Steinbeck isn’t an author you would naturally associate with humour. But this novella has characters who make such a mess of things, that you can”t help but laugh even though their situation is anything but funny. They are people who live in the sardine canning district of Monterey, California. Among them is a group of down-and-outs who live from one drink to another, begging, borrowing, stealing and fighting.  

Published: 1945 Read 2013

Author’s origin: USA

Old Goriot by Honore Balzac

A biting novel in which Balzac portrays France as a corrupt, ruthless society that feeds on ambition, money and status. This is meant to be one of the best novels in La Comedie Humane series. It’s made me hungry for more Balzac.

Published: 1835 Read 2015

Author’s origin: France

Mrs Dalloway  by Virgina Woolf

A complex stream of consciousness novella that takes place in the course of one day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway. It’s so rich and multi-layered that I don’t think one reading alone can possibly do justice to Woolf’s narrative.

Published: 1925 Read 2016

Author’s origin: UK

Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

Set on the cusp of the apartheid regime in South Africa, Paton’s novel expresses his love for his home country and his fear for its future. Paton uses multiple voices to dramatise the differing attitudes between the country’s white and black populations and the emergence of irreconcilable hatred.

Published 1948 Read 2015

Author’s origin: South Africa

What do you make of my choices – any surprises? What would be on your list of 10 favourite classics? If you’re curious about what else I read, you can see my full Classics Club list here.

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