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No previous author has attempted a book such as this: a complete history of novels written in the English language, from the genre's seventeenth-century origins to the present day. In the spirit of Dr. Johnson’s Lives of the Poets, acclaimed critic and scholar John Sutherland selects 294 writers whose works illustrate the best of every kind of fiction—from gothic, penny dr No previous author has attempted a book such as this: a complete history of novels written in the English language, from the genre's seventeenth-century origins to the present day. In the spirit of Dr. Johnson’s Lives of the Poets, acclaimed critic and scholar John Sutherland selects 294 writers whose works illustrate the best of every kind of fiction—from gothic, penny dreadful, and pornography to fantasy, romance, and high literature. Each author was chosen, Professor Sutherland explains, because his or her books are well worth reading and are likely to remain so for at least another century. Sutherland presents these authors in chronological order, in each case deftly combining a lively and informative biographical sketch with an opinionated assessment of the writer's work. Taken together, these novelists provide both a history of the novel and a guide to its rich variety. Always entertaining, and sometimes shocking, Sutherland considers writers as diverse as Daniel Defoe, Henry James, James Joyce, Edgar Allan Poe, Virginia Woolf, Michael Crichton, Jeffrey Archer, and Jacqueline Susann.Written for all lovers of fiction, Lives of the Novelists succeeds both as introduction and re-introduction, as Sutherland presents favorite and familiar novelists in new ways and transforms the less favored and less familiar through his relentlessly fascinating readings.


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No previous author has attempted a book such as this: a complete history of novels written in the English language, from the genre's seventeenth-century origins to the present day. In the spirit of Dr. Johnson’s Lives of the Poets, acclaimed critic and scholar John Sutherland selects 294 writers whose works illustrate the best of every kind of fiction—from gothic, penny dr No previous author has attempted a book such as this: a complete history of novels written in the English language, from the genre's seventeenth-century origins to the present day. In the spirit of Dr. Johnson’s Lives of the Poets, acclaimed critic and scholar John Sutherland selects 294 writers whose works illustrate the best of every kind of fiction—from gothic, penny dreadful, and pornography to fantasy, romance, and high literature. Each author was chosen, Professor Sutherland explains, because his or her books are well worth reading and are likely to remain so for at least another century. Sutherland presents these authors in chronological order, in each case deftly combining a lively and informative biographical sketch with an opinionated assessment of the writer's work. Taken together, these novelists provide both a history of the novel and a guide to its rich variety. Always entertaining, and sometimes shocking, Sutherland considers writers as diverse as Daniel Defoe, Henry James, James Joyce, Edgar Allan Poe, Virginia Woolf, Michael Crichton, Jeffrey Archer, and Jacqueline Susann.Written for all lovers of fiction, Lives of the Novelists succeeds both as introduction and re-introduction, as Sutherland presents favorite and familiar novelists in new ways and transforms the less favored and less familiar through his relentlessly fascinating readings.

30 review for Lives of the Novelists: A History of Fiction in 294 Lives

  1. 5 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    I wish I was as famous as little Martin Amis I would go out for a lark with Dame Muriel Spark Or be sailing a boatsy with JM Coatzee Or down on the Bowery with Malcolm Lowry Or eating an oyster with E M Foyster Or arguing, dammit, with Dashiel Hammett Or chatting up dames with Henry James Or bridging the gulf between me and Mrs Woolf Or watching The Full Monty with Emily Bronte…. I began this one at the same time that I was reading All These Years – Tune In. That volume takes 870 pages to tell the story I wish I was as famous as little Martin Amis I would go out for a lark with Dame Muriel Spark Or be sailing a boatsy with JM Coatzee Or down on the Bowery with Malcolm Lowry Or eating an oyster with E M Foyster Or arguing, dammit, with Dashiel Hammett Or chatting up dames with Henry James Or bridging the gulf between me and Mrs Woolf Or watching The Full Monty with Emily Bronte…. I began this one at the same time that I was reading All These Years – Tune In. That volume takes 870 pages to tell the story of The Beatles, a popular music combo, up to 1962, the year before they were famous. Vast, oceanic detail about four working class lads in their early 20s. In Lives of the Novelists I was reading the biographies of Faulkner and Dickens condensed into 3 or four pages each. It was an amusing experience. Ironic, you might say. It was like the world turned upside down. I liked it that way round. Well, of course, if you crank out a giant compendium like this one and call it Lives of THE Novelists, not Lives of Some Novelists I happen to Like you’re going to get major flack from the reviewers, and JS had to stand up and defend himself. Robert Gottlieb, noted critic, slagged him off for including a lot of "second- and third-raters". John Sutherland responded: In any history of fiction, however angled, there will be ten thousand novelists excluded for every one included. Those excluded will, most of them, be what Mr. Gottlieb calls them: “second- and third-raters.” But not, for that reason, wholly unmemorable. The first-raters get attention enough. Having taught, for forty years, in strict curricular confines, I know well enough who the first-raters are. The book was an attempt to give some tiny sense of what lies outside those confines. I would ask Mr. Gottlieb to understand that the idiosyncratic selection he complains of was (however unsuccessfully carried out) principled, not the product of perverted judgment. This means you get Georgette Heyer but not Kathy Acker, Rex Warner but not Maya Angelou, Leslie Charteris but not Paul Bowles, Micky Spillane but not Truman Capote, Vernor Vinge but not Iain Banks, and Charles Willeford but not Anita Brookner. I could go on, you get the picture. It’s John Sutherland’s book, he makes the rules. You can’t read through the whole of this like an ordinary book, it’s for browsing and it will last you (and me) years. If you can go with the strangeness of JS’s choices, it’s a lot of fun. Postscript: The Internet sure does turn a person into a nitpicking grouch or should that be an armchair factchecker. In the entry on Patrick Hamilton JS says his play Gaslight was filmed twice, "the second time with Greta Garbo in the lead".

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jim Fonseca

    The author makes no bones that these are his personal selections, but with 294 lives, each summarized in a 2-5 page mini-bio, pretty much everyone you would put on your top 100 list is here. All the classic British and American authors are here, and some outstanding international authors - Chinua Achebe, for example. Recent bios focus on folks from the British Isles, especially Booker Prize winners: Amis Jr and Senior, Ian McEwan, Julian Barnes. Each bio begins with a quote from the author, from The author makes no bones that these are his personal selections, but with 294 lives, each summarized in a 2-5 page mini-bio, pretty much everyone you would put on your top 100 list is here. All the classic British and American authors are here, and some outstanding international authors - Chinua Achebe, for example. Recent bios focus on folks from the British Isles, especially Booker Prize winners: Amis Jr and Senior, Ian McEwan, Julian Barnes. Each bio begins with a quote from the author, from one of his/her characters, or about the author by a colleague. Usually these quotes have a bite to them: Examples: "His reputation grew with each book he failed to publish." (Jay McInerney on Harold Brodkey) "There's no art in what I do." (Alistair MacLean). "Too much." (The TLS review of Mailer's The Naked and the Dead.) "I'm only black because you think you're white." (James Baldwin) So we have all the pithy quotes and classics with a lot of Brits, but we also have authors of best sellers in all the genres; not just mystery and sci fi, but westerns and pulp, and in general, a lot of folks spurned by the establishment who laughed all the way to the bank. One hit wonders are here: Margaret Mitchell for Gone With the Wind, Malcom Lowry for Under the Volcano, and Jacqueline Susann for Valley of the Dolls. Each bio includes major biographies, web sites and a listing of the author's Most Read Work. The book is immensely entertaining because it's clear that Sutherland has picked some of his non-top-100 selections, the lesser-knowns, simply for the scandal and salaciousness they offer. Benjamim Schwarz titled his review of this work in The Atlantic, "Sex Lives of Novelists." Writers have never been known for discretion in their private lives, but what a horny, alcoholic, drug-addicted, depressive, divorcing, child-ignoring, spouse-abusing lot they are! Alcohol, drugs and abuse are only a start. You add some interest with lesbian/gay or bi. But the eye-poppers are victims of abuse, abusers themselves or dying of alcohol and/or drugs. Sons of British authors who threw themselves under trains could form a small club. Four and five spouses aren't unusual. This book is fun and fascinating. I do caution that other reviewers have noted numerous factual errors. (The edition I read.) Allan Massie, in a review in the WSJ, wrote that he stopped counting errors at 50 and found four in one author's biography. But it's a fun read. (GR review re-written from May 2013) Here's John Sutherland below

  3. 4 out of 5

    Phillip Kay

    I've just finished reading an enormous work over 1,000 pages, Lives of the Novelists: a history of fiction in 294 lives, short biographies of novelists writing in English by John Sutherland (Profile Books London 2011). It presents a novel idea (excuse the pun), embodying both literary and social history in English from John Bunyan in 1660 to Rana Dasgupta in 2010. It charts literary fashions, examines the best sellers and the classics of past and present years and gives an idea of how the novel I've just finished reading an enormous work over 1,000 pages, Lives of the Novelists: a history of fiction in 294 lives, short biographies of novelists writing in English by John Sutherland (Profile Books London 2011). It presents a novel idea (excuse the pun), embodying both literary and social history in English from John Bunyan in 1660 to Rana Dasgupta in 2010. It charts literary fashions, examines the best sellers and the classics of past and present years and gives an idea of how the novel has changed over the years while its function has remained, after all, very much the same. It's clearly not an encyclopaedia (not comprehensive enough) nor a history of fiction, even fiction in English (for the same reason) but a snapshot or series of snapshots (of many possible ones) of the way fiction has developed over the years. My personal response to the novelists selected for inclusion in the book may be typical of many readers. The great bulk of them I had heard of and was indifferent to, about 130 of the entries. These included celebrated names, and others obviously important to Sutherland himself. A whopping 100 names I had never heard off, and I consider myself well read. This is mainly, I think, because Sutherland seems to be a specialist in 19th century best selling novelists. Nothing has such a short shelf life as a best seller, or tells as much about the times it was one. Of the 294 novelists Sutherland writes about, there were only 40 writers I liked, and 20 I strongly disliked. Despite this, I found the book fascinating. It helped get through so many pages that Sutherland concentrates on life and times material, seldom stopping for literary criticism. He delights to pass on details about subjects' sexual preferences, and the number of writers he mentions who are homosexual is surely higher than average. Here you can find out the names of the many famous women that Daphne du Maurier had sex with for example. It was this mix of personal anecdotes about writers, and social history, that made the book so readable for me. Sutherland apologises for his selection in his preface, and calls it 'idiosyncratic'. He has no need to do so. I read somewhere recently that every year in Britain about 5,000 novels are published. Even though 4,999 probably fall still born from the press, the numbers mount up over time, and no-one writing on the novel can now be comprehensive. If the spread of internet enabled epublishing continues, there could soon be 500,000 novelists a year, and eventually as many writers as readers, a fact that might lead to the decline, not enhancement, of reading as an activity. Who knows? So diversion of this stream to genre publishing and reading is bound to increase. This means much of the output will be directed at audiences only interested in specific genres or even sub-genres, and who will ignore the rest. One such genre, though the literary mandarins and the educators don't like to admit it, is literary fiction, once called 'good' literature, produced in conformity to dictates of taste and forming, hopefully, part of a tradition and a canon. Literary historians, and I am supposing Sutherland is one, straddle an uncomfortable position, taking note of worthwhile fiction in the tradition but also acknowledging the existence of best sellers totally oblivious of such traditions. Genre readers, in the meantime, can tell you all about Robert Howard and his Conan stories, and argue endlessly about the merits of his 'continuators', and are often oblivious of the existence of books such as Ulysses. We are slowly realising that nobody need be ashamed or dismissive of this. So I understand that Sutherland has left out Joseph Heller and Catch 22, John Gardner and Nickel Mountain, Vikram Seth and A Suitable Boy, Vikram Chandra and Funeral Games, the work of Angela Carter, and underplays the significance of George Orwell. These would be part of my own 'idiosyncratic' selection. But after all, no-one's perfect. Sutherland quotes Jacques Bonnet in his prologue: "Authors are just fictional people [of whom we know] never enough to make them truly real". I think this is significant. Entering the world of fiction should confront us with the fact that the novelist is just as much a creation, by himself and his critics and readers, as his fiction. So is a history of fiction (fiction is a lie that strives to tell the truth). Sutherland closes his preface with this admission: "It will be easy to see why most of those writers who did get in got in [the book]. What they have in common is that they are all novelists who have meant something to me, or who have come my way over a long reading career and stayed with me, for whatever reason". The next step to comprehensiveness would be an encyclopaedia, and they are usually not as readable as this book. The bulk of the book concerns modern literature of the 20th and 21st centuries, over 170 authors: 19th century writers have 100 entries, and those working earlier a mere 25. So there are no revelations here about the history of the novel. The vast number of women writers of the time of Henry Fielding (including his sister Sarah) are mentioned as exhaustively as Ian Watt does in his 1957 book The Rise of the Novel (though that was a study of Defoe, Fielding and Richardson). I mean not at all. It is no surprise to see entries for Defoe, Richardson, Fielding and Sterne, but good to see an entry for the fascinating Aphra Behn and her confusing mix of autobiography and fiction (Aphra is of course also famous as a founder of the 18th century British drama). One can only shake one's head over the entry of John Cleland, a sub de Sade writer writing to escape debt and with no serious social purpose as de Sade had (but he is entertaining to hear of). And pornography, or at least written pornography, is as hard to write without being ludicrous, in the 18th century as it has been ever since. It is at the end of the 18th century entries that Sutherland starts to surprise. There is an entry for Robert Bage. Who is Robert Bage? An industrialist who came upon hard times, influenced by ideas that resulted in the French Revolution, and, like Walter Scott, wrote himself out of financial difficulties. His novels, though he began with little literary skill, reflected the progressive ideas of the time and were very popular. Around 1800 anybody you mentioned Robert Bage to in England would have known whom you were talking about. Another once famous name was Mrs Catherine Gore, the mother of 10 children who survived more than one period of abject poverty, was defrauded of her fortune, lost her husband, went blind, yet was very wealthy indeed when she died. Her secret? Her ability to write as many as two novels a week, her speciality being lurid accounts of the 'lower upper classes' (the British class system is complex - the group Mrs Gore wrote about were not aristocrats but tolerated by them as acquaintances). All very shades of Mills and Boon and similar production houses, yet admirable in a horrible kind of way. I try not to think of all those lower middle class wives devouring Mrs Gore's books, satisfied to think the better off were no better than they should be. Other female writers follow such as "‘Fanny Fern’ ... a bestselling novelist, serial wife and newspaper columnist (some accounts say the first columnist in the country [USA], others merely the highest paid)". The enormous contribution 19th century female novelists made to feminism by, first of all, existing, often precariously; highlighting the fact there was a huge female audience for novels; and expressing the wants and concerns of females, in a time when males were oblivious to all these situations, should always be recognised. They are usually left out of literary histories on the grounds they aren't very good. Yet histories of the novel always leave in Harold Robbins and Mickey Spillane, who weren't very good either, possibly to a greater extent than female novelists usually ignored, though grossing as highly in their day. Sutherland covers about 80 female authors in his book. Something I liked was the exploration Sutherland gives to end of the century novelists, a period with a feverish kind of dated progressiveness, a kind of fussy permissiveness (a bit like the 1960s in a way). I learned about Ouida, Ambrose Bierce, Bram Stoker, Mrs Humphrey Ward, Marie Corelli, and favourite authors Arthur Conan Doyle and Kenneth Grahame. The best seller greats are mentioned, HG Wells, Somerset Maugham and Theodore Dreiser, and the best sellers (but not so great) like Edgar Wallace, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Zane Grey. And the scandalous life of Norman Douglas and the inspiring one of Erskine Childers. My love of detective stories made the entries on Grant Allen, Agatha Christie, Sax Rohmer, Raymond Chandler, Earle Stanley Gardner and Dashiell Hammett enjoyable to read. Sutherland's book errs on the side of comprehensiveness when it comes to the (unstated) 'English' criteria. Novelists from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, North America and Australia, even New Zealand, are included, but also novelists who wrote in English at some stage. Naturally, Vladimir Nabokov and Joseph Conrad, but also Olaudah Equiano from Nigeria, Pearl S Buck from China, Cabrera Infante from Cuba, VS Naipaul from Trinidad, Chinua Achebe from Nigeria and Rana Dasgupta, born in England to Indian parents, living now in India, first published in Australia, a symbol of the indefiniteness national and cultural boundaries can have (do I have to add, in the modern world?). As an Australian I was glad to see two Australian authors included, sad that they were the brilliant, unreadable genius Patrick White and the stogy, unreadable Peter Carey, an advertising man who always reserves the film rights. Could have been Henry Handel Richardson, George Johnston, Christina Stead or David Malouf. And if Edgar Allen Poe and Katherine Mansfield were included, why not Henry Lawson or Charmian Clift? Guess you really can't fit everyone in. Probably the most valuable section of the book is the largest, on 20th and 21st century writers. Writers of the past are well documented. Best sellers of the past not so well, but Sutherland's book remedies this lack quite well too. Modern writers, however, are rarely seen in context, as authors. They are usually seen as product, and you are urged to buy their book, the greatest story ever told, with dozens of unknowns telling you so on the book jacket. Sutherland juxtaposes Salman Rushdie and Patricia Cornwell, Ian McEwen and Michael Crichton, Julian Barnes and Jeffrey Archer, and slowly you get an idea these are all engaged in the one process, and that all of this diverse material is read, by a enormous public with a voracious appetite for reading matter. Perhaps we all read for different reasons, but we all exercise our minds the same way, decoding symbols at a greater than light speed and recreating the words through our imaginations. Quite strenuous really, and unique among human occupations. One is left with thoughts on the very different readers authors write for, and the very different writers the public read for. The psychopaths who read Mickey Spillane's zestful descriptions of someone hammering a human skull to fragments with a pistol while dodging the spurting blood and brains (lots of these as he's still the best selling crime author). The history posing as fiction of George MacDonald Fraser or the fiction posing as history of Georgette Heyer. The way some writers can explore their times while writing genre stories, like Chester Himes, while others resolutely exploit those genres, like Stephen King. The marketers and hustlers who always negotiate the movie rights like Jacqueline Susann and the painstaking slow writers who write what they must like John Kennedy Toole. People who seem accidentally to become best sellers like William Golding or John Fowles, others who mine genres, creatively like Raymond Chandler, or exhaustively and ultimately in a sterile way like Chandler's friend Earle Stanley Gardner. For those who want more, Sutherland includes a reference to a full length biography when there is one, and suggests a key work for each author. Only the obsessive will want more of most of the writers Sutherland mentions, and the worthwhile ones will already have their fans, but his book is a useful look outside genres for most readers. Through it we can explore what the snobs are reading, the crass taste of the plebs, the sometimes strange story of the superannuated best seller. It's a good way to see the novel in English. And I bet Sutherland hasn't reserved the movie rights (make a nice little maxi series on TV). Myself, I'm looking forward to Lives of the Novelists II, in which Sutherland will include the lives of the 294 novelists inexplicably left out of the first volume. Bound to be more entertaining than reading the authors themselves.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Smiley

    4.5 stars I simply found writing its review inexplicably tough and thus demanding due to, of course, its length and scope something in 799 pages covering 294 lives, and its renowned, awe-inspiring author Professor John Sutherland I've first known from his paperback entitled How To Read a Novel: A User's Guide (Profile Books 2007) and posted my review. This is a hardcover I bought at the 46th National Book Fair held in Bangkok last April, I was then wondering if I could finish it at all; however, 4.5 stars I simply found writing its review inexplicably tough and thus demanding due to, of course, its length and scope something in 799 pages covering 294 lives, and its renowned, awe-inspiring author Professor John Sutherland I've first known from his paperback entitled How To Read a Novel: A User's Guide (Profile Books 2007) and posted my review. This is a hardcover I bought at the 46th National Book Fair held in Bangkok last April, I was then wondering if I could finish it at all; however, I designed a reading plan and made it. What is it now on my mind? It's a well-researched as well as well-written compendium/epitome worth keeping and reading for every novel enthusiast/reader due to its appropriate length for each entry on each novelist's famous/infamous biography, that is, varying from 2-5 pages (it's rare to find any exceeding 5). My first impression on this huge book (its paperback edition also available) was my admiration and respects to the author, moreover, I found out from reading somewhere, probably his interview, that he had read some 3,000 books related to this work. Incidentally, there is a conflict between its titles on the cover and the spine (Lives of the Novelists) and those two inside on page i & iii (The Lives of the Novelists) so my query is: Which one is the officially correct title? While reading each 'Life' concisely written with well-referenced sources, I couldn't help being grateful with better understanding on each one since each novelist has, more or less, had his/her own ups and downs in a particular context/problem; therefore, one's integrity was (is) the key, the one that shapes his/her character. We should read each one with compassion and neutral attitude, learn something from what we read, rather than keep finding their faults or blaming their misfortune. Incidentally, I think each novelist has since tried to produce his/her best works and, eventually, signal his/her key message to inform, inspire, question, etc. his/her readers as part of humankind nationwide or worldwide. What happens next? That's something for those who know, having expertise would tell us, taking action when the time comes. From the 294 lives, for each reader it's obvious that there'd be a number of those favorite novelists of one's own as well as those obscure/unknown ones. There're two points I'd like to mention: first, for the first group, reading each biography would definitely reveal us more in-depth information on his/her admirable angel-like characters or the opposite till we'd decide to read him/her more or never. And second, for the other group, it would give us more light to those novelists whose works we've never read or known before so that we can decide to have a go with any novel written by those unheard ones. For instance: I'd find the following titles and look forward to reading them: The Virginian (1902) by Owen Wister, A Bell for Adano (1944) by John Hersey, The Mask of Dimitrios (1944) by Eric Ambler, etc. To continue . . .

  5. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    Sutherland's personal selection of 294 novelists undoubtedly leaves people asking questions like - where is Byatt, Carter, and Pratchett. Sutherland, however, points out this is his list. And you know what - he does a rather impressive job including non-canon writers, in particular many women writers outside of the standard big ones of Austen, Brontes, Elliot, and so on. Quite frankly, he should get some major props for including writers of popular fiction. He includes VC Andrews. How many women Sutherland's personal selection of 294 novelists undoubtedly leaves people asking questions like - where is Byatt, Carter, and Pratchett. Sutherland, however, points out this is his list. And you know what - he does a rather impressive job including non-canon writers, in particular many women writers outside of the standard big ones of Austen, Brontes, Elliot, and so on. Quite frankly, he should get some major props for including writers of popular fiction. He includes VC Andrews. How many women read her (or him) as young girls?

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sue Russell

    These short bios are so deft, insightful, and funny, with well-chosen quotes from interesting and unexpected parties (like T.S. Eliot on Flannery O'Connor). It's like the best lecture from a favorite college professor. These short bios are so deft, insightful, and funny, with well-chosen quotes from interesting and unexpected parties (like T.S. Eliot on Flannery O'Connor). It's like the best lecture from a favorite college professor.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Darren

    Oh dear! Where to start? My mum was given this book as a Christmas present in 2016. She had no interest and asked if I would like to read it. I looked at the cover and thought it looked interesting. And to start with it seemed OK. But gradually I got annoyed with various points. 1) Lives of the Novelists - provided they wrote primarily in English. This was mentioned on the back cover to be fair, but seriously? How can you trace the history of the novel through the lives of the novelists with no Ce Oh dear! Where to start? My mum was given this book as a Christmas present in 2016. She had no interest and asked if I would like to read it. I looked at the cover and thought it looked interesting. And to start with it seemed OK. But gradually I got annoyed with various points. 1) Lives of the Novelists - provided they wrote primarily in English. This was mentioned on the back cover to be fair, but seriously? How can you trace the history of the novel through the lives of the novelists with no Cervantes? No Tolstoy or Dostoevsky? No Hugo, Dumas or Verne? 2) What did I learn about these novelists? Apparently every novelist in history was one of the following : a slave owner or pro-slavery. racist. a closet homosexual. a wife beater. a serial philanderer. a paedophile. or committed suicide despite what was reported at the time. The evidence for this is often a modern take and based on the flimsiest evidence - “Yes the children he cared for when their parents died may say he was just nice old chap who had no interest in sex, but I’ve discovered a line from an unpublished novel that described a boy as having pleasing looks, so clearly a nonce”. Or “He may have got all his father’s servants pregnant and all the daughters of the neighbours but he never married and shared a flat for two years with another man. Obviously secretly homosexual.” Strangely, living or only recently deceased authors don’t come in for the same treatment. Can’t think why. 3) The potted biographies are often irrelevant. In 3 pages on Iris Murdoch there are only 2 lines about her life. More time is spent discussing Booker winning novels about retired people. 4) The fact that some of these novelists only published 1 or 2 unheard of books didn’t bother me that much but only brings me back to the fact they’ve been included while great authors are missing. All in all a good idea done badly. Very, very badly.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ken

    Deeply unsatisfying. Sutherland includes too many non-novelists (Poe, Saki, Samuel Johnson, O Henry, Ambrose Bierce) and too many obscure novelists (who the heck are Susanna Haswell and Charles Brocken Brown and John Polispri and Fanny Fern and Sylannus Cobb Jr.) and too minor genre writers (Zane Gray, Earl Stanley Gardener, Issac Asimov) which would be OK if he was aiming for completeness... But he leaves out major figures like Sinclair Lewis, Thomas Pynchon, Colm Toibin, Edmund White, Hollingh Deeply unsatisfying. Sutherland includes too many non-novelists (Poe, Saki, Samuel Johnson, O Henry, Ambrose Bierce) and too many obscure novelists (who the heck are Susanna Haswell and Charles Brocken Brown and John Polispri and Fanny Fern and Sylannus Cobb Jr.) and too minor genre writers (Zane Gray, Earl Stanley Gardener, Issac Asimov) which would be OK if he was aiming for completeness... But he leaves out major figures like Sinclair Lewis, Thomas Pynchon, Colm Toibin, Edmund White, Hollinghirst, John Dos Passos, Willa Cather, Upton Sinclair, Lewis Carroll, Robertson Davies, Sherwood Anderson, Flann O'Brien - but mediocrities like Edna Ferber are here. Worse, every writer gets roughly the same space. Is Vernor Vinge really the equal of James Joyce? Too infuriating to lead one to minor writers, too plagued with factual errors to be a reference.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Vince Vawter

    LIVES OF THE NOVELIST by John Sutherland. This is unlike any other novelist compilation book I have ever read. The short sketches of the writers always told me something I did not know about the authors, and Sutherland was brutally frank in his assessments. My only complaint was trying to understand why he chose some of his subjects. Some of the writers were mere hacks and a few were momentously forgettable.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lillian

    Sutherland give us a snapshot of the lives of 294 writers that chronicles the history of the novel and is illustrative of how much or how little the author appears in his or her work. A must for those who love books about books and books about authors.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Neil

    This took me nearly six months to finish, dipping in and out, reading one or two of the little biographies in a sitting. The book is over 800 pages in a big format without much white space on the page. I grew a little tired of lugging it around. Sutherland's selection of subjects is more than a little esoteric, including plenty of writers that aren't much known, particularly to American audiences. That doesn't mean that most of the major figures aren't there, although most of the international w This took me nearly six months to finish, dipping in and out, reading one or two of the little biographies in a sitting. The book is over 800 pages in a big format without much white space on the page. I grew a little tired of lugging it around. Sutherland's selection of subjects is more than a little esoteric, including plenty of writers that aren't much known, particularly to American audiences. That doesn't mean that most of the major figures aren't there, although most of the international writers (in particular the Russians) are not included and there's no real explanation of why. I liked that he included a fair number of genre writers, and didn't restrict his focus to the usual highbrow list. Some of the essays look at the writer's full life and work, others focus on something more specific. The variety actually makes the book more readable. I appreciated these three- or four-page biographies. It's a better way to encounter the life story of a writer whose work one doesn't know than trying to push through a full length biography. And of course the format of the book makes it easy to skip people who you haven't heard of at all. Sutherland includes a recommended full biography and a title to read first at the end of each essay. The book also provides some insight into the writer's life, not all of it happy. There's certainly a higher incidence of alcoholism, failed marriages, bad parenting, and other sadness than in the general population. Tough lives clearly make good literature, but I don't think success in their field made these folks any more happy. When it was all said and done, I had added many titles to my to-read list, and picked up a lot of fascinating trivia. I'm glad I stuck with it, and would almost welcome a second volume, which could cover just as many writers without a drop in quality.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Katey Lovell

    Lives of the Novelists, subtitled 'A history of fiction in 294 lives' is a collection of short biographies covering influential authors over five centuries. At over 800 pages long, this great tome of a book is obviously the result of an incredible amount of research from Sutherland. Most of the biographies are around three pages long, which is enough to give a flavour of the life the author led. Sutherland references both the most highly regarded and the overlooked, so even the widely read will Lives of the Novelists, subtitled 'A history of fiction in 294 lives' is a collection of short biographies covering influential authors over five centuries. At over 800 pages long, this great tome of a book is obviously the result of an incredible amount of research from Sutherland. Most of the biographies are around three pages long, which is enough to give a flavour of the life the author led. Sutherland references both the most highly regarded and the overlooked, so even the widely read will learn something from this work. At the end of each biography there is the authors full name, 'must read text' and a suggestion of a biography for further reading. Lives of the Novelists could be read from cover to cover (as I did- I felt that by reading it chronologically I was able to get an overview of social changes from the 1600s onwards as well as learning about influential authors) or could be used as a reference material to be dipped in and out of. Possibly a useful resource for literature students, John Sutherland's labour of love reinforces just how many authors meet a tragic end or live an unfulfilled life despite success. It should also come with a warning-I have added a huge amount of books to my 'must read' list as a result of it! If you are looking for an accessible, comprehensive overview of writers' lives then Lives of the Novelists could be just what you're looking for.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Colin

    A very enjoyable guided tour through novelists writing in English starting with John Bunyan and ending with Rana Dasgupta, by way of all sorts of literary highways and byways. This massive tome (800 pages plus) kept me very entertained for about 6 months. What I found particularly enjoyable was the breadth of coverage - Sutherland includes both 'classic'/literary and 'popular'/genre authors: so Dickens, Hardy, Forster, Julian Barnes and John Updike rub shoulders with Georgette Heyer, Zane Grey, A very enjoyable guided tour through novelists writing in English starting with John Bunyan and ending with Rana Dasgupta, by way of all sorts of literary highways and byways. This massive tome (800 pages plus) kept me very entertained for about 6 months. What I found particularly enjoyable was the breadth of coverage - Sutherland includes both 'classic'/literary and 'popular'/genre authors: so Dickens, Hardy, Forster, Julian Barnes and John Updike rub shoulders with Georgette Heyer, Zane Grey, Alistair Maclean and Stephen King. As a survey of the sheer range of the English language novel, this seems pretty unbeatable. It's witty, discursive and full of all sorts of incidental information, and I loved it. If I had to make one small criticism it would be that one of the great stylists and one of the most prolific and best selling of twentieth century novelists is missing - where's Wodehouse?!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Joan Colby

    Sutherland’s intent in this lengthy volume modeled on Lives of the Poets, is to include a variety of fiction from “penny dreadfuls to high literature.” And yet some of his choices are baffling. If one is selecting according to books that reflect a certain period, why include Edna Ferber and not Sinclair Lewis? Why James Cain and not Simone De Beauvoir? Why Catherine Cookson and not Doris Lessing. Why, for heaven’s sakes, Thomas Hardy and not Leo Tolstoy? I could go on. Of course, an anthology is Sutherland’s intent in this lengthy volume modeled on Lives of the Poets, is to include a variety of fiction from “penny dreadfuls to high literature.” And yet some of his choices are baffling. If one is selecting according to books that reflect a certain period, why include Edna Ferber and not Sinclair Lewis? Why James Cain and not Simone De Beauvoir? Why Catherine Cookson and not Doris Lessing. Why, for heaven’s sakes, Thomas Hardy and not Leo Tolstoy? I could go on. Of course, an anthology is a matter of preference and one can’t include everyone in a volume already at 800 pages. But some omissions are troubling and some inclusions of truly minor and little known writers seem specious. Regardless, the summaries are in most instances, entertaining reading

  15. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    I read this straight through until I came to the 20th century. From there, I began skimming more and more as I got closer to the present. Reading it straight through creates an interesting narrative of the progression of the novel and modern medicine. There is a span when nearly every entry either dies of tuberculosis or their loved ones die. I felt like when it came into the 20th century, perhaps because there wasn’t as much distance, the narrative of time became less compelling. Also I was su I read this straight through until I came to the 20th century. From there, I began skimming more and more as I got closer to the present. Reading it straight through creates an interesting narrative of the progression of the novel and modern medicine. There is a span when nearly every entry either dies of tuberculosis or their loved ones die. I felt like when it came into the 20th century, perhaps because there wasn’t as much distance, the narrative of time became less compelling. Also I was surprised by some omissions, primarily Louisa May Alcott and Willa Cather, but maybe because I’m an American woman I noticed these and not others. I had checked this out expecting to use it to find authors I would like to read, but it was more compelling as a narrative than a catalogue.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Cedricsmom

    This book is so much fun. Written by an academic and published by Yale university Press, Lives is not what I'd expected. It's dishy and gossipy, filled with fun facts that you probably didn't know about your favorite authors. This 818 page door stop dishes on well known authors from the 17th century to the 20th century. Pick this one up at your local library. Entries are typically 4-5 pages long, so you can read them between books or whenever you want a read but don't have a lot of time. I highl This book is so much fun. Written by an academic and published by Yale university Press, Lives is not what I'd expected. It's dishy and gossipy, filled with fun facts that you probably didn't know about your favorite authors. This 818 page door stop dishes on well known authors from the 17th century to the 20th century. Pick this one up at your local library. Entries are typically 4-5 pages long, so you can read them between books or whenever you want a read but don't have a lot of time. I highly recommend it.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Tracy

    Admittedly I haven't read every page of this very long book, but what I have read I absolutely love! Sutherland's brief bios of well-known as well as obscure authors had me downloading their works right and left off of Amazon. Covering four centuries and 294 lives makes for a massive tome and one you would think would be dry and boring, but this is anything but! This is extremely readable and entertaining, and I plan on buying my own copy of this book so I can peruse it at my leisure, and highli Admittedly I haven't read every page of this very long book, but what I have read I absolutely love! Sutherland's brief bios of well-known as well as obscure authors had me downloading their works right and left off of Amazon. Covering four centuries and 294 lives makes for a massive tome and one you would think would be dry and boring, but this is anything but! This is extremely readable and entertaining, and I plan on buying my own copy of this book so I can peruse it at my leisure, and highlight all the titles I must read!

  18. 4 out of 5

    GONZA

    Wonderful, so many witty information about so many authors and some of them are among my favorites. I think I'd buy a printed copy as soon as I find it. This is a book to read and reread all over again! Bellissimo, così tante nuove e particolari informazioni su tanti autori, tra cui alcuni dei miei favoriti. Appena la trovo mi compro anche una copia cartacea che questo è un libro da leggere e rileggere in continuazione! THANKS TO NETGALLEY AND YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS FOR THE PREVIEW Wonderful, so many witty information about so many authors and some of them are among my favorites. I think I'd buy a printed copy as soon as I find it. This is a book to read and reread all over again! Bellissimo, così tante nuove e particolari informazioni su tanti autori, tra cui alcuni dei miei favoriti. Appena la trovo mi compro anche una copia cartacea che questo è un libro da leggere e rileggere in continuazione! THANKS TO NETGALLEY AND YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS FOR THE PREVIEW

  19. 4 out of 5

    Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance

    The title makes this book unapproachable. At 818 pages, its length makes this book unapproachable. Don’t let these things stop you from reading this book. It has to be the most readable book about authors I’ve ever read. You are certain to find some of your favorites. (Caution: Don’t be surprised if you don’t find all your favorites, and if you see lots of authors included that aren’t familiar to you, though.) A worthy read.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Margaret

    This is a lively, gossipy book about writers' lives. Half the fun is the author's witty style. It was probably not meant to be read in one go, the way I did. And other readers' comments are valid: There is a certain capriciousness to the choices, and the contemporary writers seem to be less interesting. But I recommend to anyone who a lover of literature. This is a lively, gossipy book about writers' lives. Half the fun is the author's witty style. It was probably not meant to be read in one go, the way I did. And other readers' comments are valid: There is a certain capriciousness to the choices, and the contemporary writers seem to be less interesting. But I recommend to anyone who a lover of literature.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Avril

    Not enough women; not enough Australians. In fact only two Australians, unless I missed one, Patrick White and Peter Carey. But despite that, I really enjoyed reading this idiosyncratic collection. The only problem is that now I have many, many books I want to read.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    I won this book from Goodreads - THANKS! This is my 'go to' book for learning about the lives of the authors I read. Excellent overview of the most important novelists. John Sutherland has done an excellent job condensing important information. I won this book from Goodreads - THANKS! This is my 'go to' book for learning about the lives of the authors I read. Excellent overview of the most important novelists. John Sutherland has done an excellent job condensing important information.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Alistair

    Brilliant! This is an irresistible cornucopia of literary opinions, assessments, facts and biographical sketches. A wonderful book to dip in and out of held together by the erudite and witty writings of the masterful John Sutherland.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ele #SaveSheikhJarrah

    I'm pretty sure there was more to these authors than there love lives..... (also, the information on Percy Bysshe Shelley seems to have been written more out of spite than of factual historical information - Sutherland obviously did not like him that much.) I'm pretty sure there was more to these authors than there love lives..... (also, the information on Percy Bysshe Shelley seems to have been written more out of spite than of factual historical information - Sutherland obviously did not like him that much.)

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ellen Swan

    Very good reading, but I question some of his choices. No Anne Rice? No Lionel Shriver? No Amy Tan? Needs more women.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jon

    Entertaining enough, if a rather eclectic selection, but there were a lot of stupid mistakes. Like, I'm fairly sure J D Salinger's father didn't actually import kosher ham ... Entertaining enough, if a rather eclectic selection, but there were a lot of stupid mistakes. Like, I'm fairly sure J D Salinger's father didn't actually import kosher ham ...

  27. 4 out of 5

    Newtown Review of Books

    John Sutherland, an academic himself, seems to have set out to annoy his colleagues. Not for him an analysis of the text with the assumption that the author is dead, or nice distinctions between literature and other kinds of fiction. Quite the contrary; Sutherland thinks writers’ lives bear directly on what they write and that writers’ works can be directly influenced and affected by other writers, and that this is worth pointing out and examining. Read full review here: http://newtownreviewofboo John Sutherland, an academic himself, seems to have set out to annoy his colleagues. Not for him an analysis of the text with the assumption that the author is dead, or nice distinctions between literature and other kinds of fiction. Quite the contrary; Sutherland thinks writers’ lives bear directly on what they write and that writers’ works can be directly influenced and affected by other writers, and that this is worth pointing out and examining. Read full review here: http://newtownreviewofbooks.com/2012/...

  28. 5 out of 5

    Cat

    Utter joy!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Bill Kidd

    highly entertaining ang good fun

  30. 5 out of 5

    Dianne Merridith

    I really enjoyed reading these brief biographies of 294 American and British novelists and their major works. Very well written

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