Don Quixote Miguel De Cervantes
The story of the gentle knight and his servant Sancho Panza has entranced readers for centuries.
Pilgrim’s Progress John Bunyan
The one with the Slough of Despond and Vanity Fair.
Robinson Crusoe Daniel Defoe
The first English novel.
Gulliver’s Travels Jonathan Swift
A wonderful satire that still works for all ages, despite the savagery of Swift’s vision.
Tom Jones Henry Fielding
The adventures of a high-spirited orphan boy: an unbeatable plot and a lot of sex ending in a blissful marriage.
Clarissa Samuel Richardson
One of the longest novels in the English language, but unputdownable.
Tristram Shandy Laurence Sterne
One of the first bestsellers, dismissed by Dr Johnson as too fashionable for its own good.
Dangerous Liaisons Pierre Choderlos De Laclos
An epistolary novel and a handbook for seducers: foppish, French, and ferocious.
Emma Jane Austen
Near impossible choice between this and Pride and Prejudice. But Emma never fails to fascinate and annoy.
Frankenstein Mary Shelley
Inspired by spending too much time with Shelley and Byron.
Nightmare Abbey Thomas Love Peacock
A classic miniature: a brilliant satire on the Romantic novel.
The Black Sheep Honore De Balzac
Two rivals fight for the love of a femme fatale. Wrongly overlooked.
The Charterhouse of Parma Stendhal
Penetrating and compelling chronicle of life in an Italian court in post-Napoleonic France.
The Count of Monte Christo Alexandre Dumas
A revenge thriller also set in France after Bonaparte: a masterpiece of adventure writing.
Sybil Benjamin Disraeli
Apart from Churchill, no other British political figure shows literary genius.
David Copperfield Charles Dickens
This highly autobiographical novel is the one its author liked best.
Wuthering Heights Emily Bronte
Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff have passed into the language. Impossible to ignore.
Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte
Obsessive emotional grip and haunting narrative.
Vanity Fair William Makepeace Thackeray
The improving tale of Becky Sharp.
The Scarlet Letter Nathaniel Hawthorne
A classic investigation of the American mind.
Moby-Dick Herman Melville
‘Call me Ishmael’ is one of the most famous opening sentences of any novel.
Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert
You could summarise this as a story of adultery in provincial France, and miss the point entirely.
The Woman in White Wilkie Collins
Gripping mystery novel of concealed identity, abduction, fraud and mental cruelty.
Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland Lewis Carroll
A story written for the nine-year-old daughter of an Oxford don that still baffles most kids.
Little Women Louisa M. Alcott
Victorian bestseller about a New England family of girls.
The Way We Live Now Anthony Trollope
A majestic assault on the corruption of late Victorian England.
Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy
The supreme novel of the married woman’s passion for a younger man.
Daniel Deronda George Eliot
A passion and an exotic grandeur that is strange and unsettling.
The Brothers Karamazov Fyodor Dostoevsky
Mystical tragedy by the author of Crime and Punishment.
The Portrait of a Lady Henry James
The story of Isabel Archer shows James at his witty and polished best.
Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain
Twain was a humorist, but this picture of Mississippi life is profoundly moral and still incredibly influential.
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Robert Louis Stevenson
A brilliantly suggestive, resonant study of human duality by a natural storyteller.
Three Men in a Boat Jerome K. Jerome
One of the funniest English books ever written.
The Picture of Dorian Gray Oscar Wilde
A coded and epigrammatic melodrama inspired by his own tortured homosexuality.
The Diary of a Nobody George Grossmith
This classic of Victorian suburbia will always be renowned for the character of Mr Pooter.
Jude the Obscure Thomas Hardy
Its savage bleakness makes it one of the first twentieth-century novels.
The Riddle of the Sands Erskine Childers
A prewar invasion-scare spy thriller by a writer later shot for his part in the Irish republican rising.
The Call of the Wild Jack London
The story of a dog who joins a pack of wolves after his master’s death.
Nostromo Joseph Conrad
Conrad’s masterpiece: a tale of money, love and revolutionary politics.
The Wind in the Willows Kenneth Grahame
This children’s classic was inspired by bedtime stories for Grahame’s son.
In Search of Lost Time Marcel Proust
An unforgettable portrait of Paris in the belle epoque. Probably the longest novel on this list.
The Rainbow D. H. Lawrence
Novels seized by the police, like this one, have a special afterlife.
The Good Soldier Ford Madox Ford
This account of the adulterous lives of two Edwardian couples is a classic of unreliable narration.
The Thirty-Nine Steps John Buchan
A classic adventure story for boys, jammed with action, violence and suspense.
Ulysses James Joyce
Also pursued by the British police, this is a novel more discussed than read.
Mrs Dalloway Virginia Woolf
Secures Woolf’s position as one of the great twentieth-century English novelists.
A Passage to India E. M. Forster
The great novel of the British Raj, it remains a brilliant study of empire.
The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald
The quintessential Jazz Age novel.
The Trial Franz Kafka
The enigmatic story of Joseph K.
Men Without Women Ernest Hemingway
He is remembered for his novels, but it was the short stories that first attracted notice.
Journey to the End of the Night Louis-Ferdinand Celine
The experiences of an unattractive slum doctor during the Great War: a masterpiece of linguistic innovation.
As I Lay Dying William Faulkner
A strange black comedy by an American master.
Brave New World Aldous Huxley
Dystopian fantasy about the world of the seventh century AF (after Ford).
Scoop Evelyn Waugh
The supreme Fleet Street novel.
USA John Dos Passos
An extraordinary trilogy that uses a variety of narrative devices to express the story of America.
The Big Sleep Raymond Chandler
Introducing Philip Marlowe: cool, sharp, handsome – and bitterly alone.
The Pursuit Of Love Nancy Mitford
An exquisite comedy of manners with countless fans.
The Plague Albert Camus
A mysterious plague sweeps through the Algerian town of Oran.
Nineteen Eighty-Four George Orwell
This tale of one man’s struggle against totalitarianism has been appropriated the world over.
Malone Dies Samuel Beckett
Part of a trilogy of astonishing monologues in the black comic voice of the author of Waiting for Godot.
Catcher in the Rye J.D. Salinger
A week in the life of Holden Caulfield. A cult novel that still mesmerises.
Wise Blood Flannery O’Connor
A disturbing novel of religious extremism set in the Deep South.
Charlotte’s Web E. B. White
How Wilbur the pig was saved by the literary genius of a friendly spider.
The Lord Of The Rings J. R. R. Tolkien
Lucky Jim Kingsley Amis
An astonishing debut: the painfully funny English novel of the Fifties.
Lord of the Flies William Golding
Schoolboys become savages: a bleak vision of human nature.
The Quiet American Graham Greene
Prophetic novel set in 1950s Vietnam.
On the Road Jack Kerouac
The Beat Generation bible.
Lolita Vladimir Nabokov
Humbert Humber’s obsession with Lolita is a tour de force of style and narrative.
The Tin Drum Gunter Grass
Hugely influential, Rabelaisian novel of Hitler’s Germany.
Things Fall Apart Chinua Achebe
Nigeria at the beginning of colonialism. A classic of African literature.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie Muriel Spark
A writer who made her debut in The Observer; and her prose is like cut glass.
To Kill A Mockingbird Harper Lee
Scout, a six-year-old girl, narrates an enthralling story of racial prejudice in the Deep South.
Catch-22 Joseph Heller
He would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to.’
Herzog Saul Bellow
Adultery and nervous breakdown in Chicago.
One Hundred Years of Solitude Gabriel Garcia Marquez
A postmodern masterpiece.
Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont Elizabeth Taylor
A haunting, understated study of old age.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy John Le Carre
A thrilling elegy for post-imperial Britain.
Song of Solomon Toni Morrison
The definitive novelist of the African-American experience.
The Bottle Factory Outing Beryl Bainbridge
Macabre comedy of provincial life.
The Executioner’s Song Norman Mailer
This quasi-documentary account of the life and death of Gary Gilmore is possibly his masterpiece.
If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller Italo Calvino
A strange, compelling story about the pleasures of reading.
A Bend in the River V. S. Naipaul
The finest living writer of English prose. This is his masterpiece: edgily reminiscent of Heart of Darkness.
Waiting for the Barbarians J.M. Coetzee
Bleak but haunting allegory of apartheid by the Nobel prizewinner.
Housekeeping Marilynne Robinson
Haunting, poetic story, drowned in water and light, about three generations of women.
Lanark Alasdair Gray
Seething vision of Glasgow. A Scottish classic.
The New York Trilogy Paul Auster
Dazzling metaphysical thriller set in the Manhattan of the 1970s.
The BFG Roald Dahl
A bestseller by the most popular postwar writer for children of all ages.
The Periodic Table Primo Levi
A prose poem about the delights of chemistry.
Money Martin Amis
The novel that bags Amis’s place on any list.
An Artist of the Floating World Kazuo Ishiguro
A collaborator from prewar Japan reluctantly discloses his betrayal of friends and family.
Oscar And Lucinda Peter Carey
A great contemporary love story set in nineteenth-century Australia by double Booker prizewinner.
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting Milan Kundera
Inspired by the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, this is a magical fusion of history, autobiography and ideas.
Haroun and the Sea of Stories Salman Rushdie
In this entrancing story Rushdie plays with the idea of narrative itself.
La Confidential James Ellroy
Three LAPD detectives are brought face to face with the secrets of their corrupt and violent careers.
Wise Children Angela Carter
A theatrical extravaganza by a brilliant exponent of magic realism.
Atonement Ian McEwan
Acclaimed short-story writer achieves a contemporary classic of mesmerising narrative conviction.
Northern Lights Philip Pullman
Lyra’s quest weaves fantasy, horror and the play of ideas into a truly great contemporary children’s book.
American Pastoral Philip Roth
For years, Roth was famous for Portnoy’s Complaint . Recently, he has enjoyed an extraordinary revival.
Austerlitz W. G. Sebald
Posthumously published volume in a sequence of dream-like fictions spun from memory, photographs and the German past.
Acknowledgements: The Guardian; Robert McCrum