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Lives of the Novelists: A History of Fiction in 294 Lives

really liked it 4.0  ·  Rating details ·  135 Ratings  ·  29 Reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 832 pages
Published March 27th 2012 by Yale University Press (first published March 27th 2007)
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Paul Bryant

I wish I was as famous as little Martin Amis
I would go out for a lark with 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 Th
Jim Fonseca
Oct 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Phillip Kay
Apr 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Aug 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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,
Mar 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Sue Russell
Jun 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: best-of-2012
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.
Aug 30, 2012 rated it did not like it
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 ...more
Aug 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
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.
Feb 19, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jan 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Katey Lovell
Jul 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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, ...more
Joan Colby
Nov 04, 2012 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Aug 01, 2012 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Newtown Review of Books
Feb 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
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
Jan 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Oct 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
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
Aug 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
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!

Vince Vawter
Oct 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
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.
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Jan 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
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.
Feb 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
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.
Nov 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
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.
Dec 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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.
Ellen Swan
May 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very good reading, but I question some of his choices. No Anne Rice? No Lionel Shriver? No Amy Tan? Needs more women.
Utter joy!
Bill Kidd
Jul 10, 2013 rated it liked it
highly entertaining ang good fun
Dianne Merridith
Oct 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed reading these brief biographies of 294 American and British novelists and their major works. Very well written
Malcolm Pellettier
rated it liked it
Sep 19, 2013
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Jun 25, 2012
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John Andrew Sutherland is an English lecturer, emeritus professor, newspaper columnist and author.

Now Emeritus Lord Northcliffe Professor of Modern English Literature at University College London, John Sutherland began his academic career after graduating from the University of Leicester as an assistant lecturer in Edinburgh in 1964. He specialises in Victorian fiction, 20th century literature, an