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Lives of the Novelists: A History of Fiction in 294 Lives Hardcover – 27 Oct 2011

4 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 816 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books (27 Oct. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 184668157X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846681578
  • Product Dimensions: 18.1 x 5.2 x 25.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 56,315 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


The fruit of a truly staggering amount of reading - the culmination of half a century's engagement with fiction... it appeals as a font of erudition, into which one can dip congenially... Lives of the Novelists abounds with fascinating characters, many of them worth reclaiming from obscurity... witty and humane... The most gratifying effect of this peculiar but rather wonderful book is that it makes you want to slink off and ransack a well-stocked library. (Henry Hitchings FT 2011-10-29)

Sutherland is perect for this job - all pith and wit... He has made a tricky job look easy. (Bridget Hourican The Dubliner 2011-10-13)

The funniest book I've read all year... it's a riot... Novelists in Professor Sutherland's hands are, above all, lively company... Sutherland himself is a very distinctive literary critic... His throwaway lines are born of a deep knowledge of his subject, and the best combine a sharp aperçu with picaresque expression. (Michael Prodger Evening Standard 2011-11-10)

Sutherland is good value: provocative, polymathic and well practised in the art of literary criticism. He has made an eclectic, certainly idiosyncratic, selection of nigh on 300 international novelists writing in English over near enough the past 400 years... What matters most in a book such as this is not just the critical judgment, but the critical voice. Sutherland's is conversational and confidential, concise and confident. (Iain Finlayson Times 2011-12-19)

Pithy quotes and witty moments (Jonathan Bate Sunday Telegraph 2011-11-20)

A modern take on a reassuringly ancient format... neatly interweaves stories of the lives of writers with quirky insights into their work... highly readable (Anne McElvoy New Statesman 2011-11-21)

FT Books of the Year: The fruit of decades of reading and research... A witty, and enjoyably wide-ranging book. (Carl Wilkinson FT 2011-11-26)

hugely enjoyable... Sutherland's brief lives display the soul of wit - whose essence is to encompass the unexpected... (he has) magnificent and infectious enthusiasm for the books he reads.

It is enthusiasm, indeed, that informs the book...

The Lives of the Novelists is partly a literary curiosity cabinet, eccentric and beguiling...

For those modern women of today whose preferred drug is fiction, I heartily endorse the prescriptions of Professor Sutherland.

(Caroline Moore Spectator 2011-12-01)

Delightful for dipping and discovery. (Lisa Hilton Independent on Sunday 2011-12-11)

A great work of scholarship that rarely feels like it. It's just for pleasure. (James Medd Word 2011-12-01)

Illuminating and entertaining (Peter Washington Literary Review 2011-12-01)

Enjoyable... It is a pleasure to watch Sutherland at work and to leaf through the pages is to circumnavigate the archives of English literature in the company of its most distinguished librarian; erudite, perspicacious and warm-hearted. (Jonathan Barnes TLS 2011-12-09)

A collection of wise, witty biographical essays... healthily, sanely irreverent (Chris Moss Time Out 2011-12-22)

A bumper treat for fiction fanatics... drawn with incision and wit to make (for) exhilarating reading (Peter Lewis Daily Mail 2011-12-23)

a starting point for many hours of literary discussions. (Daily Beast 2012-04-17)

erudite and entertaining, informative and provoking. (Wall Street Journal 2012-03-26)

A tremendously exhilarating book, John Sutherland's history of fiction in English... is less a work of scholarship than it is a catalogue of pleasures.

Indeed, there's something distinctly gossipy, almost salacious, in Sutherland's fascination with the messy lives of authors... you can read Sutherland for fun as well as for (cultural) profit.

...As if he were its custodian, Sutherland seems to know every room in the House of Fiction, from the dank basement where the chained monsters slaver to the formal drawing rooms of Jane Austen and Henry James...

I really can't underscore enough the range and sprightliness of Lives of the Novelists. ...There's something, in short, for every taste and, implicitly, an invitation to try some new or exotic items from fiction's smorgasbord.

... Sutherland can brilliantly sum up an author's overall aesthetic...

Early in his book, Sutherland suggests, almost casually, that "the air of reality (solidity of specification) seems to be the supreme virtue of a novel." That phrase "solidity of specification" aptly describes the nuggety, factual approach in these essays; there's nothing gaseous about Sutherland's writing. By its heft, Lives of the Novelists might look like an academic tome, but it reads like one of those unputdownable blockbusters you take to the beach.

(Michael Dirda Washington Post 2012-04-12)

Engaging (Booklist)

Sutherland's writing is just plain delightful. (LA Times 2012-04-01)

A big hearted book (Christopher Benfey International Herald Tribune 2012-05-12)

Book Description

This is the most complete history of fiction in English ever published. The world's greatest authority - arguably the only person who could have written it, John Sutherland - provides the lives of some 294 novelists writing in English, from the genre's seventeenth-century origins to the present day.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Picked this up on a whim in Waterstones and have never regretted the price. Written for those who having either passing interest in english fiction or are steeped in the classics of english literature, this tome gives and keeps on giving. It's a bit like Vasari or Suetonius in its conversational style, giving us the odd bit of salacious gossip on those whose words have made us despair as schoolchildren poring over what we thought were interminably boring texts, to the casual garden reader for whom the pleasure of the written imagination is a daily delight.
This is not a cover-to-cover book. It is undeniably the cliched coffee table book, something to dip into during boring adverts or a break in daily household chores. A book to read a single excerpt from before turning into bed; in which every two-four page biography gives us pause for thought.
For example, last night I let the book spill open at any such page it felt - yes, it's a book you can let the whimsy of fate control - to read about William Sharp. Never heard of him before, I thought, until I saw he wrote the "Sin-Eater" in 1895. Wasn't that a film with the late Heath Ledger? Turning from page 209 to 210 I found that indeed, the 2003 film, was based on the book by this author. Never knew that. I like the "Sin-Eater" film (something at which I am at odds with the author on - he describes it as "dire".) but had always thought it was from the mind of a Hollywood script writer.
Apparently not. Fascinating.
Last week I read how the stars of Hemingway and F Scott Fitzgerald waxed and waned in perfect symmetry against a backdrop of alcohol and friendship. It puts some of their novels in perspective.
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Format: Kindle Edition
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.
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Format: Hardcover
I was somewhat apprehensive of spending my hard-earned cash on this book. I need not have worried. The first thing you notice is the shear size of it. But of course it needs to be big adequately to cover 294 authors. The you start searching; who's in and who's not. Some of the choices seem wierd - Patricia Cornwell in a "literary" work. And Booker Prize winners with other memorable work.
But the joy of the thing is to read intelligent short lives of favourite writers and best of all to discover new authors crying out to be read. With each author is a suggested "must read" text and a biographical work which give a good starting place for any writer with whom you are unfamiliar.
I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading novels. And your favourite is probably in there.
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By Brian R. Martin TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 11 Jan. 2012
Format: Hardcover
This substantial volume (more than 800 pages) is a review of 294 novelists writing in the English language, chosen from the vast panorama available from the past almost four hundred years. The range is very wide. Included are authors of romances, dramas, westerns, adventures of many sorts, thrillers, sci-fi, and even a few writers of stories for children. But it is not a straightforward set of biographical entries of the `great and the good'; there are some surprising omissions of the latter. Instead, the choice is a very personal, idiosyncratic, collection of writers the author says have influenced him during a lifetime of reading. Eyebrows will doubtless be raised at the fact that Patricia Cornwall, Amanada Ros (winner of an award for `The World's Worst Novelist'), and Jeffery Archer, to name a few surprises, make an appearance (although the latter may have preferred not to have been included).

There is a large number of Victorian writers, reflecting the author's encyclopaedic knowledge of the literature of that period. Victorian authors were an extraordinary bunch; often intellectually precocious, sometimes illegitimate and from humble backgrounds, frequently soon parentless, either through death or abandonment. Not surprisingly, they commonly had difficult lives as adults, producing many children, or none, and dying tragically young (commonly of TB or drink, a few committing suicide). Even if they themselves did not succumb, they were surrounded by others who did. J.M. Barrie, for example, adopted five young boys after the premature deaths of their parents. One died soon afterwards, one possibly committed suicide and another definitely did.
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