Learn more Download now Shop now Learn more Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Learn More Shop now Shop now Learn more Shop Fire Shop Kindle New Album - Noel Gallagher Learn more Shop Women's Shop Men's

Customer reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
4.0 out of 5 stars
Lives of the Novelists: A History of Fiction in 294 Lives
Format: Paperback|Change
Price:£20.00+ Free shipping with Amazon Prime

on 22 August 2013
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.
0Comment| 5 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 2 March 2012
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.
I have learned some people came to authorship through fate, that my views on some need perspective - I never knew Baum (he of Oz fame) was so anti-Sioux. It changes ones view and reinforces that whilst our heroes and heroines can be tragically flawed, so are those who create them.
This is a book that ranges from the seventeeth century to the modern day. Seeing Robert Jordan, Julian Barnes, and Margaret Atwood brings the book even more relevancy as these are authors who are continuing to thrill us even today. It is written in a style that is lucid, thought-provoking, opinionated, amusing and serious in equal measure. Yet, most of all, this work by John Sutherland - for all its depth that shows how this Professor is at the every top of his subject matter - makes me want to go and read a lot of novels I'd never even heard of.
0Comment| 9 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 21 February 2012
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.
0Comment| 4 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 11 January 2012
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. Madness, and even the proverbial `lunatic wife (rarely a husband) locked away in an asylum', features not only in their novels, but also in not a few of their real lives. The lives of more recent authors are often just as unstable. Early days drifting aimlessly from one low-level job to another, multiple marriages (frequently unconventional), and alcoholism leading to premature death (at least TB had been conquered) all figure prominently. Many authors in this collection were huge best sellers in their day, some earning considerable fortunes and living extravagantly in grand style, but now are forgotten and unread; salutary reminders of the fickleness of public taste and the transitory nature of fame.

The entries vary in length from barely a page to several. They are all peppered with anecdotes, personal views and pithy observations, told with a splendid dry humor. It is an immensely enjoyable read and has given me quite a few additions to my `must read' list.
0Comment| 11 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 20 January 2014
I endorse every word of praise for the book. The author is informative, sensible(with the odd quirk), witty and, above all, readable -- I would have read the book at a sitting had not sleep and family interrupted me.

The second level of enjoyment comes from "Who's in? Who's out?"
I found myself surprisingly sympathetic to most of his preferences, e.g. Elizabeth Bowen over Elizabeth Taylor, John Buchan over Dornford Yates, Arnold Bennett over John Galsworthy, Margery Allingham over Dorothy Sayers (the last especially welcome, as critical trends have been going the other way.)

I wonder, though, if the Angel of Homophobia hasn't brushed his or her wing against some of Professor Sutherland's cheeks. Among the omitted are such sympathisers with (male) homoeroticism as: E.F. Benson, William Burroughs, Ronald Firbank, Alan Hollinghurst, Armistead Maupin, Simon Raven, Forrest Reid, Mary Renault, Frederick Rolfe, Gore Vidal and Edmund White. Many worse authors than these are included.

And finally, one could argue that the best plots, characters, language and wit come from another omitted novelist: Jeeves could tell you whom.
0Comment| 2 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 28 December 2011
I bought this book as a present and had to parcel it off before reading it thoroughly. However I found it to be not only informative but a very entertaining, original and funny read. I have ordered another copy for myself and will give a fuller review when time allows. (I am responding to the fact that the only other reviewer on Amazon offered it only one star.) I think anyone who is interested in literature and enjoys reading would enjoy this book.
0Comment| 10 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 23 April 2014
Being a pensioner and realizing I have no longer got the stamina - or interest - for intensive and extensive studying as I once had, this collection of short essays about the lives and fiction of prominent authors feels just right for a con amore-reader like me. For the highbrow who wants to delve deeper into the matter these collection of essays may have their limitations, but for people like me who want to be both enlightened and entertained this book is there to be read spontaneously whenever I feel for it, the number of novelists depending on time and circumstances. Thus I have a splendid time in the company of creative people who all in their own way made their contribution to our cultural heritage - and made our lives richer - all conveyed in a witty and personal way by John Sutherland.
0Comment| 2 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 29 August 2016
This delivers very much what it promises - thumbnail sketches of 294 novelists and outlines of their works with some critical reflections. Sutherland casts his net wide. He includes among many other lesser lights of fiction the likes of Zane Grey, Jeffery Farnol and Georgette Heyer as well a ranges of SF and crime novelists.

I suspect that this would prove quite an interesting and useful work of reference - it's certainly a unique book. I have dipped into it extensively but have probably read rather less than one-third of the entries. I have enjoyed that reading, but I suspect there is little from it that will linger in my mind.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 30 December 2012
These mini-biographies are useful enough if you want a brief resumé of one of its 294 chosen English-language novelists, but of limited value if you already know even a small amount about the author in question. I've docked it one star because of its misleading sub-title - "A History of Fiction in 294 Lives" - when in fact it only covers English-language fiction (indeed, even the front flap is misleading, saying "fiction in English", when it should at least have said "fiction written in English"). So of course I didn't find the first author I looked for at random, which happened to be Gabriel García Márquez. Now, I'm a great Science Fiction fan, but I'd rather have found Gabo than Isaac Asimov, who - delightful as he was - doesn't really fit in a book of this kind. And I've docked a further star for the choice of authors: inevitably this is an unwinnable cause for any such author, but if you ARE going to include some SF authors, then surely you can't ignore Philip K. Dick? Similarly, the choice of crime authors omits Ruth Rendell. If you think I'm being unfair to dock a star for what is after all a personal choice, then I'll dock a second star instead for the irritating Contents List, which lists the 294 authors in the chronological order in which they appear in the book, so to find if your chosen author is included you have to search through the Contents or wade awkwardly through the index at the back of a very heavy book.

All in all, while fairly useful, it's a bit disappointing - neither quite an encyclopaedia nor discursive account of the writers the author has found most interesting.
0Comment| 6 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 25 June 2015
The book arrived within a few days as promised and was in excellent condition. I am still reading the book on kindle, the bound book is too heavy to handle with comfort but is handy for reference. It includes information on a lot of authors I haven't heard of but misses out a lot of the more commonly read authors. Perhaps they are not writing "literature".
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse