Wherein We Elect Our Favourite Novels of 1939

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Party Going and Good Morning, Midnight are probably the finest two bits of pre-war britisher fic. Voting for either of those, tough choice.

Don't care for the Isherwood or Zweig . Saurrate and O'Brien are not as good as their rep.

Finnegans Wake is the one book I feel will need a lot of investment. It's the only book back at my bookshelf back home which is unread. But certainly one to struggle with.

xyzzzz__, Thursday, 4 February 2021 12:18 (one year ago) link

How on earth am I going to choose from that lot? Hard not to vote Grapes of Wrath but Good Morning, Midnight is glorious (in a thoroughly depressing way). Isherwood is brilliant, Chandler obviously. I found At Swim Two Birds exhausting and bailed.

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Thursday, 4 February 2021 12:20 (one year ago) link

Left out due to slot restrictions: a bootleg Soviet retelling of The Wizard Of Oz. Which by the way in case you were wondering, Frank L. Baum has kept plugging away long after I've stopped putting his stuff in these lists and did indeed have an Oz book out in 1939.

Daniel_Rf, Thursday, 4 February 2021 12:22 (one year ago) link

Instinctively want to vote for Steinbeck but At-Swim-Two-Birds calls to me.

The Enchanted Wood! God, I used to read so much Blyton as a child, as did most of the girls I knew (I think it was because the Dunnes near us always sold the books pretty cheaply, and the library had lots of them too). Obviously even when I was reading them they’d aged fucking terribly but I always adored The Faraway Tree books. Always remember the strangest things about those books, like Silky’s pop cakes (not a euphemism*) & Connie asking for a muffin filled with caraway seeds when she had the option to wish for anything in the lands at the top of the tree.

*Silky was pleased. She sat there brushing her beautiful golden hair and ate sandwiches with them. She brought out a tin of Pop Cakes, which were lovely. As soon as you bit into them they went pop! and you suddenly found your mouth filled with new honey from the middle of the little cakes. Fanny took seven, one after another, for she was rather greedy.

That’s a classic Blyton bit at the end there too; describe a delicious sounding food and then describe a character as greedy for wanting to eat it! Not the first time I’ve pitied her daughters.

scampless, rattled and puce (gyac), Thursday, 4 February 2021 13:00 (one year ago) link

It says favourite so I voted for the Wake

Strong field tho

Scampi reggae party (Noodle Vague), Thursday, 4 February 2021 13:17 (one year ago) link

Oh gyac otm the Faraway Tree books the only Blyton I was ever super fond of and still am

Scampi reggae party (Noodle Vague), Thursday, 4 February 2021 13:19 (one year ago) link

It's gotta be the Wake, there is nothing else quite like it. Otherwise, Tropismes.

pomenitul, Thursday, 4 February 2021 13:22 (one year ago) link

highest compliment possible to Jean Rhys that I paused for a few seconds before voting ASTB

need to read Party Going; extracts I've seen are amazing and I really do like other Green I've read

wonder if someone did a surreptitious edit of ASTB to tone down the weirdly racist bit 50 pages in whether it'd claim its rightful rep as the funniest most glorious shit in existence

imago, Thursday, 4 February 2021 13:24 (one year ago) link

(yeah I know the racism is a 'bit' parodying american culture or w/e but it still jarred this modern reader...but not enough to stop him reading, thankfully)

imago, Thursday, 4 February 2021 13:25 (one year ago) link

xps to NV oh same, I would never consider rereading any of her other work

Joe, Beth and Fannie have Connie over to stay because her mother is ill. Connie is stuck up, bossy and does not believe in magic. She says that Dick (now updated to Rick) told her all about his stay in the country. The children are overwhelmed because it does not seem like Dick to tell stories. She calls the Enchanted Wood silly, the Faraway Tree ridiculous, Moon-Face, Dame Washalot and Mr Watizisname stupid, Saucepan Man mad and says that magic is made up and old fashioned. The three children get cross with her for calling their friends rude names and old fashioned.

Caraway seeds though, seriously.

scampless, rattled and puce (gyac), Thursday, 4 February 2021 13:36 (one year ago) link

Yowza, what a year. O'Brien! Joyce! Chandler! Fante! Mann! Steinbeck! Sarraute!

Jesus, yeah. Not only have I read a whole lot from this year, I fucking love a whole lot from this year. Tempted to sack off Joyce to vote Sarraute but come on, naw, I can't.

emil.y, Thursday, 4 February 2021 15:23 (one year ago) link

Also of note: Gadsby by Ernest Vincent Wright. I believe this is the precursor to A Void, in that it is a lipogram with no 'e' - I still need to track down a copy of this.

emil.y, Thursday, 4 February 2021 15:26 (one year ago) link

It's gotta be the Wake, there is nothing else quite like it. Otherwise, Tropismes.

― pomenitul

I missed pom saying basically the same thing I said. pom otm.

emil.y, Thursday, 4 February 2021 15:28 (one year ago) link

5 in this one I think.
Isherwood, O'brien , Miller,Chandler, Steinbeck possibly the Ambler too but may just be thinking of Light of Day.

a few I've been meaning to too

I think i'll go O'Brien cos he's so great and all.

Stevolende, Thursday, 4 February 2021 15:35 (one year ago) link

ASTB doesn't really do it for me but I love The Third Policeman, will that make it into the next poll? Was written around then but rejected and only published posthumously in 1967.

ledge, Thursday, 4 February 2021 15:41 (one year ago) link

Such a stacked year!

Have fond memories of reading Grapes of Wrath one lonely summer when I was briefly transferred to another bookstore and crying in the damp break room most lunchtimes. Steinbeck has such a vividly transportive way...my memories of the places he describes burn almost as brightly as if I'd lived them myself.

I have not read Finnegan's Wake, so I can't comment. Good Morning, Midnight is an all-time favourite though! Such awkward horror. The opening of the novel is one of the most painfully, astutely observed things I've ever read. Hilarious and devastating.

tangent x (tangenttangent), Thursday, 4 February 2021 15:47 (one year ago) link


koogs, Thursday, 4 February 2021 16:13 (one year ago) link

this will be a tough one

old-timers may remember Faulkner's If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem as The Wild Palms (the title imposed on the first edition by Random House)

Brad C., Thursday, 4 February 2021 17:22 (one year ago) link

Oh, that's the book that includes the novella "Old Man," then! My copy is The Wild Palms, so I didn't know. I may have to vote for that. I love "Old Man."

I am not a psychic community (Lily Dale), Thursday, 4 February 2021 17:33 (one year ago) link

Yeah, it gets pretty psychedelic, but in this extreme lifeboat triage, even among the few I've read: Grapes by a nose (past Day of the Locust, the insularity of which seems a tad cerebral view of L.A., while Grapes drives its family & co-workers and tormentors all over the Golden State. Fave bits in Day: the glimpses of furtive cowboy movie subculture, the only ones I've gotten 'til remarkable scenes from unfinished novel incl. in Splendor In The Short Grass: The Grover Lewis Reader.

dow, Thursday, 4 February 2021 17:54 (one year ago) link

Need to mull this over for a bit.

Yes. This one's difficult. The top contenders don't overlap in terms of their ambitions and each is a major work within its own sphere.

Compromise isn't a principle, it's a method (Aimless), Thursday, 4 February 2021 18:28 (one year ago) link

at swim-two-birds.

can pretend ive ever read a 1/10th of finnegans wake

Dusty Benelux (jim in vancouver), Thursday, 4 February 2021 18:39 (one year ago) link

It redefined the act of reading in some ways and nearly rendered 'front to back' moot, so that's not a reason not to vote for it imo (preferring O'Brien, however, totally is).

pomenitul, Thursday, 4 February 2021 18:42 (one year ago) link

hm might have to side with Jimminy Catbin here but yes as Aimless says these are difficult books to put against each other

rob, Thursday, 4 February 2021 18:44 (one year ago) link

At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O' Brien -- great book, but saving my vote for The Third Policeman which is even better

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler -- nobody needs to have me tell them how good this is, pt 1

Ask The Dust by John Fante -- another of my beloved failing writers in Hollywood classics

The Day Of The Locust by Nathanael West -- brilliant dark comedy nastiness

The Grapes Of Wrath by John Steinbeck -- nobody needs to have me tell them how good this is, pt 2

Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo -- nobody needs to have me tell them how good this is, pt 3

Lest Darkness Fall by L. Sprague De Camp -- read this about 2 weeks ago, it's fun time travel nonsense, frictionlessly moving through its plot

Pal Joey by John O' Hara -- I have a weakness for O'Hara, and his novellas are especially good

Tropic Of Capricorn by Henry Miller -- daft bugger

Happy Valley by Patrick White -- for Australians, this long-suppressed novel is like an A Country Practice storyline written by a genius

Coming Up For Air by George Orwell -- lesser Orwell, still very good

The Confidential Agent by Graham Greene -- another excellent Greene entertainment

Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys -- nobody needs to have me tell them how good this is, pt 4

Goodbye To Berlin by Christopher Isherwood -- nobody needs to have me tell them how good this is, pt 5

The Mask Of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler -- one of the best Amblers, probably

Party Going by Henry Green -- absolute gem

What's Become Of Waring by Anthony Powell -- entertaining social comedy

Coup de Grâce by Marguerite Yourcenar -- this is great, and ridiculously it's out of print

Beware Of Pity by Stefan Zweig -- his only full-length novel, I am a Zweig tragic, Michael Hofmann would not approve

Across The Black Waters by Mulk Raj Anand -- Indian soldiers in WW1; fascinating novel if stylistically undistinguished

Tsar Bombadil (James Morrison), Friday, 5 February 2021 02:30 (one year ago) link

Grapes of Wrath, but Day of the Locust is a great, nasty, bracing read.

horseshoe, Friday, 5 February 2021 11:00 (one year ago) link

Ulysses > Finnegans Wake

I should vote for Grapes of Wrath for its own merits and its extra-literary significance and because it reminds me of stories told by my father and uncles about doing migrant farm labor during the Depression, but it's not really my favorite here.

Jerusalem, If I Forget Thee has some scenes and passages that I've remembered for decades. The parallel storylines shouldn't work but somehow combine to give it the widest emotional range of any Faulkner novel.

The Ambler and Chandler novels are really fun. Anyone who hasn't read The Big Sleep should treat themselves, it's better than the Bogart/Bacall movie.

Agatha Christie doesn't get enough love. She's a powerhouse like Stephen King; the overabundance of books and some obvious weaknesses tend to conceal the merits of her best work. And Then There Were None is one of the trickiest of her mysteries, but to me it's best read as horror -- the ur-text for slasher movies and every other story in which an isolated ensemble is killed off one by one.

Brad C., Friday, 5 February 2021 16:57 (one year ago) link

That's a really great take on ATTWN Brad!

Daniel_Rf, Friday, 5 February 2021 17:02 (one year ago) link

Yes! Never occurred to me, but of course it is!

Really, I think what makes Christie so consistently readable, despite the thin characters and the mechanical plots, is that all her books have one foot in horror - not in the sense of meeting the genre conventions the way ATTWN does, but in the sense of atmosphere. Even when she's got Hercule Poirot investigating a death at a country house, or something equally gimmicky and by-the-numbers, the books are still suffused with this intense underlying feeling of horror that murder exists and that human actually do this to each other.

I am not a psychic community (Lily Dale), Friday, 5 February 2021 17:42 (one year ago) link

human beings, I meant to say

I am not a psychic community (Lily Dale), Friday, 5 February 2021 17:43 (one year ago) link

Embarrassed to say I've only read "Day of the Locust", which is as great as everyone is saying it is.

o. nate, Friday, 5 February 2021 18:37 (one year ago) link

1939 saw publication of quite a few great books. It was a rich year for movies, too. Probably pure coincidence.

Compromise isn't a principle, it's a method (Aimless), Saturday, 6 February 2021 04:21 (one year ago) link

Automatic thread bump. This poll is closing tomorrow.

System, Sunday, 7 February 2021 00:01 (one year ago) link

I read The Big Sleep to try to figure out why the movie is so confusing. The answer: The book covers two cases, one for each sister, Carmen and Vivian, and they don't intersect until late on. In the movie, Carmen's case got censored (it involved pornography) and cut down, leaving a lot of loose threads and a lack of structure. Also, Chandler fucked up regarding the death of the family's driver, heavily implying that it was murder in one chapter then never explaining who did it.

wasdnuos (abanana), Sunday, 7 February 2021 00:31 (one year ago) link

Which I think he realised working on the script.

Tsar Bombadil (James Morrison), Sunday, 7 February 2021 11:43 (one year ago) link

If you want a more faithful adaptation you can always look at Michael Winner's horrible 70's version with the action relocated to London. But I wouldn't recommend you do so.

Daniel_Rf, Sunday, 7 February 2021 13:30 (one year ago) link

Automatic thread bump. This poll's results are now in.

System, Monday, 8 February 2021 00:01 (one year ago) link

Ha! Did not expect Joyce to be beaten. In fairness this was a hellish year to poll.

A Scampo Darkly (Le Bateau Ivre), Monday, 8 February 2021 00:10 (one year ago) link

Aw, no votes for Ask the Dust. I do love that book, but to be honest it never stood a chance in this company.

emil.y, Monday, 8 February 2021 00:27 (one year ago) link

Yeah but agreed, it's still pretty sad it didn't get a single vote! I voted Sarraute, having thrown Fante a vote two years earlier, knowing he'd be up against some giants this year. But no mistake, Ask the dust is phenomenal.

A Scampo Darkly (Le Bateau Ivre), Monday, 8 February 2021 00:29 (one year ago) link

Did not expect Joyce to be beaten.

The poll is for Favorite Novel, not Most Critically Admired and Academically Blessed. We are but human.

Apocryphal Anecdote Warning:

James Joyce was attending a party some time after Finnegans Wake had been published and a woman who had approached him, in reference to its famous multi-linguistic puns and structural impishness, asked him, "But Mr. Joyce, you don't expect us poor readers to spend the rest of our lives disentangling all these knots, do you?"

To which Joyce replied, "Yes. I most certainly do"

Compromise isn't a principle, it's a method (Aimless), Monday, 8 February 2021 02:17 (one year ago) link

Wherein We Elect Our Favourite Novels of 1940

Daniel_Rf, Monday, 8 February 2021 13:40 (one year ago) link

Thought the Joyce anecdote would be about a handshake request.

The Ballad of Mel Cooley (James Redd and the Blecchs), Monday, 8 February 2021 16:11 (one year ago) link

Remembering an all-time great from Kate Beaton:


Daniel_Rf, Monday, 8 February 2021 16:17 (one year ago) link

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