Like the 20th Century Never Happened

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I think I saw the quote for the thread title from the introduction to Life & Fate but I can't find it after a quick scan. Basically the idea is a great novel that by-passed the technical 'advances' achieved during modernism and after. Great reads that wouldn't be too out of step from a 19th century novel yet are inescapably set in the 20th/21st. Because of WWII. Or Marxism-Leninism. Or Nazis. And it looks like it could've been serialised and/or its about 500 pages. More like 800 pages onwards but I wanted to include the Tanizaki.

The options were all I could come up with lol. The page limit really limits 19th century novel to things like "what's as good as Middlemarch, Moby-Dick or Karamazov" when of course that's not all the 19th century is known for but I think the accomplished fat novel is a thing that really came into its own from the 1850s and that a few people achieved quickly in the West.

Poll Results

OptionVotes
Halldor Laxness - Indepedent People (1934-35) 2
Junichiro Tanizaki - Makioka Sisters (1943-48) 2
Vasily Grossman - Life & Fate (1960) 1
Christina Stead - The Man Who Loved Children (1940) 1
Elena Ferrante - Neapolitan Novels (2011-14) 1
Uwe Johnson - Anniversaries (1970-83) 0


xyzzzz__, Thursday, 10 November 2022 15:22 (three weeks ago) link

When I talked about this in the pub with an ILB-er Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time came up as another option and while its probably not based on Proust it might be that he wanted to use that as a model. Anyway, it would require me to read it to check. There was one other (Joseph Heller 'Something Happened') but I just want to post this. I'm a poster.

xyzzzz__, Thursday, 10 November 2022 15:28 (three weeks ago) link

Unnamed ILB-er OTM in re: Powell.

As usual I would add Heimito von Doderer's "The Demons" and Federico di Roberto's "The Viceroys" to a list like this amnd one day I expect to also add Andrea Giovene's "Sansevero" but I haven't read it yet.

Unforgivable omissions aside, "Independent People".

Tim, Thursday, 10 November 2022 16:10 (three weeks ago) link

Stead wrote one of my favorite novels; she gets away with inhabiting those kids and figuring out why parents find each other and the kids infuriating.

I like the Tanizaki.

I read the Grossman in grad school 25 years ago and remember nothing except our professor had to order the novel from a small press (way before NYRB edition obv).

Malevolent Arugula (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Thursday, 10 November 2022 16:19 (three weeks ago) link

"what's as good as Middlemarch, Moby-Dick or Karamazov"

Not relevant to the topic, but this is funny to me - these are the exact three books that I really want to reread before the year is out (I'm starting with the Karamazovs.)

jmm, Thursday, 10 November 2022 16:20 (three weeks ago) link

I was thinking of Lampedusa's The Leopard as one that could pass for a classic 19th century novel, published in the late 1950s... though it isn't set in the 20th century.

jmm, Thursday, 10 November 2022 17:06 (three weeks ago) link

Oh yes definitely, I didn't include because it's only 200 pages.

xyzzzz__, Friday, 11 November 2022 10:00 (three weeks ago) link

Not relevant to the topic, but this is funny to me - these are the exact three books that I really want to reread before the year is out (I'm starting with the Karamazovs.)

― jmm, Thursday, 10 November 2022 bookmarkflaglink

Nice. I've read them for the first time in the last couple of years or so. The canon is good. With the books in my list I feel there is a similar level of immersion and a feeling of accomplishment.

xyzzzz__, Friday, 11 November 2022 10:02 (three weeks ago) link

Looking again at the list and one thing I only noticed now is how all of these items have a family at its centre, except the Ferrante which has this friendship instead.

Also the presence of strong women too.

xyzzzz__, Friday, 11 November 2022 10:08 (three weeks ago) link

Intrigued by the Stead which I’ve never heard of. Might pick that up.

Chuck_Tatum, Friday, 11 November 2022 10:42 (three weeks ago) link

Miklós Bánffy's Transylvanian Trilogy fits in nicely here I think: three volumes, each about 600 pages, family saga and the dying days of the Austro Hungarian empire feel very 19th century politicswise.

I'm not sure about the Ferrante! I feel like there's an emphasis on subjectivity, perhaps even unreliable narrators, that makes it v 20th century to me, but I'm having trouble articulating it.

Daniel_Rf, Friday, 11 November 2022 10:51 (three weeks ago) link

I've not read The Man Who Loved Children, but the Steads I have read definitely incorporated (or acknowledged) certain 'modernist techniques'. For example, the treatment of dialogue and interior consciousness in Cotter's England.

Ward Fowler, Friday, 11 November 2022 10:56 (three weeks ago) link

Feel like Donna Tartt was definitely reaching for this with The Little Friend and The Goldfinch. And if you will permit more speculative genres, Kim Stanley Robinson's Red/Green/Blue Mars trilogy - aside from the fact that it's about terraforming Mars it absolutely reads like a 19th century doorstopper, with large scale events viewed mostly through the lens of a small group of characters.

Of the ones in the poll I've only read Stead and Ferrante, I appreciated more than enjoyed Stead.

ledge, Friday, 11 November 2022 12:08 (three weeks ago) link

Automatic thread bump. This poll is closing tomorrow.

System, Wednesday, 16 November 2022 00:01 (three weeks ago) link

I've read only the Ferrante and the Laxness and neither feels 19th century to me at all.

Guayaquil (eephus!), Wednesday, 16 November 2022 00:56 (three weeks ago) link

Voted Tanizaki.

I've read all of these bar Anniversaries, where I've only finished the first (of four) books. Intend to get on with this shortly.

I have also felt that, while all of these books are wonderful that a bit of fatigue set in all of them bar Ferrante (which as Daniel said does indeed feel different). I needed a bit of something else that you find when reading more modernistic literature.

xyzzzz__, Wednesday, 16 November 2022 10:51 (three weeks ago) link

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

System, Thursday, 17 November 2022 00:01 (two weeks ago) link


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