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Lives of the Novelists


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John Sutherland is Emeritus Lord Northcliffe Professor of English Literature at University College London. Twice on the Booker committee, in 2005 as chairman, he is a regular columnist and critic on radio and television. His books include How to Read a Novel (Profile), a bestselling trilogy on literary mysteries, and the moving memoir Last Drink to LA.

Promotional Information

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.

About the Author

John Sutherland is Emeritus Lord Northcliffe Professor of English Literature at University College London. Twice on the Booker committee, in 2005 as chairman, he is a regular columnist and critic on radio and television. His books include How to Read a Novel, a bestselling trilogy on literary mysteries, and the moving memoir Last Drink to LA.


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 *
Sutherland is perect for this job - all pith and wit... He has made a tricky job look easy. -- Bridget Hourican * The Dubliner *
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 apercu with picaresque expression. -- Michael Prodger * Evening Standard *
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 *
Pithy quotes and witty moments -- Jonathan Bate * Sunday Telegraph *
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 *
FT Books of the Year: The fruit of decades of reading and research... A witty, and enjoyably wide-ranging book. -- Carl Wilkinson * FT *
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 *
Delightful for dipping and discovery. -- Lisa Hilton * Independent on Sunday *
A great work of scholarship that rarely feels like it. It's just for pleasure. -- James Medd * Word *
Illuminating and entertaining -- Peter Washington * Literary Review *
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 *
A collection of wise, witty biographical essays... healthily, sanely irreverent -- Chris Moss * Time Out *
A bumper treat for fiction fanatics... drawn with incision and wit to make (for) exhilarating reading -- Peter Lewis * Daily Mail *
a starting point for many hours of literary discussions. * Daily Beast *
erudite and entertaining, informative and provoking. * Wall Street Journal *
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 *
Engaging * Booklist *
Sutherland's writing is just plain delightful. * LA Times *
A big hearted book -- Christopher Benfey * International Herald Tribune *

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