36. New Grub Street, George Gissing (1891)

This is a book that should be pressed into the hands of all aspiring writers before it’s too late. New Grub Street is the tale of two young men, the sensitive literary novelist Edwin Reardon and the pushy, cynical journalist Jasper Milvain. Their friendship and rivalry allows Gissing to dissect the eternal arguments about art vs commerce – and apart from technology, little has changed in the 120 years since it was published. There’s much else to admire in New Grub Street. It’s one of the best London novels of the late 19th/early 20th century, with a real feeling for the grit and grime that make up everyday life in the city (and if I remember correctly it’s one of the earliest novels I’ve read in which characters take the Underground, which made a big impression). The narrative is lively and sharp – Gissing is one of those writers who form a bridge between the high Victorianism of Dickens et al, and the terser post-War style of Waugh, Maugham etc. I’ve loved everything I’ve read by him, and particularly recommend Born in Exile, The Odd Women and In the Year of Jubilee – but this is the masterpiece, not least because it seems to have grown in relevance.

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Filed under My top 100 novels

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