F Scott Fitzgerald’s four finished novels, often heavily autobiographical, take you on a traumatic but gripping trip from his precocious, idealistic days (This Side Of Paradise) to him as a defeated, self-condemnatory figure (Tender Is The Night). And crucially, he never puts a foot wrong. It’s a seductive sea of flawless sentences that both indulge and criticise his obvious egoism. A conflicted but fascinating guy.
LOOK OUT FOR: Any character living a decadent, boozy lifestyle. You’d better believe they’re doomed!
MEISTERWERK: The Beautiful And Damned
Richard Yates was a determined realist, admirably unflinching in his depiction of fractured families (Revolutionary Road) and ruinously irresponsible men (Disturbing The Peace). A master of uncomfortable set-pieces in the home, particularly the sort of mega-awkward dinner parties everyone instantly regrets attending. Occasionally difficult, but always shrewdly observed.
LOOK OUT FOR: Drinks being thrown; cherry pies cooling on the windowsill, never to be eaten.
MEISTERWERK: Young Hearts Crying
Penelope Fitzgerald began writing novels when nearly 60, and they thrum with the composure and wisdom of the late-starter – there’s a calm but quietly profound tone, and she paints portraits with the skill that Turner paints landscapes. This sedate-but-perceptive voice is supported by the ambition of her ouevre: it takes in both the minutiae of suburban life and the sweep of the historical novel.
LOOK OUT FOR: The sort of withering assessments of people you wish you could remember the next time you want to sound clever.
MEISTERWERK: The Blue Flower
Charles Dickens, aye? You rolling your eyes yet? Flash backs of GCSE English is it? Stuffy nonsense for childless cat owners, full of characters called things like Silly Mrs Puddlebottom, is it? Well, yes, maybe, but anyone that’s encountered The Colossus of Shadwell (as we’ve decided to call him) as a grown-up will tell you the man is quality. Big Charles couldn’t help but write sensational, gleaming sentences and was so good at neatly tying up sprawling stories that were he alive today HBO would have him on speed-dial.
LOOK OUT FOR: Precautionary morality tales, cruelty, a sense of manifest destiny, stupid names.
MEISTERWERK: Bleak House
Dennis Lehane is a conveyor-belt of quality Hollywood-friendly crime thrillers (Shutter Island, Gone Baby Gone, Mystic River etc etc). His priority is entertainment: the stories are complex without being so punishingly convoluted that you end up reading each page three times. And there’s a versatility in tone and characterisation that prevents monotony: the Kenzie and Gennaro detective series is, relatively speaking, a lot lighter than the 1930s gangster novels.
LOOK OUT FOR: Good cops gone rogue because oh God the things they’ve seen.
MEISTERWERK: Live By Night
Words by Josh Williams
The skinny-jeaned corpse of 2007 indie is risen and dragging its battered Converse to a venue near you