The longest of the lot. Which is still not very long at all. As well as looking like the Frenchest man imaginable Honore de Balzac was the HBO of his day: pumping out stories where the emphasis was on multi-layered, believable characters that could not be pigeon-holed as either "good" or "evil". A book about rabid, unconscionable ambition in a grubby world that helped set the template for what we think of as the modern novel.
Reading time: 4.9 hours (the same length of time it takes you to get to Cardiff and back by train from Paddington).