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Barry Unsworth, R.I.P.

 

Barry Unsworth, a Top Ten contributor, has died of lung cancer. He was 81.

The New York Times reports: “Unsworth, considered one of the foremost historical novelists in English, was known for rich, densely textured fiction that conjured lost worlds — those of the Trojan War, medieval Europe and the Napoleonic age, among many others.

“Among his best known — he wrote 17 novels in all — are Stone Virgin (1986), set in Renaissance Venice; Losing Nelson (1999), about a modern-day writer obsessed with the great British admiral; The Songs of the Kings (2003), which retells the story of the Trojan War; and, most recently, The Quality of Mercy, published last year, which continues the narrative of [his Booker Prize-winning novel of the slave trade] Sacred Hunger.

 

“His other novels include two finalists for the Booker, Morality Play (1995), about a band of strolling actors in 14th-century Yorkshire; and Pascali’s Island (released in the United States in 1980 as “The Idol Hunter”), set in the early-20th-century Ottoman Empire.”

His last novel, Land of Marvels (2009), is about intrigue in Mesopotamia on the eve of World War I.

 

Read his obituary in the New York Times.

Read his obituary in the Guardian.

Listen to him discuss his last novel, The Quality of Mercy.

Watch him read from Land of Marvels.

 

Barry Unsworth’s Top Ten List

1. The Oresteia by Aeschylus (458 b.c.e.).

2. The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot (1860).

3. Bleak House by Charles Dickens (1853).

4. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1857).

5. The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1868).

6. The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni (1827).

7. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939).

8. The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron (1967).

9. The stories of Eudora Welty (1909–2001).

10. Rites of Passage by William Golding (1980).

 

* Illustration from New York Review of Books

New List

Cathleen Schine

1. Emma by Jane Austen (1816).
2. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (1855–91).
3. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1869).
4. Phineas Finn: The Irish Member by Anthony Trollope (1869).
5. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens (1864–65).
6. Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym (1977).
7. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884).
8. The stories of  Alice Munro (1931– ).
9. The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki (1943–48).
10. Pictures from an Institution by Randall Jarrell (1954).

Classic List

George Saunders

1. Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol (1842).
2. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884).
3. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1869).
4. Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne (1759–67).
5. Hamlet by William Shakespeare (1600).
6. The stories of Isaac Babel (1894–1940).
7. The stories of Anton Chekhov (1860–1904).
8. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (1969).
9. Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett (1953).
10. On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1957).