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97. Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep (1939)
A noir whodunit as hard-boiled as an egg and as pulpy as orange juice. The actual mystery is so labyrinthine that, according to legend, when co-screenwriter William Faulkner later asked Chandler who killed one of the characters, Chandler said ''the butler did it.''
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93. Dorothy Allison, Bastard Out of Carolina (1992)
Abused by her stepfather, ''Bone'' Boatright is an indomitably spunky country girl who finds refuge with and solace in her lesbian aunt Raylene — a strong, compassionate woman who helps Bone understand herself and her own sexuality. Like its heroine, Allison's book is tough, unsentimental, and affecting.
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92. Hermann Hesse, The Glass Bead Game (1943)
The book that won Hesse the Nobel Prize. The plot may sound too rarefied for enjoyment — but don't be misled. This is the elegantly crafted futuristic tale of Joseph Knecht, a scholar who devotes his time to mastering all there is to know about science and literature by playing an obscure game.
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91. Giusseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, The Leopard (1958)
Di Lampedusa died thinking this would never be published. The novel chronicles the downfall of his noble (and decadent) Sicilian ancestors without sentimentality but not without sentiment. It's as if he's holding the era up for one last farewell before tossing it onto the trash heap of history.
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89. Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1895)
The original anti-novel. An outrageous account of the life of the titular character, whose hilariously meandering digressions ensure that it's hundreds of pages before he even reaches his birth. This is postmodern literature written before modernism even existed.
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86. Michael Cunningham, A Home at the End of the World (1990)
Two boyhood friends (one gay, one straight) end up in New York, trying to figure out their lives. Cunningham's novel is rich with complications, including an eccentric woman who becomes part of one of modern fiction's most memorable triangles.
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81. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (1818)
Old Flattop scared the heck out of cinemagoers when the classic 1931 film adaptation was released, but Shelley's original conception of the creature as an eloquent, existentially dispossessed being is still far more unnerving. What could be more frightening than a monster who actually knows he's a monster?
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79. Hilary Mantel, Bring Up the Bodies (2012)
The second volume of Mantel's trilogy is a virtuoso reimagining of the relationship between Henry VIII and his counselor Thomas Cromwell, whose plotting ultimately led to the execution of Anne Boleyn. In Mantel's hands, Cromwell's cunning, morally complicated orchestration of that slice through the royal neck is as exciting as any thriller.
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78. V.S. Naipaul, A House for Mr. Biswas (1961)
Naipaul is an expert at depicting the broad sweep of history through the people who inhabit it, and his novel about an Indo-Trinidadian's quest for a home to call his own holds a mirror to postcolonial modernity without dissolving into allegory.
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77. Henry Fielding, Tom Jones (1749)
Shockingly licentious in its time, Fielding's novel still feels pretty lusty as it follows the odyssey of the libidinous Tom, who traverses the English countryside, colliding with a colorful array of schemers, bullies, trollops, and thieves. A wry critique of English society away from the drawing rooms and royal courts.
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