While I agree with many of the selections in Robert McCrum’s list of the 100 greatest novels written in the English novels, I do have some disagreements. My first disagreement is with the name of the list. I think it should be “the 100 greatest writers who wrote in English” because if you were to create an actual list of the 100 greatest novels three would be written by Defoe and three by Dickens, crowding out a lot of other great novels and writers.
My other objections are more in detail. Only by the standard of influence on modern culture is Dracula a great novel. It’s more a novel-length penny dreadful. It’s not the first vampire novel in English and it’s far from the best vampire story in English.
How could you name Kidnapped over Treasure Island? If it’s because Kidnapped is less of a boy’s book, how could you name Kim? While E. A. Poe was a great writer, I don’t think he wrote a great novel. If the only thing he had ever written was Arthur Pym, IMO he’d be languishing among the many 19th century writers ignored today.
If you’re going to use influence as your yardstick, it’s pretty hard to explain why Uncle Tom’s Cabin isn’t on the list. It’s pretty awful but it’s probably the most influential novel in the English language not in the sense of having had a strong influence on subsequent literature but in the sense of having had an influence on world events.
There are a number of novels I was glad to see on the list: Three Men in a Boat, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Cold Comfort Farm, Joy in the Morning. In particular I think that humor, probably the most difficult of genres, is too frequently ignored as great literature.
While I was gratified to see some mysteries on the list, both English and American, I think that the absence of any Westerns on the list is a significant omission. There are any number of truly great Western novels. If the yardstick is by writer and by influence, it’s an even more significant omission.
Finally, if you’ve never read The Wind in the Willows, you owe it to yourself to do so. It is a great novel.