Ten of the Best Catholic Novels of the 20th Century?


Ten of the Best Catholic

An intrepid soul decided to set foot in that extraordinarily dangerous territory of "Best of" lists, and so, naturally opened himself up to the billions of us who wish to make adjustments, emendations, corrections, annotations, revisions, and generally mess the whole thing up. So here's at least my two cents.

Four of the books Diary of a Country Priest, Vipers Tangle (a.k.a. Knot of Vipers and Nest of Vipers), Silence(not "The Silence" as noted in the article) and The Violent Bear it Away can be endorsed without even a hint of demurral. The choices for the Graham Greene and the Walker Percy seem idiosyncratic . Why Brighton Rock, while admittedly quite good over the three greats ( End of the Affair, Heart of the Matter, Power and the Glory? And while The Moviegoer is indeed quite a good novel, I think I would be more inclined to suggest Love in the Ruins. I must pause to note that many in my Catholic Reading group were simply puzzled by Percy's book, wondering why so many thought it great.

I have not read and cannot comment upon Judith Hearne or The Accident. I have mixed feelings about Brideshead Revisited and perhaps I need to revisit it. The final choice, Memento Mori, while a very fine novel, strikes me as an odd choice for a best list. It is very difficult to pull much Catholic from the novel, and it does tend to stump most people who read it and try to figure out what makes it particularly "Catholic."

Had I been making the same list, I suppose it would like something like this:

Flannery O'Connor: Oh, why try to pick, just read her entire opus and count it as one. I mean it doesn't amount to the length of a single Tom Clancy novel and you get a lot more out of it.

Graham Greene: Probably The Heart of the Matter read it next to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and V. S. Naipaul's A Bend in the River.

George Bernanos Diary of a Country Priest

Franz Werfel The Song of Bernadette I don't know if this really belongs, being by someone Jewish, but I think it powerful and influential.

Shusaku Endo Silence

Walker Percy Love in the Ruins

Torgny Lindgren The Way of a Serpent

Francois MauriacViper's Tangle (Although Woman of the Pharisees and Therese are also very fine.

Sigrid Undset Kristin Lavransdatter, though I must admit, this suffers from its present translation.

And the following two are books that have haunted me and suggested their way onto the list--whether they deserve it or not is difficult to say--I suppose only time will tell.

Ron Hansen Marriette in Ecstasy or Atticus.

Undoubtedly there are a great many others that must be neglected by perusing this list. For example, one might site the extraordinary and beautiful science fiction novels A Canticle for Leibowitz (Walter Miller Jr.) and A Case of Conscience, Black Easter, and The Day after Judgment by James Blish.

Please feel free to wrangle, disagree, add, subtract, multiply, or divide. I look for works that I have not yet read! If you'd like more information about any, please ask, I'd be happy to write at greater length. (As if you couldn't tell!)

One thing I ask please--No Andrew Greeley books!

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on July 29, 2002 5:10 PM.

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