More Premium Prose Practitioners

Back in 2015, I wrote a post spotlighting novelists with especially impressive writing skills. Among the wordsmiths I cited were A.S. Byatt, Fyodor Dostoevsky, George Eliot, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Hilton, Henry James, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Toni Morrison, Marcel Proust, Erich Maria Remarque, Mary Shelley, and Edith Wharton.

Seven years later, I’ve of course read various other authors for the first time, so I wanted to mention some additional prose masters in a follow-up post.

I’ll start with Viet Thanh Nguyen (pictured above), whose wonderfully written 2015 debut novel The Sympathizer I’m currently reading. The Pulitzer Prize-winning book’s narrator — a half-Vietnamese, half-French sleeper agent who leaves war-torn Saigon for California in 1975 — has a top-notch facility with the English language that’s exemplified by this paragraph I excerpted:

“America, land of supermarkets and superhighways, of supersonic jets and Superman, of supercarriers and the Super Bowl!…(W)as there ever a country that coined so many ‘super’ terms from the federal bank of its narcissism, was not only superconfident but also truly superpowerful, that would not be satisfied until it locked every nation in the world into a full nelson and made it cry Uncle Sam?”

Another author I recently tried for the first time is Amor Towles, whose novel A Gentleman in Moscow tells the tale of a person under decades of house arrest in a Russian hotel. The prisoner, Count Alexander Rostov, actually leads a pretty interesting and satisfying life within the confines of that building — and Towles’ exquisite writing helps take us along for the ride.

Yet another eloquent author I’ve read since 2015 is Zadie Smith. The two novels of hers I’ve gotten to — White Teeth and On Beauty — mix eye-catching prose, comedic elements, and social commentary in a great multicultural blend.

I’ve also liked the novels Freedom and The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen, who can put words together as well or better than most contemporary authors.

Alexander Pushkin is hardly a contemporary author, but I finally read his 1833 novel-in-verse Eugene Onegin last year. The poetry is off-the-charts good.

I was also bowled over by the prose of another 1833 novel — George Sand’s Lelia, which I read in 2018.

Moving from the 19th to 20th century, I finally started reading various works by W. Somerset Maugham. It’s hard to beat the writing style in novels such as Of Human Bondage, The Moon and Sixpence, The Razor’s Edge, and The Painted Veil.

In today’s popular-fiction realm, I love the writing talent of Liane Moriarty. She offers a real insight into relationships and women — along with humor and surprising plot developments — in novels such as Big Little Lies, The Husband’s Secret, The Hypnotist’s Love Story, Nine Perfect Strangers, and Apples Never Fall.

I have similar feelings about Fannie Flagg — whose novelistic career spans the 1980s to recent years — after reading works like Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion, and A Redbird Christmas.

Herman Wouk offers exceptionally smooth writing about dramatic topics in 20th-century classics The Caine Mutiny, Marjorie Morningstar, The Winds of War, and War and Remembrance.

And a concluding shout-out to Rosamunde Pilcher, whose novels The Shell Seekers (1987) and Winter Solstice (2000) approach prose perfection.

Some of the authors you feel write REALLY well?

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the 2003-started/award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for every Thursday. The latest piece — about a local pro-choice rally, a water crisis, and more — is here.

66 thoughts on “More Premium Prose Practitioners

  1. I have to say, Shehanne Moore writes in a prose all her own. She breaks the rules. At first I was a bit out of it, but then I caught the lilt of her prose.
    I’ve read all but 1 of her books, and find them authentic in many ways. Yet they are all fiction.
    The way people speak, and her way of expressing easily take me back to where she wants me to go.
    I should have thought of her writing sooner!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Even in translation the prose of Leo Tolstoy had a fluid, flowing quality that was almost cinematic at times. I do not know of any other author of fiction who wrote as well about living things or about various states of mind ranging from despair to ecstasy.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Here I am, late to the party, Dave, again. Your post has been in my thoughts all week with the question – is it the prose or narrative that engages me? Still thinking about that. The book that came to mine was Circe by Madeline Miller. There was elegance in her descriptions and profound insight in her dialogues.

    β€œBut in a solitary life, there are rare moments when another soul dips near yours, as stars once a year brush the earth. Such a constellation was he to me.” Madeline Miller, Circe

    β€œOnly that: we are here. This is what it means to swim in the tide, to walk the earth and feel it touch your feet. This is what it means to be alive.” Madeline Miller, Circe

    And my personal all-around favourite in J.R.R. Tolkien’s LOTR:

    Home is behind, the world ahead,
    and there are many paths to tread
    through shadows to the edge of night,
    until the stars are all alight.
    J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

    Another great discussion that feeds my soul.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Rebecca! You’re never too late. πŸ™‚

      Great question about prose vs. narrative. I guess the ideal is for both to be excellent. What a combination that is! I’ve read some authors — such as Marcel Proust — where the prose was out of this world but I was not fully engaged because I wanted more of a story line.

      Those are gorgeous words by Madeline Miller!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Esther! Yes, “The Shell Seekers” is so magnificent that it does make a person wish they had written it. From what I read, Rosamunde Pilcher wrote good novels before finding a later-in-life other gear to write great novels.


  4. You listed some superb authors here, Dave. I would add Margaret Atwood, she has a way of hitting the nail on the head with words, without you knowing it until the end. Every time I read one of her stories, I close the book and say, Wow!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Pingback: Authors whose prose is compelling or outstandingly beautiful

  6. Wow – you covered a lot of my favorites here, Dave! Especially Amor Towles, wow is he such an elegant word weaver. Have you read his new one yet – the Lincoln Highway? It doesn’t have quite the same kind of prose as Gentleman in Moscow but it is still pretty good! I also just read Jonathan Franzen for the first time this year, both “Crossroads” and “the Corrections.” You are right, he can sure craft a story in a very incredible way. I think I liked Crossroads a bit better than his earlier work, but that’s my humble opinion only of course. And Liane Moriarty! What a magician! πŸ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, M.B.! I totally agree about Amor Towles’ writing, and have “The Lincoln Highway” way high on my to-read list. Jonathan Franzen’s prose pyrotechnics can get a bit over-the-top here and there, but “Freedom” and “The Corrections” very much held my interest. I haven’t read “Crossroads.” And Liane Moriarty is indeed a magician! Her characters are so three-dimensional, and her story lines are really clever.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I once read that the measure of a good actor is when you find you are no longer able to distinguish the actor from the character he/she is portraying. Consequently, I feel that is also the essence of great writing. When you read a particular author’s book, they kinda suck you in from the onset to the point where you no longer realize that you are reading rather that you are experiencing a different life separate from your own yet in a way it is your own. Whether the language is eloquent or simple does not matter, it’s how they spin the yarn. For example, I can read Shirley Jackson’s Summer People and feel the same sense of dread as the Allisons or feel the desperation and loneliness of the characters in McCullers The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter. I think it has quite a bit to do with the intensity of the writer and their unique ability to tap into a zone where everything is waiting to be discovered and it’s imperative that the reader does just that. This is one reason why I don’t think you can teach anyone to write, you may teach them to approximate it, but it takes real skill to go beyond the act of mere human communication. I’d say it is more phenomenal even paranormal. But that’s just me. Thanks for the post Dave, and a belated Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day to you. Susi

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Susi! Great observations, elegantly expressed! Yes, when a novelist totally immerses you in a way that you almost forget you’re reading a made-up story, she or he has done their job wonderfully. There are few better feelings for an author, and their readers. πŸ™‚ Shirley Jackson and Carson McCullers are certainly among the writers who can create that kind of magic.

      A belated Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day to you, too! The racist, brutal Columbus is indeed someone NOT to be celebrated. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Dave, besides all these wonderful suggestions, I’ll add Lawrence Osborne. He’s masterful at creating atmosphere. His best novels are The Forgiven, Beautiful Animals, Ballad of a Small Player, The Glass Kingdom, and Hunters in the Dark. The last two are my favorites of his.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Dave, thanks for the shout-out of our impressive wordsmiths, old and new. With so many excellent books to read, I find your recommendations of enormous help. I’ve added Amor Towles and Zadie Smith to my To Read List.
    The works of Pearl S. Buck, V.S. Naipaul, Toni Morrison, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez were my guiding light when I began working on my debut novel. Viet Thanh Nguyen dazzles.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Rosaliene! “Dazzles” is indeed the word for what Viet Thanh Nguyen’s writing does, and the four other authors you mentioned are VERY worthy guiding lights. You won’t be disappointed with Zadie Smith and Amor Towles!

      Liked by 3 people

  10. How about two suggestions, first Emily Dickinson because, how can you not get shivers up and down your spine when you read
    “Because I could not stop for death
    He kindly stopped for me
    The carriage held but just ourselves
    And immortality”…
    And then Lewis Carroll, who I don’t “like” but how can you not appreciate the dazzling logic of:
    β€œWould you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
    “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
    “I don’t much care where –”
    “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you, Endless Weekend! I can’t disagree about the virtuosity of both writers you mentioned. It’s incredible how much Emily Dickinson conveyed so eloquently in her short poems, and Lewis Carroll was indeed a master of humor, wordplay, nonsense, surreal-ness, twisted logic, etc. You offered two great samples of their writing.

      Liked by 4 people

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