Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Five essential New York novels

Jay McInerney is the author of ten books, including Bright Lights, Big City.

With Eve Gerber at The Browser, he named five essential New York novels, including:
The House of Mirth
by Edith Wharton

Let’s begin with Wharton’s 1905 bestseller. The House of Mirth depicts the manners and morals of turn-of-the-century New York society. Please introduce this classic to those who haven’t read it.

The House of Mirth doesn’t take place entirely in New York but it begins and ends there. Lily Bart, the heroine of The House of Mirth, was born on a higher rung of the social ladder than where she ends up. She is a compelling and tragic figure. The novel was very much concerned with the high society of the day, which was centred in New York – the famous 400 who fit in Mrs Astor’s ballroom. But even though it is concerned with a caste system that no longer exactly exists, The House of Mirth still resonates with readers.

With Wharton, it’s all so well wrought. You can feel the fabric of late 19th century New York and the social claustrophobia that existed behind the heavy drapes of its drawing rooms. But I wonder, why are readers so attracted to stories about the injustices of the upper class when we value social fluidity so highly?

Americans are always fascinated with the wealthy. It’s a bit of an illusion to imagine ours to be a classless society, as novelists like Wharton made brilliantly clear.
Read about another book McInerney tagged.

The House of Mirth is one of Megan Wasson's five novels that explore the dark side in New York City, Rachel Cusk's five best books on disgrace and Kate Christensen's six books that she rereads all the time; it appears on Robert McCrum's top ten list of books for Obama officials.

Also see five novels that explore the dark side in New York City, Edmund White's top 10 New York books, The Great New York City Novel, Frances Kiernan's five best books about New York society, Russell Shorto's five best books on the history of New York City, and Joanna Smith Rakoff's five favorite books of New York stories.

--Marshal Zeringue