I am learning English and for that purpose (among other things) I want to read a few novels. I have made a list of novels selected by personal taste, but since I am still learning, I am afraid that some of them (written by overseas or 19th century authors) may be not suitable for me (since, at this stage, I want to focus in modern British English). Could you confirm/discard if they are written in a suitable English (from that point of view)? I hesitate about the following books:

  1. J.M. Coetzee (born in South Africa in 1940 but lived in several other English-speaking countries): Elizabeth Costello.
  2. S. Rushdie (British Indian novelist, born 1947): Midnight's Children.
  3. R.K. Narayan (1906 - 2001, India): several novels.
  4. E.M. Forster (1879 - 1970, England): Howards End.
  5. Ford Madox Ford (1873 - 1939, England): Parade's End.
  6. John Galsworthy (1867 - 1933, England): The Forsyte Saga.
  7. Henry James (1843 - 1916, USA): several novels.
  • The language of the novels of Henry James can be difficult even for contemporary undergraduates. It's very good writing, but the sentences are quite long and contain many clauses, relying heavily upon subordination. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Aug 8 '18 at 11:29
  • If your primary objective is to learn contemporary English, then I'd suggest you choose contemporary novels. – J.R. Aug 8 '18 at 14:29
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    Hello and welcome to Literature! Could you edit your question to explain what exactly your question is? As it stands you have a bunch of different questions in there. – heather Aug 8 '18 at 18:32
  • This question is not answerable without knowing the level you have. This is not simply a matter of how long you have been learning English (since the distance between English and your native language plays a role here). And if you really want to focus on British English exclusively, you should also remove all non-British novels from the list. – Tsundoku Aug 9 '18 at 9:48
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    If you want to know how to (roughly) estimate your level, see How can I estimate my proficiency level (A1-C2)? on Language Learning Stack Exchange. – Tsundoku Aug 9 '18 at 16:52

All novels will be fine. Novels are a relatively recent form of literature. The English language has changed since the first English-language novel (Robinson Crusoe, 1719), but not all that much; the meaning of this extract should be clear to any modem English-speaker:

I was born in the year 1632, in the city of York, of a good family, though not of that country, my father being a foreigner of Bremen, who settled first at Hull. He got a good estate by merchandise, and leaving off his trade, lived afterwards at York, from whence he had married my mother, whose relations were named Robinson, a very good family in that country, and from whom I was called Robinson Kreutznaer; but, by the usual corruption of words in England, we are now called—nay we call ourselves and write our name—Crusoe; and so my companions always called me.

I had two elder brothers, one of whom was lieutenant-colonel to an English regiment of foot in Flanders, formerly commanded by the famous Colonel Lockhart, and was killed at the battle near Dunkirk against the Spaniards. What became of my second brother I never knew, any more than my father or mother knew what became of me.


There’s a couple of words on there that are noticeably archaic (“whence”, “nay”, “regiment of foot” meaning infantry regiment) but so long as you read a mix of novels that shouldn’t be a problem.

NB Opinions on what was the first novel in English do differ: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_claimed_first_novels_in_English

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