The title is many-layered, ironic yet precise. The characters travel worldwide, the hero seeking his ideal woman, the others their ideal conference lecture, "Textuality as Striptease". But the academic world also seems small, like that of Jane Austen on whom the sublimely omniscient Morris Zapp plans to have the last word, just as David Lodge unarguably has the last word on his type of scholarship. In a superb comic episode, summer school students voyage perilously on Lake Innisfree, the uneducated in pursuit of the unedifying. Lodge's satire demolishes with equal skill literary and academic pretentiousness: bee-loud glades and B-list professors.
'The Egoist' by George Meredith, reviewed by Richard Tarleton
"He is a Phoebus Apollo turned fasting friar"; "Here she comes with a romantic tale on her eyelashes". It's 40 years since the first time I opened Meredith's masterpiece The Egoist and those two descriptions of the hero and heroine still amaze me. They are witty, ironic and perceptive, but above all they are 21st century. The neglect of Meredith is to me the greatest mystery in English literature. Two of his books are works of the highest quality: The Ordeal of Richard Feverel is the other one. He writes of women with intelligence and independence. His characters are self-conscious to the point where their image hinders them from action, and it is this introspection that makes them so appealing to modern readers.
'Any Human Heart: the Intimate Journals of Logan Mountstuart' by William Boyd, reviewed by Torquil McNeilage, Devon
The strength of the book lies in the intimacy of the narrator's voice. Mountstuart's sketchy, incomplete diaries build a picture of the man almost accidentally, sometimes absurd, unlikeable, pathetic even, but always companionable. Throughout, the author's intentions remain intriguingly veiled. Mountstuart's story is moving because he is simultaneously real and elusive. His eventful life navigates between horror and triumph, achievement and loss - but not according to some definable thematic purpose. When finally, he says, watching a group of preening youngsters "I wonder if you will live as well as I have done?" I found myself asking if I could.
'Main Street' by Sinclair Lewis, reviewed by Becky Tinsley, London W2
Written in the 1920s, Main Street is both a forensic romp through small-town America and an invaluable guide to understanding today's "red" states. A thought-ful young newly-wed woman arrives in Gopher Prairie, and bewilders her Dubya-like husband by quietly challenging his small-minded conformity. Her innocent questions reveal a community that is ignorant of the rest of the world, but oddly incurious. Her husband and his crowd, certain of American exceptionalism, are duly manipulated by Dick Cheney-type businessmen. To its credit, Main Street still upsets those Americans who make it their business to determine what patriotism means.
'Ulysses' by James Joyce, reviewed by Chris Hirst, London NW10
Via a plethora of stylised narrative voices the reader inhabits Dublin. Joyce's unsentimental eye sees everything. Each episodic set-piece vies to out-do its predecessor in showing off his lexical dexterity. All the characters, especially Molly, are believable. They are fallible human beings whose interior lives are incredibly detailed. Joyce's inventiveness peppers the book. He describes cat miaows, the sea's breathing, train swooshes, etc with phonetic brilliance. He even imagines a dishwasher! Ulysses may be heavy going, but who wants lightweight fiction that can be read with the brain in fifth gear? Is Joyce's Rolls-Royce of a book stately? Yes.
'The Secret History' by Donna Tartt, reviewed by Roger Norris, Maidstone
Here indeed is a history, just as the stories of all lives are histories. Here is a story of college-campus life, and of naive adolescents mingling with wealth, privilege, and the gods. In the beginning there is sumptuous pleasure ... soon replaced by fear, loathing, and longing. This American Gothic tale of psychological suspense at once fills the reader with dread, and welcomes him into a beautifully atmospheric world he will hate to leave.
'The Bear Comes Home' by Rafi Zabor, reviewed by John Lanyon, Oxfordshire
This tells the story of The Bear who is a bear and, in jazz terms, a " cat". It charts his rise from poor street entertainer to acclaimed star. The writing is tight, colourful, funny and touching. This is not cosy anthropomorphism. The novel asks where we draw the line between human and animal behaviour. It touches on celebrity and life in its shadow. It's a rough guide to avant-garde jazz. It's a John Coltrane of a book.
'Sacred Country' by Rose Tremain, reviewed by Barbara Fox, Surrey
Tremain made me laugh, cry and ache for its lonely, misunderstood characters. In bleak, rural Norfolk, young Mary - beaten by her father, neglected by her mother - makes a shock realisation: she should have been born a boy. Walter dreams of country and western fame amid the drudgery of his family's butcher's shop while Estelle, Mary's mother, loves Bobby Moore but is unable to hold her own family together. These unfulfilled characters come some way towards realising their dreams, but it is the journey that is entertaining and unsettling.
'Trustee from the Toolroom' by Nevil Shute, reviewed by SallyAnne Clark, Tunbridge Wells
Something about this author's calm, deliberate style creates unexpected excitement. When Keith Stewart, a low-paid but brilliant writer for The Miniature Mechanic, makes plans for his modern Odyssey, his wife says: " It'll be hot, Keith, you should take your cricket shirts and blazer." Prosaic, yes, but our anticipation builds with his preparations. From Ealing to Vancouver to Honolulu, the unappreciated genius is appreciated after all, and we are warmed by the justice and sheer pleasure of it.
'Cannery Row' by John Steinbeck, reviewed by Helen Bettinson
This is the only novel I have ever wanted to live in: to swap my humdrum existence for the seedy glamour of Steinbeck's down-at-heel, mongrel, Californian community, where Lee and Dora (inscrutable Chinese grocer and fastidious bordello-keeper) rub along with Cannery Row's roguish but lovable bums. As melancholic Doc, the huge-hearted but distracted marine biologist modelled on Steinbeck, says in his prologue: "open the page and ... let the stories crawl in by themselves". Truly, an irresistible invitation.
'Author, Author' by David Lodge, reviewed by Paul Janes, Manchester
This fictionalised portrait of Henry James creates a meticulously crafted and engagingly lucid narrative around one of literature's less eventful lives. However, by focusing on James's doomed efforts to achieve success as a playwright, we are made to sympathise with his vulnerability and craving for recognition in the face of indifference and hostility. This is a moving tribute to the humanity of a great literary mind.
'The Good Soldier Svejk' by Jaroslav Hasek, reviewed by Professor Gareth Rees, Yorkshire
Svejk is both a certified idiot and a Czech soldier in the First World War. His is a world of stark simplicity in a complex time, conjuring mayhem from the simplest of instructions - because he obeys them literally. After various libidinous excesses, he walks a few hundred kilometres in the wrong direction, gets arrested and almost hanged, always with a cheery smile. You would have thought a career in US politics beckoned.
'The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break' by Steven Sherrill, reviewed by Laura F Spira, Oxford
Five thousand years of wandering is some punishment. Finding appropriate clothing, managing your horns (they tend to tear the roofs of cars) trying to read (your snout gets in the way) - some of the difficulties faced by the Minotaur working as a cook in North Carolina. The friendship of those who see beyond his strangeness offers him solace. This portrayal of the inner conflict of the man-beast reminds us that there is something of the Minotaur in us all.
'Silas Marner' by George Eliot, reviewed by Julie Harpum, Lacroix St Leufroy, France
I always rather liked the refreshing simplicity of this tale. The characters seem rather wooden sometimes as they plod along in a rural environment whose hardship would daunt the most dedicated environmentalist today. They got through all that without electricity, without solar panels, without a car.... The final choice made by the girl between the hardship of rural simplicity and the hypocritical pretentiousness of wealth has resounding clarity. Why is it believable? Would you have done the same? Read it and refocus your own prejudices.
'The Bridge of San Luis Rey', Thornton Wilder, reviewed by Jim McCormack, Dublin
Why dis bridge fall down? God not pleased, or Luis doze on de job? Tough on de victims, but timely wake-up ding-dong for survivors. Bridge fall-down change de lot: no one thing de same. Listen up brothers and sisters : Love is de bridge for de quick and de late. So pull up de socks, please; let de bygones be with de water under de bridge; and let de good Lord's mercy lead us by de hand to de other side. Mr Wilder, him wise man.
'The Box of Delights' by John Masefield, reviewed by C Sladen, Oxfordshire
Starting off like a 1930s school yarn - young Master Kay home for the Christmas hols, meets quirky old Punch and Judy man - this turns out to be a beautifully narrated blend of magic, country lore, poetry, skulduggery and colourful dialogue, some of it echoing the author's days at sea. Few books can give you as much pleasure at the age of 70 as when first read at 12: this is one of them.
And there's still time to enter
We have 10 sets of the complete 2005 Booker prize shortlist to give away - all signed first editions. For your chance to win the six novels (John Banville's The Sea, Julian Barnes's Arthur & George, Sebastian Barry's A Long Long Way, Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, Ali Smith's The Accidental and Zadie Smith's On Beauty), simply write a book review - just 100 words telling us about your favourite novel. We don't want gush - rather, a calm, judicious critique of its virtues. The competition will be adjudicated by The Independent's books editor, Boyd Tonkin. Entries will be judged on their wit and originality. The closing date is this Monday, 19 September. Winners will be informed by phone by Friday 30 September. Independent competition rules apply; see www.independent.co.uk/legal for the standard newspaper competition rules. Send entries and contact details to: Booker Shortlist Competition, Features Department, The Independent, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, marked 'Booker Shortlist Competition'.Reuse content