The 100 Best Catholic Novels I Know

Deal W. Hudson
June 14, 2016

In offering this list, I’m not making an attempt to define the “Catholic novel,” which would be a very foolish enterprise.  There are many reasons why a novel can, and sometimes should be called “Catholic,” but to attach that impulse to a grand metaphysic or aesthetic theory would require a book in itself. Whether such a book would be worth reading when that time could be spent reading one of the 100 below has, for me, a self-evident answer. No!

My purpose here is merely to recommend good books to those who take the time to find good books and to read them.  Not all the authors below are Catholic, strictly speaking, but more importantly, these novels listed have explicitly Catholic themes and perspectives. (Perhaps I will attempt a list of Catholic novels with implicit Catholic themes and perspectives…)

That a great novel can explore religious themes directly is a tribute to the artistry of the writer since such explicitness usually leads to preaching and is, thus, deadly to the writing of any kind. I have included a few selections that will not strike the reader as “Catholic” since the usual signposts are either missing or even rejected outright. In such cases, I can only ask for the reader’s trust that these recommendations have been made with care and are based on over forty years of steady reading.

Any good list should be controversial by including books some will find questionable, even ridiculous, but I am prepared to defend my choices if a reader would like to question them. Indeed, I welcome any controversy that may ensue from this list; in fact, I will be disappointed if no one takes me to a task.

I’m always anxious to learn of titles I don’t know, or have forgotten, or should know better, or be reminded that my own certainties may be unfounded.

Some of the novels listed are difficult to acquire, others are a click away at a modest cost. The year of publication references the original language edition.

A final note — readers may immediately notice that I’ve not included the great Fyodor Dostoyevsky or any writer from one of the Orthodox traditions. My intention in doing this is not to refuse the adjective “Catholic” to Orthodox writers, but to save the space of, say, 6-10 novels, for those the reader may not be familiar with. Be assured then this is not meant as a slight, but rather the recognition of a literary tradition that differs in significant ways.

The choice of non-English novels in English translation is, perhaps, the most significant limitation of my list.  For example,  Leon Bloy’s novel Le Désespéré (“Despairing”) from 1887 is still untranslated, in spite of the popularity of Bloy’s other novel, The Woman Who Was Poor (1897) translated in 1937.

Alessandro Manzoni, The Betrothed, 1827.

Adalbert Stifter, Rock Crystal, 1845.

Joris-Karl Huysmans, En route, 1895.

Henryk Sienkiewicz, Quo Vadis, 1895.

Wladyslaw Reymont, The Comedienne, 1896.

Leon Bloy, The Woman Who Was Poor, 1897.

Antonio Fogazzaro, Little World of the Past, 1901.

Robert Hugh Benson, Lord of the World, 1907.

G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday, 1908.

Sigrid Undset, Kristin Lavansdatter, 1920-22.

Sigrid Undset, Master of Hestviken, 1925-27.

Georges Bernanos, Under the Star of Satan, 1926.

Francois Mauriac, Therese, 1928.

Su Xuelin, Heart of the Thorn Bush, 1929.

Maurice Baring, The Coat Without Seam, 1929.

Myles Connolly, Mr. Blue, 1929.

Georges Bernanos, Joy, 1929.

Miquel de Unamuno, Saint Emanuel, Martyr, 1930.

Maurice Baring, Robert Peckham, 1930.

Gertrud von Le Fort, The Song at the Scaffold, 1931.

Francois Mauriac, The Viper’s Tangle, 1932.

Maurice Baring, Darby and Joan, 1935.

Georges Bernanos, Diary of a Country Priest, 1936.

Georges Bernanos, Mouchette, 1937.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, 1937.

Morley Callaghan, More Joy in Heaven, 1937.

Ignazio Silone, Bread and Wine, 1937.

Riccardo Bacchelli, The Mill On the Po, 1938.

Joseph Roth, The Legend of the Holy Drinker, 1939.

Riccardo Bacchelli, Nothing New Under the Sun, 1940.

Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory, 1940.

Franz Werfel, Song of Bernadette, 1941.

Irene Nemirovsky, Suite française, 1942.

George Bernanos, Monsieur Quine, 1943.

Graham Greene, The Ministry of Fear, 1943

Hermann Broch, The Death of Virgil, 1945.

Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited, 1945.

Francois Mauriac, A Woman of the Pharisees, 1946.

Franz Werfel, Star of the Unborn, 1946.

Graham Greene, The Heart of the Matter, 1948.

Giovanni Guareschi, Little World of Don Camillo, 1948.

Evelyn Waugh, Helena, 1950.

Elisabeth Langgasser, The Quest, 1950.

Graham Greene, The End of the Affair, 1951.

Paul Horgan, Things As They Are, 1951

Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood, 1952.

Jose Maria Gironella, The Cypresses Believe in God, 1953.

Jack Kerouac, On the Road, 1957.

John Howard Griffin, The Devil Rides Outside, 1952.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, 1954-55.

Heimito von Doderer, The Demons, 1956.

Julien Green, The Transgressor, 1956.

Alfred Doblin, Tales of a Long Night, 1956.

Caroline Gordon, The Malefactors, 1957.

Shusaku Endo, Wonderful Fool, 1959.

Walter M. Miller, A Canticle for Leibowtiz, 1960.

Julien Green, Each in His Own Darkness, 1960.

William Goyen, The House of Breath, 1960

Flannery O’Connor, The Violent Bear It Away, 1960.

Shusaku Endo, Volcano, 1960.

Morley Callaghan, The Many Colored Coat, 1960.

Morley Callaghan, A Passion in Rome, 1961.

Edwin O’Connor, The Edge of Sadness, 1962.

J.F. Powers, Morte D’Urban, 1962

Anthony Burgess, The Wanting Seed, 1962.

Shusaku Endo, Silence, 1966.

Rumer Godden, In This House of Brede, 1969.

Muriel Spark, The Driver’s Seat, 1970.

Walker Percy, Love in the Ruins: The Adventures of a Bad Catholic at a Time, 1971.

Julien Green, The Other One, 1971.

William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist, 1971.

Otfried Preussler, The Curse of the Darkling Mill, 1972.

Brian Moore, Catholics: A Novel, 1972.

Jon Hassler, Staggerford, 1977.

Shusaku Endo, The Samurai, 1980.

David Lodge, How Far Can You Go? (Souls and Bodies, USA), 1980.

Walker Percy, The Second Coming, 1980.

Czeslaw Milosz, The Issa Valley: A Novel, 1981.

Alice Thomas Ellis, The 27th Kingdom, 1982.

Torgny Lindgren, Bathsheba, 1984

Morley Callaghan, Our Lady of the Snows, 1985.

Brian Moore, Black Robe: A Novel, 1985.

Torgny Lindgren, Light, 1987.

Walker Percy, The Thanatos Syndrome, 1987

J.F. Powers, Wheat That Springeth Green, 1988.

Shusaku Endo, Scandal, 1988.

Muriel Spark, A Far Cry from Kensington, 1988.

Piers Paul Read, On the Third Day, 1990

Alice Thomas Ellis, The Inn at the Edge of the World, 1990.

Ayako Sono, The Watcher from the Shore, 1990, English trans.

Ron Hansen, Mariette in Ecstasy, 1991.

David Plante, The Accident, 1991.

P.D. James, The Children of Men, 1992.

Sara Maitland, Daughter of Jerusalem, 1995

Laurence Cosse, A Corner of the Veil: A Novel, 1996.

Michael O’Brien, Eclipse of the Sun, 1998.

Ayako Sono, No Reason for Murder, 2003.

Pierre de Calan, Cosmas, or the Love of God, 2006.

Cormac McCarthy, The Road, 2006.

William Giraldi, Busy Monsters: A Novel, 2011.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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