The Greatest French "Fiction" Books Since 1900

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This list represents a comprehensive and trusted collection of the greatest books in literature. Developed through a specialized algorithm, it brings together 200 'best of' book lists to form a definitive guide to the world's most acclaimed literary works. For those interested in how these books are chosen, additional details about the selection process can be found on the rankings page.

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  1. 1. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust

    This renowned novel is a sweeping exploration of memory, love, art, and the passage of time, told through the narrator's recollections of his childhood and experiences into adulthood in the late 19th and early 20th century aristocratic France. The narrative is notable for its lengthy and intricate involuntary memory episodes, the most famous being the "madeleine episode". It explores the themes of time, space and memory, but also raises questions about the nature of art and literature, and the complex relationships between love, sexuality, and possession.

  2. 2. The Stranger by Albert Camus

    The narrative follows a man who, after the death of his mother, falls into a routine of indifference and emotional detachment, leading him to commit an act of violence on a sun-drenched beach. His subsequent trial becomes less about the act itself and more about his inability to conform to societal norms and expectations, ultimately exploring themes of existentialism, absurdism, and the human condition.

  3. 3. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

    A young prince from a tiny asteroid embarks on a journey across the universe, visiting various planets and meeting their strange inhabitants. Along the way, he learns about the follies and absurdities of the adult world, the nature of friendship, and the importance of retaining a childlike wonder and curiosity. His journey eventually leads him to Earth, where he befriends a fox and learns about love and loss before finally returning to his asteroid.

  4. 4. Journey to the End of The Night by Louis-Ferdinand Céline

    The novel is a semi-autobiographical work that explores the harsh realities of life through the cynical and disillusioned eyes of the protagonist. The narrative follows his experiences from the trenches of World War I, through the African jungles, to the streets of America and the slums of Paris, showcasing the horrors of war, colonialism, and the dark side of human nature. The protagonist's journey is marked by his struggle with despair, loneliness, and the absurdity of existence, offering a bleak yet profound commentary on the human condition.

  5. 5. The Plague by Albert Camus

    The novel is set in the Algerian city of Oran during the 1940s, where a deadly plague sweeps through, causing the city to be quarantined. The story is told through the eyes of a doctor who witnesses the horror and suffering caused by the disease. The narrative explores themes of human resilience, solidarity, and the struggle against the absurdities of life. It also examines how individuals and society respond to death and disease, creating a profound meditation on the nature of existence and human endurance.

  6. 6. Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar

    "Memoirs of Hadrian" is a historical novel that presents a fictional autobiography of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, who reigned from 117 to 138 AD. Narrated in the first person, the novel explores Hadrian's ascension to the throne, his administration, his love for the young Antinous, and his philosophical reflections on life and death. The narrative is framed as a letter to his successor, Marcus Aurelius, offering insights into the complexities of power, the nature of leadership, and the human condition.

  7. 7. The Counterfeiters by André Gide

    "The Counterfeiters" is a complex novel that explores themes of authenticity, morality, and identity, primarily through the lens of a group of friends in Paris. The story revolves around a series of counterfeit coins, which serve as a metaphor for the characters' struggles with their own authenticity and self-perception. The narrative also delves into the lives of the characters, their relationships, personal struggles, and their journey towards self-discovery. The book is noted for its non-linear structure and metafictional elements, with the author himself being a character in the story.

  8. 8. Nausea by Jean Paul Sartre

    The novel follows a historian living in a small French town, struggling with a strange and unsettling feeling of disgust and revulsion he calls 'nausea'. He grapples with the existential dread of his own existence and the meaningless of life, continually questioning his own perceptions and the nature of reality. As he navigates through his everyday life, he is plagued by his philosophical thoughts and the overwhelming sensation of nausea, leading him to a profound existential crisis.

  9. 9. Man's Fate by Andre Malraux

    Set in 1920s Shanghai during a time of political upheaval, the novel explores the existential themes of life, death, and the human condition through the experiences of a group of revolutionaries. The narrative follows their struggles and sacrifices for their cause, the Communist revolution, and their inevitable confrontation with their own mortality and the harsh realities of life. The book delves into the complexities of political ideologies, human relationships and the constant struggle between hope and despair.

  10. 10. The Lover by Marguerite Duras

    "The Lover" is a poignant exploration of forbidden love, power dynamics, and colonialism. Set in 1930s French Indochina, it tells the story of a tumultuous and passionate affair between a 15-year-old French girl and her wealthy, older Chinese lover. The narrative delves into the complexities of their relationship, the societal norms they defy, and the inevitable heartbreak that follows. The protagonist's struggle with her family's poverty and her mother's mental instability further complicates the story, making it a compelling exploration of love, desire, and societal constraints.

  11. 11. Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan

    This novel centers around a 17-year-old girl living with her playboy father in the French Riviera. The pair lead a carefree, hedonistic lifestyle until the father decides to remarry, causing the protagonist to hatch a plan to prevent the marriage and return to their old way of life. The story explores themes of youth, love, and the struggle between desire and morality.

  12. 12. The Fall by Albert Camus

    The novel is narrated by a successful Parisian lawyer who has moved to Amsterdam after a crisis of conscience. He confesses his past misdeeds and moral failings to a stranger in a bar, revealing his growing self-loathing and disillusionment with the hypocrisy and shallowness of his former life. His confessions are a reflection on guilt, innocence, and the nature of human existence. The protagonist's fall from grace serves as a critique of modern society's moral failings and the individual's struggle with guilt and redemption.

  13. 13. Life, a User's Manual by Georges Perec

    The novel explores the lives of the inhabitants of a Parisian apartment block through a complex, multi-layered narrative. It delves into the interconnected stories of the building's residents, revealing their secrets, desires, and disappointments. The narrative is structured like a puzzle, with the author employing a variety of literary styles and devices, making it a complex and intriguing exploration of human life.

  14. 14. Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky

    "Suite Française" is a two-part novel set during the early years of World War II in France. The first part, "Storm in June," follows a group of Parisians as they flee the Nazi invasion. The second part, "Dolce," shows life in a small French village under German occupation. The novel explores themes of love, loss, and survival, and provides a unique perspective on life in France during the war. The book was written during the war but was not discovered and published until many years later.

  15. 15. The Case of Comrade Tulayev by Victor Serge

    "The Case of Comrade Tulayev" is a political novel set in the Stalinist era of the Soviet Union. The story begins with the murder of a high-ranking Soviet official, Comrade Tulayev, which sets off a series of events leading to the arrest and execution of innocent people. It provides an in-depth exploration of the paranoia, fear, and injustice that characterized Stalin's regime, showing the human cost of political purges and the absurdity of the bureaucratic system.

  16. 16. The Mandarins by Simone de Beauvoir

    "The Mandarins" is a novel that explores the personal and political lives of a group of intellectuals in post-World War II France. The narrative delves into their struggles with ethical dilemmas, political ideologies, and personal relationships in a rapidly changing world. The book is known for its exploration of existentialism and feminism, providing a vivid portrayal of the human condition and the complexities of freedom.

  17. 17. The Immoralist by André Gide

    "The Immoralist" is a novel that explores the journey of a man who, after a near-death experience, indulges in hedonistic and selfish behavior, rejecting societal norms and moral constraints. The protagonist, a scholar, embarks on a journey of self-discovery and self-indulgence after being diagnosed with tuberculosis. His pursuit of physical and sensual experiences leads him to abandon his wife and career, leading to a life of isolation and self-destruction. The book delves into themes of morality, freedom, and the human condition.

  18. 18. Story of O by Pauline Reage

    "Story of O" is a tale of female submission involving a beautiful Parisian fashion photographer named O, who is taught to be constantly available for any form of sexual conduct, to ensure her lover's satisfaction. As part of her training, she agrees to be regularly stripped, bound, whipped, and shared among several men. The story explores the themes of love, freedom, and the paradox of control and power in sexual relationships.

  19. 19. Froth on the daydream by Boris Vian

    "Froth on the Daydream" is a tragic love story set in a surreal world. The protagonist is a wealthy young man who marries a woman he loves deeply. However, their bliss is short-lived when she develops a strange illness - a water lily growing in her lung. As her health deteriorates, so does their wealth and social standing, leading to a bleak and heartbreaking end. This novel is a poignant exploration of love, loss, and the harsh realities of life, all set within a fantastical and dreamlike landscape.

  20. 20. Under Satan's Sun by Georges Bernanos

    "Under Satan's Sun" is a gripping narrative set in the rural French countryside, where a young, idealistic priest struggles with his faith and the harsh realities of his parishioners' lives. He battles against alcoholism, loneliness, and the indifference of his congregation. The novel explores the themes of faith, despair, and redemption, offering a profound and introspective look into the human condition and the challenges of spiritual leadership.

  21. 21. Le Diable au corps by Raymond Radiguet

    "Le Diable au corps" is a French novel focusing on a teenage boy who engages in a passionate and scandalous affair with a woman whose husband is fighting at the front during World War I. The novel explores themes of love, betrayal, and societal norms, while highlighting the consequences of their illicit relationship, including the woman's pregnancy, the boy's expulsion from school, and the tragic death of the woman during childbirth. The story is a poignant portrayal of youthful recklessness, war's impact on society, and the destructive power of love.

  22. 22. Locus Solus by Raymond Roussel

    "Locus Solus" is an avant-garde novel that revolves around the eccentric millionaire inventor, Canterel, who invites a group of guests to visit his estate, Locus Solus. Here, he displays a series of bizarre inventions, each with a detailed backstory. The inventions include a diamond-encrusted machine that constructs intricate mosaics using human teeth, a large glass cage filled with preserved human heads that reenact key moments from their lives, and a device that uses preserved body parts to perform a grotesque ballet. The narrative is heavily detailed and surreal, creating a unique and intriguing exploration of art, life, and the human condition.

  23. 23. The First Man by Albert Camus

    "The First Man" is a semi-autobiographical novel that explores the life of a man named Jacques Cormery, who grows up in poverty in Algeria, loses his father at a young age, and struggles with his relationship with his illiterate mother. The narrative delves into themes of identity, memory, and the human condition, as Jacques attempts to understand his past and his father's life, while simultaneously grappling with the harsh realities of colonial Algeria. Despite the challenges, Jacques remains determined to rise above his circumstances through education and personal growth.

  24. 24. Story of the Eye by Georges Bataille

    This novel is a provocative exploration of the dark side of human nature, featuring two teenage characters who engage in increasingly bizarre and violent sexual games. Their actions, driven by their obsession with eroticism and death, lead them into a world of perversion and madness. The narrative is filled with explicit sexual content and shocking imagery, reflecting the author's fascination with the transgressive and the taboo.

  25. 25. The Elementary Particles by Michel Houellebecq

    "The Elementary Particles" is a provocative novel that explores the lives of two half-brothers, one a molecular biologist and the other a disenchanted teacher, against the backdrop of late 20th-century France. The narrative delves into their personal struggles and emotional turmoil, resulting from their dysfunctional upbringing by a self-absorbed, hedonistic mother. Throughout the novel, the author uses their stories to critique contemporary society, touching on themes such as sexual liberation, consumerism, and the decline of traditional values. The book also delves into the implications of scientific advancements, particularly in the field of molecular biology.

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If you're interested in downloading this list as a CSV file for use in a spreadsheet application, you can easily do so by clicking the button below. Please note that to ensure a manageable file size and faster download, the CSV will include details for only the first 500 books.

Download