The Mark Blog

Bookmark This: Frederic Raphael's Top 10 Novels for Dialogue

In this Guardian piece, novelist Frederic Raphael recommends ten novels that make exceptional use of dialogue. We've reposted Raphael's introduction on dialogue below. Read the full piece including his top ten recommendations here.


Dialogue brings a novel to life. It is possible to compose fiction without it, just as Georges Perec was able to write an entire book without using the vowel "e," but one had better be a genius to affect such forms of composition. And once is quite enough. It may also be possible to contrive great blocks of prose, in which landscapes are described and psychological states analysed as never before. But a writer who cannot make characters talk, and have their conversations require us to listen to them, is locked into airless formality.

Dialogue tells us what people say and it hints at what they do not. It encourages readers to bring a book to life by enticing their participation in it. They then supply their own reading of how loudly or softly, truly or falsely, words are exchanged. When a writer allows his characters to talk among themselves, he grants them their freedom. If only because the subconscious can then chime in, his premeditated scheme never wholly dictates what someone will say.

Dialogue in a novel is like stained glass, the surrounding prose is there to frame and support it. Even Marcel Proust, who certainly delivers paragraphs of dense prose, used dialogue brilliantly; and silence too. His greatest character, the Baron de Charlus, is arrogant, garrulous and caustic. But when an arriviste hostess finds the nerve to banish him from her house, his inability to find any kind of crushing retort signals the moment when the narrator, Marcel, is able to stand away from his mentor's shadow. Thenceforth he is free to depict him with merciless accuracy. Dialogue can be used in various ways and various registers, but a writer who masters its nuances will produce novels that always speak to us, not least between the lines.

Read the rest of the article here.