10 Greatest Unfinished Novels

Just because they aren't finished doesn't mean they aren't worth reading.

The Last Tycoon
Simon & Schuster

It takes true talent and genius to write a masterpiece even though you haven't finished it yet.

Whether due to perfectionism, other projects, illness, or even death, some authors never managed to finish books which, when eventually published posthumously, were recognised as tantalising works of literary excellence, even if there are endings missing and plot points unexplored.

The unfinished novel is something of an interesting phenomenon, similar in kind to deleted scenes or early abandoned drafts. Their incompleteness affords them an extra, mysterious quality; there is space to imagine, to daydream possibilities. That feeling attracts a certain type of reader, one who doesn't mind the ambiguity of ideas half-fleshed out or plots sharply incomplete.

But for all the many examples of unfinished works, few are of such quality as to be of anything more than of academic interest or 'what if' curios. There are, however, some volumes which shine, despite not having received that final coat of polish, and some of these vary wildly from the opening acts of stories to novels approaching their final moments.

Of this rare bunch of unfinished great books, these are the ten finest novels that continue to make us wonder 'what if', whilst satisfying every book-lover who opens their pages.

10. The Ivory Tower by Henry James

The Last Tycoon
National Portrait Gallery, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Towards the end of his life, James - or The Master, as some referred to him - set about a series of highly ambitious and deftly woven novels, some of which were considered the finest writing he ever produced. Had he lived to finish The Ivory Tower, it no doubt would have automatically joined The Ambassadors and The Golden Bowl in superlative estimation.

A dark and brooding critique of money, The Ivory Tower concerns two ageing financiers looking back on their lives and wondering whether they have corrupted themselves and the next generation. The novel, as we have it, is about halfway finished; James died at this juncture, leaving copious notes and half a manuscript.

Whenever James let his imagination turn towards the darker and more sinister aspects of society, the resultant works were always amongst his best: from 'The Turn of the Screw' to 'The Figure in the Carpet.' Eschewing the supernatural aspects of those stories yet retaining the powerful, claustrophobic, and subtle prose of his late period, what we have of The Ivory Tower is magisterial, and was set to be the Master's final exquisite farewell.

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A philosopher (no, actually) and sometime writer from Glasgow, with a worryingly extensive knowledge of Dawson's Creek.