Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Best novel of the last 25 years?

You've probably heard about the Observer's poll to find the best British, Irish, or Commonwealth novel from the last 25 years. Like the American version of a while back, they asked a bunch of famous literary people to vote and came up with a list. I didn't like the American list at all, and got quite annoyed at the whole enterprise, but I'm not having that reaction this time. I'm guessing that's because I don't feel any "ownership" or any stake in this because it's not "my" country -- but as you can tell from my scare quotes, I don't particularly like feeling that way. Why feel any ownership over American literature? I'm someone who's spent an awful lot of time studying British literature anyway! A bad list is a bad list.

But I don't really know if the Observer's list is a bad one or not largely because I haven't read much on it. That probably explains my non-reaction. When I saw the list I immediately bookmarked it as a source of future reading suggestions, while the American list did not inspire me in that way at all.

In case you're too lazy to click over here are the top winners:

First place

Disgrace (1999)JM Coetzee

Second place

Money (1984)Martin Amis

Joint third place

Earthly Powers (1980)Anthony Burgess

Atonement (2001)Ian McEwan

The Blue Flower (1995)Penelope Fitzgerald

The Unconsoled (1995)Kazuo Ishiguro

Midnight's Children (1981)Salman Rushdie

Joint eighth place

The Remains of the Day (1989)Kazuo Ishiguro

Amongst Women (1990)John McGahern

That They May Face the Rising Sun (2001)John McGahern

Of these, I've read only The Remains of the Day and Midnight's Children, and I've listened to Atonement on CD. All these books I loved, especially the Ishiguro and McEwan. I've read other books by Martin Amis, but no Coetzee (although I've been considering it for a while), no Burgess (I haven't been interested, but maybe I should be?), no Fitzgerald (I'm guessing I'm missing out here), and no McGahern (no idea about this one).

There's a longer list of other nominations, which you'll have to click over to read; I am familiar with most of the names but some are completely new to me.

What do you think -- am I more interested in this list than the American one because it's a better list, or because I don't know enough about it to be disappointed in it?