IN today’s Observer there is a fascinating article by Robert McCrum on the above topic. Apparently in the US they recently had a poll ( for the best American novel of the past twenty five years) and Beloved by Toni MOrrison came out on top. Apparently the great Roth’s vote was split between many novels.
The Observer decided to carry out a similar poll for those writers eligible for the Booker. They polled around 120 writers and broadcasters to choose the best British or Irish or Commonwealth fiction since 1980. The list is interesting, as are those who had more than one book nominated. The article contains some hidden gems though. One writer apparently voted for his or her own book (if you scan the list of contenders at the end can you guess who it was? – I have my suspicions given the reaction of one author when COetzee won his first Booker).
There is – as far as I can tell – only a few “genre” books anywhere near the list – a Derek Raymond novel and A Perfect Spy by le Carre (in my view his finest novel), although Banville’s spy novel about a fictionalised Blunt “The UNtouchable” is nominated and some sf offerings of Ishiguro and Atwood.
There is one surprising omission – Ballard – although I am of the view that his best work is before the start date.
The list of authors with more than one book nominated (not including trilogies which seem to have been treated as one entry hence Golding’s sea trilogy, Roddy Doyle’s Barrytown books, and Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy are there) includes:
Angela Carter, JM COetzee, Penelope Fitzgerald (who to my shame I haven’t read), Alasdair Gray, Kazuo Ishiguro, Jim Kelman, Ian McEwan, and John McGahern. Ishiguro and McEwan have 3 nominations. Coetzee has 4. Gray’s nominations are Unlikely Stories Mostly and 1982 Janine (presumably nominated by Jonathan Coe – who dedicated one novel to 1994, Janine) but surprisingly does not include Lanark – although the list of those polled does not include some of the younger novelists particularly influenced by Lanark.
Anyway, the top ten is as follows:
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
If polled I would have voted for 1982, Janine. I have still never read anything quite like it. For those that have not enountered the novel Gray’s self-penned blurb gives the idea:
“This already dated novel is set inside the head of an ageing, divorced, alcoholic, insomniac supervisor of security installations who is tippling in the bedroom of a small Scottish hotel. Though full of depressing memories and propaganda for the Conservative Party it is mainly a sadomasochistic fetishistic fantasy. Even the arrival of God in the later chapters fails to elevate the tone. Every stylistic excess and moral defect which critics conspired to ignore in the author’s first books, Lanark and Unlikely Stories, Mostly, is to be found here in concentrated form.”