Monday, October 09, 2006

Best of British

Remember all the kerfuffle back in May over the New York Times attempt to find the Great American novel?

To even up the score, the Observer decided to hold a similar poll to find the best British novel and asked 150 "literary luminaries" to vote for the best British, Irish or Commonwealth novel from 1980 to 2005. Writes Robert McCrum a bit sniffily:
In the novel, as in everything else, there are Anglo-Saxon and American attitudes. We celebrate a literary tradition of astonishing variety. They want to believe in the Great American Novel, the classic exemplar, the last word. We don't really believe in the last word, prefer not to be told what's best and would rather make our own discoveries.
Nice example of British perveristy that!

First place went to JM Coetzee's Disgrace.

Second prize went to Martin Amis' Money.

Joint third place to Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess, Atonement by Ian McEwan, The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald, The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro, Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie.

Then jumping to eigth place, we have:

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, Amongst Women and That They May Face the Rising Sun by John McGahern.

I'm happy enough so far, with the exception of Disgrace at the top of the pile. (I have had a few heated arguments with Mr. Raman over this title, which he would put on this pedestal too. I thought it very good, but I much prefer Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians and Age of Iron.)

I'd have had Rushdie in no. 1 spot - in terms of sheer influence alone.

The Remains of the Day I'd have pushed a bit higher.

I didn't terribly like The Blue Flower and couldn't see why it was so raved about. (That annoying feeling of other people finding much more in a book than you do.)

I hadn't even heard of John McGahern (let me just go beat myself up!!)

The list of other nominations is also interesting and contains many of my favourite books, and a useful reference for gap filling.

(I've read 30 of the listed titles, so still some way to go!)

Observer reader's comment on the poll can be found here.


Ted Mahsun said...

Am hitting myself on the head for not getting Money at the Big Bookshop Sale! Argh!

Anonymous said...

The list of books is getting longer by the day!!! How DO you find the time to read all of these books? I love to read as well, but I'm faced with lack of time, exhaustion from work and the ever new titles that appear everyday. :P Maybe I should increase my reading speed. But the story won't be appreciated fully, if I did it that way. Grrr!!!!

bibliobibuli said...

ted - ah yes, the ones that got away. i have plenty of regrets. can lend you money though. (the book i mean!)

anon - i feel exactly the same way. this pressure and the guilt it engenders sort of stops the fun, doesn't it? you can't read everything, and reading faster means you probably don't read as deeply. but at least lists like this give you a reference point and suggestions for good stuff. anyway, take a deep breath, don't panic.

Krishna said...

> One statement from this piece sums up my feelings about these
polls:"List culture as a pact with the devil of popular culture"
> I for one would like to see these "best of" lists go the way of
the Dodo. Recommend me a book you feel is interesting and I'll give it
a go. Do NOT wrap it in a "Best Novel Of The last 25 years" sheen,
weigh it down with Literary awards and critical plaudits and Fed-Ex it
to me with a "Must Read" label slapped on to it for good measure.
> Should one seek out one of these books in the list and discover in
the process a delightful reading experience he or she would have
otherwise missed, then these polls in my opinion have served their ONE
SOLE beneficial purpose.
> But in the process of reading one of these celebrated tomes, if
one finds,instead, the whole experience akin to having a tooth pulled
without the benefit of anaesthesia, does that mean your tastes don't
measure up? That you're a Philistine doomed to peruse Airport
Thrillers while in Transit?
> Let's all keep our favourite reads(Be it in the last 25 or even 50
years) in the one place it matters: Inside our minds and hearts(while
keeping them a little open,of course!)
> Happy reading!

bibliobibuli said...

well said, krishna and thanks for the sense of perspective, though i must confess i love these lists

a Philistine doomed to peruse Airport
Thrillers while in Transit?

sounds like the seventh circle of hell :-D

lil ms d said...

sharon bakar - how many pairs of eyes do you have???? what with work, research etc... i salute you!

bibliobibuli said...

i'm just so dynamic ms d. must be getting lessons in wonderfulness from amir hafizi!!

Glenda Larke said...

Ok, can any one tell me WHY a man born in SOUTH AFRICA writing a book about SOUTH AFRICA is considered a BRITISH writer?????

This smacks of intellectual kidnapping. How would one of our Malaysian writers feel if they were told they were a British writer?

I like Coetzee, but I have never thought of him as British. For gossake, even his name is of DUTCH origins!!

bibliobibuli said...

correction, a south african man with a dutch name now resident in australia

we brits sort of appropriate the best bits of the world and call it british - even now.

Anonymous said...

"We don't really believe in the last word, prefer not to be told what's best and would rather make our own discoveries."

Which explains the Booker, I suppose. :)

Anonymous said...

"How would one of our Malaysian writers feel if they were told they were a British writer?"

I've no idea, but I'm quite sure a lot of Malaysian teachers of English have been told that they're English teachers :)