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.