11.11.06




: encuesta the observer







Como respuesta a la encuesta que hace poco realizó el New York Times entre varios escritores y críticos para enlistar las mejores novelas norteamericanas de los últimos 25 años, el diario inglés The Observer respondió hace unas semanas con su propia lista. La encuesta se realizó entre 150 personalidades del panorama literario inglés y la lista que arrojó comprende sólo a novelistas tanto al Reino Unido e Irlanda como de la antigua Commonwealth. Aquí les paso fragmentos del artículo y al final la lista que, por cierto, es mucho de lo que he estado leyendo todo este año y el pasado (todo McEwan, todo Banville, todo Amis, todo Barnes, todo Ishuguro, y siempre al maestro de maestros Coetzee, etc. etc.). ¡Larga vida a la literatura contemporánea de habla inglesa!


Robert McCrum, Sunday October 8, 2006
Mythical or not, the NYT question produced an intriguing list of runners-up. These included Underworld by Don DeLillo; Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy; Rabbit Angstrom, a compendium of the Rabbit novels by John Updike; and American Pastoral by Philip Roth. It was clear from the long list of also-rans, titles that attracted multiple nominations, that if Philip Roth, who has been at the top of his game for the past decade, could have aggregated the votes for novels like The Human Stain and The Plot Against America he might have emerged the outright winner.


Whatever its limitations, the list provoked a vigorous debate. When the dust had settled, the New York Times, summarising, decided that its survey supplied 'a rich, if partial and unscientific, picture of the state of American literature, a kind of composite self-portrait'. Inevitably, as several commentators were quick to point out, it was an incomplete one: among those that received no recognition were Paul Auster, Lorrie Moore and Anne Tyler, to name three of the most glaring omissions.

Accordingly, a few weeks ago we sent a letter to about 150 writers and 'literary sages' inviting them confidentially to nominate 'the best novel (in English, excluding America) for the years 1980-2005.' Helpfully, we added, 'how you define "best" is up to you'.

Returning to the last century, and our own, the results of The Observer poll bear out one of the commonplaces of recent literary commentary: the years of Blair and especially Thatcher have seen a remarkable flourishing of the novel in English.


It is in the literature of India, Australia, the Caribbean, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa that the British and American traditions diverge most sharply. The novels of Coetzee, Rushdie, Malouf, Ondaatje and Seth (all mentioned in our poll) exemplify the vigour of contemporary fiction to the point where some will say that the last generation has been - whisper it softly - a kind of golden age. Again, the many nominations for John McGahern (Amongst Women and That They May Face The Rising Sun) demonstrate Ireland's ancient spell over the English literary imagination.

As it has always done, the metropolis continues to dominate. Coetzee was the winner, but, in the final tally, the runners-up snapping at his heels included Martin Amis (Money), Ian McEwan (Atonement), Anthony Burgess (Earthly Powers) and Kazuo Ishiguro (The Unconsoled). Was there a surprise? In the middle of our polling it seemed as if Penelope Fitzgerald would be the outright winner, with multiple votes for The Coming of Spring and The Blue Flower. Fitzgerald, who died in 2000, is an English classic, a brilliantly oblique ironist, whose prose wears its themes lightly.


If this Observer poll has any consequence it derives from the fact that we have consulted mainly with professionals. These included several writers who, neglected this time, might reasonably expect to attract the attention of critics and readers a generation hence. We are especially pleased to have enthusiastic responses from Andrea Levy, Zadie Smith, Monica Ali, Kirsty Gunn, Kate Grenville, Ali Smith, MJ Hyland and Sarah Waters, among others.




First place
Disgrace (1999) JM Coetzee

Coetzee became the first writer to win the Booker Prize for a second time with this exploration of post- apartheid South Africa, which centres on Professor David Lurie, in self-imposed exile at his daughter's remote farm after an ill-advised affair with a student.

Second place
Money (1984) Martin Amis

Super-charged, anarchic and full of narrative acrobatics, Money burst on to the Eighties literary scene leaving a trail of imitators and devotees in its wake, not least because of its formidable, if frequently repulsive narrator, ad director John Self .

Joint third place
Earthly Powers (1980)Anthony Burgess

Homosexual writer Keith Toomey is asked to write the memoirs of the late Pope Gregory XVII - a commission that takes him on a whirlwind recap of the major events of the 20th century.

Atonement (2001)Ian McEwan
Opening in 1935 , Atonement focuses on Briony Tallis , at first as a 13-year-old implicated in the conviction of a family friend for rape and, latterly, an elderly novelist on the brink of losing her memory.

The Blue Flower (1995)Penelope Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald's final novel is frequently cited as her masterpiece. It recreates the life of the 18th-century German poet and philosopher Novalis , focusing on his romance with a 12-year-old girl .

The Unconsoled (1995)Kazuo Ishiguro
Ishiguro's intricate, dream-like fourth novel marked a radical departure from the more conventional narratives of his earlier work, evoking the great European masters of film as much as fiction.

Midnight's Children (1981)Salman Rushdie
Rushdie's second novel not only won the Booker prize but was also awarded the 'Booker of Bookers' in 1993. It unites powerful subject matter - the partition of India - with a dazzling, playful style.

Joint eighth place
The Remains of the Day (1989)Kazuo Ishiguro

Stevens , a butler at Darlington Hall, takes a trip to the West Country . His memories - particularly of the late Lord Darlington , revealed as a Nazi sympathiser - throw into sharp relief the novel's themes of collusion, betrayal and repression.

Amongst Women (1990)John McGahern
A powerful meditation on 20th-century Irish history, particularly focusing on the Troubles, this novel was a runner-up for the Booker prize of 1990, and a national bestseller, confirming its author's reputation as Ireland's leading novelist.

That They May Face the Rising Sun (2001)John McGahern
A study of a rural community in Ireland, the changing seasons and the gradual creep of modernity. A genre-bending fiction that incorporates memoir, history, folklore and a therapeutic reprise of the author's own career.

Other nominations
Hawksmoor (1985) Peter Ackroyd
The Old Devils (1986) Kingsley Amis
Behind the Scenes at the Museum (1995) Kate Atkinson
The Handmaid's Tale (1985) Margaret Atwood
An Awfully Big Adventure (1989) Beryl Bainbridge
The Wasp Factory (1984) Iain Banks
The Untouchable (1997) John Banville
The Regeneration Trilogy (1991-95) Pat Barker
Flaubert's Parrot (1984) Julian Barnes
A Long, Long Way (2005) Sebastian Barry
Ill Seen Ill Said (1981) Samuel Beckett
Possession: A Romance (1990) AS Byatt
True History of the Kelly Gang (2000) Peter Carey
A Perfect Spy (1986) John le Carre
Nights at the Circus (1984), Wise Children (1991) Angela Carter
Waiting for the Barbarians (1980), Age of Iron (1990), Masters of Petersburg (1994) JM Coetzee
The Barrytown Trilogy (1987-91) Roddy Doyle
Gwendolen (1989) Buchi Emecheta
Birdsong (1993) Sebastian Faulks
The Beginning of Spring (1988) Penelope Fitzgerald
To the Ends of the Earth: A Sea Trilogy (1980-89) William Golding
Unlikely Stories, Mostly (1983), 1982, Janine (1984) Alasdair Gray
Transit of Venus (1981) Shirley Hazzard
Ridley Walker (1980) Russell Hoban
The Line of Beauty (2004) Alan Hollinghurst
Never Let Me Go (2005) Kazuo Ishiguro
A Disaffection (1989), How Late It Was, How Late (1994) James Kelman
The Buddha of Suburbia (1990) Hanif Kureishi
English Passengers (2004) Matthew Kneale
The Life of Pi (2002) Yann Martel
As Meat Loves Salt (2001) Maria McCann
The Comfort of Strangers (1981), Enduring Love (1997) Ian McEwan
No Great Mischief (1999) Alistair MacLeod
Fugitive Pieces (1996) Anne Michaels
The Restraint of Beasts (1998) Magnus Mills
A Fine Balance (1995) Rohinton Mistry
Mother London (1988) Michael Moorcock
The Enigma of Arrival (1987) VS Naipaul
After You'd Gone (2000) Maggie O'Farrell
His Dark Materials Trilogy (1995-2000) Philip Pullman
I Was Dora Suarez (1990) Derek Raymond
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (2005) JK Rowling
The God of Small Things (1997) Arundhati Roy
A Suitable Boy (1993) Vikram Seth
Hotel World (2001) Ali Smith
A Far Cry From Kensington (1988) Muriel Spark
The White Hotel (1981) DM Thomas
Restoration (1989) Sacred Country (1992) Rose Tremain
Omeros (1990) Derek Walcott
The Passion (1987) Jeanette Winterson



Our panel
Tim Adams; Monica Ali; Hephzibah Anderson; Michael Arditti; Kate Atkinson; David Baddiel; Joan Bakewell; JG Ballard; Lynn Barber; Nicola Barker; Julian Barnes; Sebastian Barry; Ronan Bennett; Nicholas Blincoe; Will Boyd; Melvyn Bragg; Sylvia Brownrigg; John Burnside; AS Byatt; John Carey; Peter Carey; Justin Cartwright; Susannah Clapp; Jonathan Coe; Cressida Connolly; Rachel Cooke; Jason Cowley; Alain de Botton; Margaret Drabble; Sarah Dunant; Douglas Dunn; Geoff Dyer; Will Eaves; David Eldridge; Helen Fielding; Amanda Foreman; Philip French; Brian Friel; Fi Glover; Bonnie Greer; Kate Grenville; Niall Griffiths; Kirsty Gunn; Christopher Hampton; David Hare; Joanne Harris; Robert Harris; Philip Hensher; Peter Ho Davies; Philip Hoare; Anthony Holden; Christopher Hope; Nick Hornby; Kathryn Hughes; MJ Hyland; Ian Jack; Jackie Kay; Kate Kellaway; Frank Kermode; Marian Keyes; Hari Kunzru; Hanif Kureishi; Hermione Lee; Doris Lessing; Jonathan Lethem; Andrea Levy; Marina Lewycka; Toby Litt; David Lodge; Adam Mars Jones; Hisham Matar; Frank McCourt; Ian McEwan; Patrick McGrath; Sarah Emily Miano; Andrew Miller; Rebecca Miller; Deborah Moggach; Rick Moody; Jan Morris; J ohn Mortimer; Kate Mosse; Andrew Motion; Jenni Murray; Patrick Neate; Edna O'Brien; Maggie O'Farrell; Andrew O'Hagan; Helen Oyeyemi; Jay Parini; Adam Phillips; Caryl Phillips; DBC Pierre; Philip Pullman; Craig Raine; Dan Rhodes; Keith Ridgway; Jane Rogers; Salman Rushdie; Jonathan Safran Foer; Simon Schama; Anita Shreve; Lionel Shriver; Iain Sinclair; Ali Smith; Zadie Smith; Hilary Spurling; Adam Thirlwell; Rupert Thomson; Colin Thubron; Colm Toibin; Joanna Trollope; Jenny Uglow; Salley Vickers; Erica Wagner; Marina Warner; Sarah Waters; Fay Weldon; Edmund White; Nigel Williams.