With a little help from former outposts of the Empire. This round-up of the 100 best novels of the last 25 years from basically everywhere that’s not the Americas or the North Pole makes interesting reading. And while I wouldn’t disagree with Coetzee’s Disgrace heading the list, it would have been so nice if Smiley had won.
Robert McCrum writes:
“There was, too, a cut-off problem. 1980 is an arbitrary date. It excludes, by the narrowest of margins, VS Naipaul’s A Bend in the River (1979), by any standards one of the great novels of our time. And then, what do you do about John le Carre? Smiley himself was flourishing, imaginatively, until the Wall came down and the three main Smiley novels, written in the 1970s, were republished, in a single volume, in 1994. In the end, le Carre was represented by A Perfect Spy (1986). At one early stage in our polling, it looked as if he might win.
Both Naipaul and le Carre, in different ways, connect the reader to the Victorian hinterland of the contemporary English novel. This poses another question. What might a similar exercise look like for 1880-1905? Ask that question and you get a sense of the complexity of such surveys.
Time is a ruthless critic: RL Stevenson or Thomas Hardy? HG Wells or Joseph Conrad? EM Forster or Rudyard Kipling? Heart of Darkness (1902) or Jude The Obscure (1895)? The Time Machine (1896) or Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886)? Nostromo (1904) or Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905)? This is, of course, a debate that must exclude Henry James at the peak of his powers (Daisy Miller, 1879; Portrait of a Lady, 1881) on the grounds of his American citizenship.”