Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Britain's '50 Greatest' Postwar Writers

So, last week a friend in London sent me the following link:

For those who have trouble opening the link, here's the list itself:

1. Philip Larkin

2. George Orwell

3. William Golding

4. Ted Hughes

5. Doris Lessing

6. J. R. R. Tolkien

7. V. S. Naipaul

8. Muriel Spark

9. Kingsley Amis

10. Angela Carter

11. C. S. Lewis

12. Iris Murdoch

13. Salman Rushdie

14. Ian Fleming

15. Jan Morris

16. Roald Dahl

17. Anthony Burgess

18. Mervyn Peake

19. Martin Amis

20. Anthony Powell

21. Alan Sillitoe

22. John Le Carré

23. Penelope Fitzgerald

24. Philippa Pearce

25. Barbara Pym

26. Beryl Bainbridge

27. J. G. Ballard

28. Alan Garner

29. Alasdair Gray

30. John Fowles

31. Derek Walcott

32. Kazuo Ishiguro

33. Anita Brookner

34. A. S. Byatt

35. Ian McEwan

36. Geoffrey Hill

37. Hanif Kureishi

38. Iain Banks

39. George Mackay Brown

40. A. J. P. Taylor

41. Isaiah Berlin

42. J. K. Rowling

43. Philip Pullman

44. Julian Barnes

45. Colin Thubron

46. Bruce Chatwin

47. Alice Oswald

48. Benjamin Zephaniah

49. Rosemary Sutcliff

50. Michael Moorcock

Naturally, I'm delighted to see Tolkien in the top ten, especially since for the most part he's in very good company up there (I'd have left out Carter and bumped up Fowles about twenty spots). And it's nice that Larkin, a favorite of mine, did so well. I'm also pleased to see Pullman and Rowlings made the list, although near the bottom. It's interesting that three of the figures Shippey linked in AUTHOR OF THE CENTURY (Tolkien, Golding, Orwell) made the top six here (the fourth, Vonnegut, is ineligible, being an American). But what a strange list it is. Most writers whose careers straddled the 1945 divide were omitted (e.g. Waugh, Huxley, Wodehouse, Eliot, Carey, Dylan Thomas), even when they continued to produce major works for decades (the majority of Grahame Greene's and Auden's careers were post-war). Yet Orwell, who died in 1950 and was unable to write for the last year or two of his life due to illness, made it in the top two.

Looking over the list as a whole, the two authors I think they really shd have made room for are (1) Richard Adams, not just for WATERSHIP DOWN (there's really nothing else quite like it) but also GIRL ON A SWING, and (2) Neil Gaiman -- although he now lives in the U.S. that shdn't disqualify him.

Others I could make an argument for including include Dick Francis, for the sheer literary quality of his detective novels; Terry Pratchett, who at his best is v. gd indeed; and Douglas Adams (as a radio scriptwriter, not a novelist). I think some figures are in there for historical significance rather than any literary quality --e.g., Fleming for having invented the modern spy novel and Le Carre for having drearied it down; Ellis Peters, if it comes to that, is a better writer than either.

Figures I'd drop include Carter, Rushdie (being a cause celebre does not a talented writer make), Peake, and of course Moorcock (a hack, however prolific, doesn't deserve a spot). I'd also replace A. Garner with K. Briggs: HOBBERDY DICK is hard to beat.

Still, an interesting list, and one they clearly kept an open mind about. Good for them!


current reading: THE COMPANY THEY KEEP (Pavlac-Glyer), BANKER TO THE POOR (Yunus).


Vinny said...

Wow - I'm even more pleased to see Ted Hughes near the top of the list!! That's been a looong time coming! And Orwell at #1 - it's the first time a list like that has looked any good to me. Great news. Hope.

Vinny said...

Oops, Orwell is #2...still, damned nice!