Post-War Brit Lit
January 7, 2008 6:49 AM   Subscribe

The 50 greatest British writers since 1945. A few interesting choices here... the 'novelist's poet' at #1 seems fair enough, but this one, this one and this one?
posted by fearfulsymmetry (107 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Interesting that the majority of the authors have published some science-fiction/Fantasy considering fans usually claim that the genre is ignored by the establishment.
posted by oh pollo! at 6:55 AM on January 7, 2008


Philip Pullman? "Powerful, passionate and superbly plotted, they are modern classics"? I wish someone would explain that to me, because I'm beginning to think everyone else got something out of those novels that just went straight over my head.
posted by Leon at 7:02 AM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


There's also a small piece on the decision making behind the list (which includes the Times readers' comments). The rationale for inclusion is bit all over the place but it does allow them to include JK Rowling alongside Isaiah Berlin - can't be too elitest can they?

Interesting to see Pullman but not Pratchett. Also, no Tom Stoppard?
posted by patricio at 7:14 AM on January 7, 2008


Interesting indeed. The dialed down elitism is kinda refreshing, I think.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:17 AM on January 7, 2008


They didn't include Pratchett or Adams... Rowling's kiddie romp makes their list but Pratchett doesn't? Feh!

And Ian Flemming? He was influential, yes, but you his stories were some of the most drab, dull, and poorly written I've ever had the misfortune to read. A great writer he isn't.

As for Pullman, I found his books to be quite good for kid stuff. I also found its not merely atheist but actively anti-theist tone to be quite refreshing. However, I was annoyed that Pullman used the same tired, "oooohhhhh a Chosen One with a Special Destiny" approach in His Dark Materials, especially as it seems almost completely against the rather anti-mysticism approach he took in telling the story. Still, minor complaints to the side I liked his stuff well enough.
posted by sotonohito at 7:17 AM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


I wish someone would explain that to me, because I'm beginning to think everyone else got something out of those novels that just went straight over my head.

No kidding. I've only read Golden Compass, but I don't get it. It wasn't awful. It just seemed kind of blandly generic. Or maybe I was expecting too much, based on the opposition from religidiots.
posted by DU at 7:19 AM on January 7, 2008


I read. A lot. I've read a good many authors on that list. Some of them, such as the ones specifically pointed out, I read voraciously. Now I'll never pretend to be a sophisticated reader, understanding all the finer points, hidden meanings, morals and the raison d'etre for an author's need to write a book, but I do know what I like. Pullman, Rowling and Fleming all wrote books that are easy to read, enjoyable and hard to put down. As did C.S. Lewis, Rushdie, Iain Banks, Moorcock and many others in this list.

Most of these authors wrote books that were accessed by millions. Millions. Does that make them great authors? I'd have to say yes. There are always exceptions to the rule (Britney Spears being one of them, self-help books another), but millions of people can't be wrong. Most of us just want to be entertained when reading, and that's what most of these authors have done. Thinkers may decry Pullman and Rowling, saying that these authors are miles away from the quality of Ballard, Byatt and Ishiguro, and they aren't wrong. It takes all types, however, and variety is truly the spice of life. When a book weaves itself into the social fabric, something important is happening. And yes, as much as it bothers me, the Bible (most sold book of all time, I believe, even if there is more than one author) counts too.

Good list. I'm sure that there are some authors missing, and there always is, but this is nice to see.
posted by ashbury at 7:25 AM on January 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


No Graham Greene? He's a darling of the elite and accessible to the masses. At least Kingsley is ten full spots above his son, though if this were my list, Martin wouldn't make the grade at all. Though, neither would Fleming or Rowling.

As top "x" lists go, this is actually pretty amenable. Still, your favorite post-World War II British novelist and/or poet sucks.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 7:26 AM on January 7, 2008


I can’t believe they didn't include my favorite British author!!!

Now I'll open the link and read the list and decide who that is by their absence from the list.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 7:27 AM on January 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


Flemming wrote really good pulp. Read Casino Royal, it's terse and suspenseful and moves forward with the alacrity of really good spy/crime novels. He totally should make the list.

Adams is a tougher call. I read The Hitchhiker's books when I was an early teen and they were pretty great, but when I went back and re-read them recently... well, they didn't quite measure up with my memory and they were not as good as I thought they should have been, given their hype.
posted by From Bklyn at 7:32 AM on January 7, 2008


They fuck you up, top 50 lists.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
posted by gwint at 7:33 AM on January 7, 2008 [10 favorites]


I don't really have a problem with any of the OP's "questionable" selections. What really raises my ire is the placement of Ian McEwan (35? All the way down there?) and the lack of Graham Greene.
posted by The Michael The at 7:41 AM on January 7, 2008


They fuck you up, top 50 lists.

Curse you, I struggled to think of a punning title and it was so obvious...
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:42 AM on January 7, 2008


Re: Greene, from the other article Patricio linked:
Most problematic was the prewar/postwar distinction; alas, our contenders didn't tie their oeuvres neatly to Mr Hitler's plans. Borderliners such as George Orwell gave us the most bother. In the end we decided that they had to have produced all of their most enduring and significant works after 1945. So no Graham Greene as Brighton Rock came out in 1938, or Evelyn Waugh (Scoop, also 1938). Feel free to say if you think that we've erred.
I guess I accept their logic.
posted by The Michael The at 7:43 AM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


And Ian Flemming? He was influential, yes, but you his stories were some of the most drab, dull, and poorly written I've ever had the misfortune to read. A great writer he isn't.

As a reader, I place novels into two broad categories: 1) writers who "write" well, and 2) writers who create good characters and invent great stories. A very few novels (and novelists) simultaenously satisfy both of my reader demands. But that's OK. I enjoy Rushdie's writings even if his stories bore me to death. And vice versa Flemming.
posted by three blind mice at 7:46 AM on January 7, 2008


Feel free to say if you think that we've erred.

They've erred.
posted by jquinby at 7:55 AM on January 7, 2008


I happened to be in a Chapters this past weekend, thanks to some giftcards I received for Christmas. I was poking through the Science Fiction/Fantasy section, and happened to glance over at the shelves for "Fiction & Literature" (you know, the stuff for "serious" minded people)...and there was J.K Rowling, all seven books, sitting there just as pert as you please. I looked at the shelf in front of me, groaning under Tolkien, and then over at Rowling, sitting at the big people's table.

It was a surreal moment.
posted by never used baby shoes at 8:06 AM on January 7, 2008


Granny always told me never to read a book unless or until it was made into a film. That, she said, was the test of its greatness. And with the film, don't bther to read the book.
posted by Postroad at 8:12 AM on January 7, 2008


Also, no Tom Stoppard

They seem to have neglected playwrights entirely. That given, I have to admit that Tom Stoppard's single novel, Lord Malquist and Mr. Moon (1966) would not by itself have elevated him to greatness.
posted by ubiquity at 8:24 AM on January 7, 2008


.. Ian Flemming ..

Anthony Burgess (A Clockwork Orange) included Ian Flemming's Goldfinger in his list of Ninety-Nine Novels, a pick of the best novels between 1939 and 1983.

ashbury, great comment. A famous popular author, whose name escapes me, once said if his works were not read by millions, but were considered "great" by an elite academic few, he would not consider his efforts a success. Then again, artists and art strive for immortality, one only has to browse through the best seller list of the 19th century to realize how quickly books disappear after a few generations. What keeps readers coming back, and gives a book immortality, is re-readability, and that usually means a book with depth - allusions, allegory, etc.. Dante got it right.
posted by stbalbach at 8:27 AM on January 7, 2008


Putting Angela Carter at #10 while neglecting David Lodge and Tom Sharpe seems rather arbitrary. But I suppose lists always are.
posted by ubiquity at 8:29 AM on January 7, 2008


Larkin has accolades because of typical British reverse-snobbism and post-war working class rebound. I can't stand his stuff.

Unrelated: I can't believe PD James isn't on the list. Talk about under-rated.

Also: Martin Amis has written some brilliant novels and is extremely influential stylistically. I don't see where he misses the top 10.
posted by Rumple at 8:30 AM on January 7, 2008


It's a shame because Stoppard was already writing a play that incorporated all the major works of these fifty authors, supposing that they'd met on a WWII battlefield for figgy pudding and a discussion of reverse causality on the subatomic level as pagan explanation for biblical prophecy, all while falling in love.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:33 AM on January 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


Ted Hughes is a better poet than Larkin, and for my money so's Geoffery Hill, though I could see people disagree with that. I'd have had R.S. Thomas in there, and I wonder if they meant writing in English, too, as Sorley MacLean knocks most English language poets into a cocked hat. Of absent prose writers, I always thought James Kelman was something special.
posted by Abiezer at 8:34 AM on January 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


Anthony Burgess on his pick of Ian Flemming's Goldfinger (1959) in his list of Ninety-Nine Novels:
Guardians of the good name of the novel may be shocked by this inclusion. But Flemming raised the standard of the popular story of espionage through good writing - a heightened journalistic style - and the creation of a government agent - James Bond 007 - who is sufficiently complicated to compel our interest over a whole series of adventures. It is unwise to disparage the well-made popular. There was a time when Conan Doyle was ignored by the literary annalists, even though Sherlock Holmes was evidently one of the great characters of fiction. We must beware of snobbishness.
posted by stbalbach at 8:35 AM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Fleming.
[/poorhumblepedant]

(Also, +1 disappointed-at-absence-of-Pratchett-especially-considering-presence-of-Rowling.)
posted by aihal at 8:42 AM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Shame that there's no Will Self.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:47 AM on January 7, 2008


Phew, thank you, aihal! I was torn between pedantry and a childish desire to see just how far the flemming would go once it started.
posted by Phanx at 8:51 AM on January 7, 2008


...Or Irving Welsh.

Oddly there is an ad on the page that rips off the Trainspotting poster.
posted by Artw at 8:52 AM on January 7, 2008


Of course, pissed-off Pratchett fans are great for bumping up page views
posted by Leon at 8:54 AM on January 7, 2008


Flemings got somne good solid books out there as well as the more iffy ones. I wouldn't bother with Casino Royale, for instance, but From Russia With Love is great.

The Man Who Saved Britain is a pretty good book on Flemming, the books, the films and their relationship with society at large that I'd thoroughly recommend if you want a new appreciation of them.
posted by Artw at 8:56 AM on January 7, 2008


Uh oh. Out come the litsnobs... "Wot! No [Insert name here] who won the North Watling Literary Guild's Most-Promising-Up-And-Coming-Poet-Playwright Award in 1972! Shame!"

I include in "great writing" that which inspires an interest in reading. The simple fact that Fleming and Rowling have together managed to keep the world's literacy level moving forward when so much of the world's casual recreation since the evolution of the movie mitigates against reading more than qualifies them for placement on this list.

Before the "splut splut"s start, I'm not overlooking the constant stream of Bond and Potter movies. But let's face it; they came from the books' popularity.
posted by Mike D at 9:01 AM on January 7, 2008


Golden Compass is decidedly not anti-mysticism, what with a war against God himself, angels, physical (?) manifestations of original sin and souls, a very real world of the dead, etc. I always find it interesting that Pullman is able to treat all of this supernatural stuff in a very real, concrete, integral-to-the-plot sort of way, considering his personal beliefs.
posted by supercres at 9:04 AM on January 7, 2008


I guess I can accept Fleming based on Burgess's reasoning (Conan Doyle is a good analogy), but not at #14—come on. And I can accept the exclusion of Greene based on their postwar rule, but damn, no Stoppard? That's absurd. Penelope Fitzgerald, Walcott, and McEwan should be much higher than they are, and Tolkien (#6?!), C.S. Lewis, and Mervyn Peake much lower. Also, your favorite Top 50 list sucks.
posted by languagehat at 9:07 AM on January 7, 2008


The Pullman universe is more Gnostic if anything, with an ineffectual absentee landlord god and some downright dodgy powers moving into his place.
posted by Artw at 9:08 AM on January 7, 2008


Lists like this are invariably ridiculous, but his one is particularly irksome. Where is Graham Greene?
posted by mert at 9:12 AM on January 7, 2008


That's odd, never used baby shoes... I worked at Coles (same company as Chapters) for a stint over Christmas last year, and the JKRowling tomes have always been shelved in the young reader section, never the adult section. Then again, there are adult cover versions of the book, so it's possible that my particular Coles wasn't big enough to carry both types?
posted by Phire at 9:16 AM on January 7, 2008


See above.
posted by Artw at 9:16 AM on January 7, 2008


Shame that the no-drama rule means no Pinter, agree that RS Thomas was robbed. I'd also have mentioned Derek Mahon and can't understand why you'd choose Anita Brookner over Hilary Mantel (but maybe I need to re-read Hotel du Lac now that I've forgiven it for appearing in the prose analysis section of my English exam at school).
posted by unless I'm very much mistaken at 9:19 AM on January 7, 2008


No Will Self confused me too. Of the current generation of British novelists I think he's the most likely to still be being read in fifty years.
posted by greytape at 9:25 AM on January 7, 2008


Glad to see Alasdair Gray in there, and I'm with Abeizer on James Kelman – a writer whose work is consistently downplayed because he's a chippy working-class Scot and not afraid to say so in public.

The total lack of playwrights is really weird – if you're going to include philosophers (Berlin) and historians (AJP Taylor) why not dramatists? No Stoppard, as mentioned above, but even more surprisingly, no Pinter, no Orton, no Howard Barker. And if you're going to play the "include a token black" for god's sake don't make it the execrable waste of space that is Benjamin Zephaniah, a "poet" only in the sense that he writes things down and (for reasons unknown to me), other people publish them.
posted by Len at 9:25 AM on January 7, 2008


Well, if we're bending the list to add our own favourite guy...

Alan Moore fuckers! He's got a PWEI song and everything!
posted by Artw at 9:25 AM on January 7, 2008


Martin Amis has written some brilliant novels and is extremely influential stylistically. I don't see where he misses the top 10.

Aye, I have to agree. I think that The Rachel Papers, Money and London Fields are all great books. But then I thought about the pointlessness of lists like this which are just a cheap way of driving up page hits and thought why bother to even worry about it.

If I was going to suggest someone who is missing, I would say James Kelman. He is one of the true greats of post-war Brit Literature but, for whatever reason, he is as popular as a jobby in a swimming pool as far as literary London is concerned (despite being recognised virtually every where else in the world).
posted by ClanvidHorse at 9:26 AM on January 7, 2008


Oh bugger! Someone mentioned Kelman already. For anyone who is interested, A Disaffection is as good a book as any I have ever read.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 9:30 AM on January 7, 2008


Irving Welsh is good, but he's no Ian Phlegming.
posted by QuietDesperation at 9:30 AM on January 7, 2008


The simple fact that Fleming and Rowling have together managed to keep the world's literacy level [...][up] more than qualifies them for placement on this list.

That rather depends on what definition of 'Great' one uses, doesn't it? For some ranking methods this list would have (for instance) Rowling at a much higher place, and for some she wouldn't appear at all.
posted by atrazine at 9:34 AM on January 7, 2008


Here's where I get confused:

There was, too, the question of nationality, occasionally a more delicate issue than one might think. What — Ted Hughes but no Heaney? But as Famous Seamus has reminded us, his passport's green. Hard luck.

So it seems they get to claim Derek Walcott (#31) because at one point between now and the end of WWII he had British citizenship, even though he carries a St. Lucia passport now. But why are authors like Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka MIA then? Nigeria got its independence in 1960.

On one hand, I'm not sure what right the British have to lay claim to the best minds of their former colonies. On the other, I bristle at the fact that, yet again, African writers are getting the shaft.
posted by whimwit at 9:35 AM on January 7, 2008


This is a great list - a GREAT list. One of the best lists I've read in a long time - and let me tell you, I've read a lot of fucking lists in my life. But without a doubt, this list has that rare combination of action, suspense and romance that I always look for in a good list.

The setting of this work of historical listing is Britain, from 1945 to the present day. The list follows a group of writers - novelists, poets and playwrights - as they ply their trade in a variety of genres and styles. The list has a taught and minimal style which may not appeal to everyone, but which only serves to raise the reader's interest and communicate its dramatic themes with a particularly powerful and direct force.

From the first item on the list - "Philip Larkin" - the reader is immediately hooked. Larkin - like the morning lark itself? - is the perfect entry to usher in the powerful dawn of this list. Yet almost immediately George Orwell indicates a moment of hesitation - the list seems to say, "or ... well ... ?" But then, Oh! - a recapitulation that everything is becoming gold (or "Golding") at the sunrise of this list.

Soon we meet Doris Lessing, a minor character, and presumably the first love interest of the predominately male opening of this list. But other ladies soon follow - a spark of romance with Muriel is soon followed by Iris, Jan, Penelope ... and, as the post war years give way to the liberation (and even sexual ambivalence) of later decades, characters such as "J.K.", "J.G." and even "A.J.P" appear, creating a dynamic sexual tension in this list that may upset some social conservatives.

The last third of the list takes a dramatic turn, however: things become Gray and Fowle, and characters seem to be always Rowling. Various solutions to this apparent social and psychological malaise are attempted: working in the Banks, becoming a Taylor and even moving to Berlin are all tried and rejected. But finally the focus of this list returns to love, as Bruce and Alice end up together, as do Benjamin and Rosemary. And what, in the end, does Michael get? Well - I won't spoil it for you! You'll have to read this list yourself!

But anyway – it’s a really, really great list.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 9:38 AM on January 7, 2008 [12 favorites]


I keep my own list, but do not inflict it on anybody.
posted by jfuller at 9:39 AM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also, 'Literary London' has always preferred Pullman over Rowling for some reason.
posted by atrazine at 9:41 AM on January 7, 2008


No, I lied. I have Dorothy Mitford at number seven.
posted by jfuller at 9:43 AM on January 7, 2008


QuietDesperation - Grmphf. You're going on some kind of list now alright.
posted by Artw at 9:44 AM on January 7, 2008


but millions of people can't be wrong.

Want to bet?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:44 AM on January 7, 2008


They didn't include Pratchett or Adams...

There are a lot of great writers here whom I fully believe deserve a place on this list, but I can't imagine why Pratchett isn't among them.

For writing in a similar genera, I honestly find him to be superior to both Rowling and Tolkien. Adams is good too, but I am really surprised and Terry's absence from the list.
posted by quin at 9:45 AM on January 7, 2008


To be honest, I've only read one of Flemming's books, Casino Royale, and was bored stiff. The writing was turgid, and I found the story pretty bland. Matter of taste, of course, and as I said earlier there's no denying that Flemming was influential. I just think he was influential despite being a really bad writer.

Rowling on the list makes sense, not only is she one of (if not the) most commercially successful writers in the UK today, her stuff is quite enjoyable.

But seriously, the absence of Pratchett is just plain puzzling. He's prolific, he has only gotten better with age, and his stuff is both well written and damn fun to read.

I'm not too surprised by the absence of Adams, he was groundbreaking, but like many firsts he wasn't as good as what came later.

Also, I'm with you Kirth, millions of people can be wrong. Populariety is no guarantee of quality. OTOH, the snob game is also not true, just because something is popular doesn't mean it sucks.
posted by sotonohito at 9:48 AM on January 7, 2008


For writing in a similar genera, I honestly find him to be superior to both Rowling and Tolkien.

Possibly that they are writing in that genre, and in the case of Tolkien redefining it (I fucking hate Tolkien, me, but I can't deny his influence) and Pratchett is basicaly doing a series of amusing spoofs of it?
posted by Artw at 9:53 AM on January 7, 2008


If you've got Rowling and Pullman in there, where are Gaiman and Pratchett?
posted by Chuffy at 9:53 AM on January 7, 2008


Cannot argue with the number 1. Whoever said Ted Hughes is a better poet than Philip Larkin, are you havin a laff?

Is he avin a laff?

The sky split apart in malice
Stars rattled like pans on a shelf
Crow shat on Buckingham Palace
God pissed himself -


Oh immensements!
posted by fire&wings at 9:54 AM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Prachett is no-way a great writer. He's written the same book over and over again. And does not even write in chapters. Then of course there's that big big rumour... (cough, cough ghostwritten, chough, allegedly, cough)

Adams has not aged all that well, for me, anyway.

Rowling is a bit of a mystery to me... she's very popular, seems like a nice person and writes fun very readable fiction... but all those said-bookisms, all those Toms Swiftys? A great writer...? really?
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:58 AM on January 7, 2008


Wow. Golding is #3? I know most high school students have to read Lord of the Flies, but aside from that, big bookstores don't even bother to shelve any of his other works (at least here in the US). I really don't hear his name come up in academia or with critics, either. Is he bigger in the UK?

Really good list, though.
posted by Kronoss at 10:10 AM on January 7, 2008


Discworld's early stuff could be called spoofs, but his subsequent books, particularly those from the last couple of years have really demonstrated his skills. (I'm thinking of stuff as early as Small Gods, to works like The Truth and The Thief of Time). And if you ignore Discworld all together, you still have his absolutely-perfect-in-every-respect Good Omens and his Bromeliad Trilogy, which is also quite good.
posted by quin at 10:14 AM on January 7, 2008


fire&wings - that was me, and I'd stand by it. It's not so much Hughes' better-known signature early work where, as Heaney put it about something else, the veins were bulging in his biro a bit, but much of his mature stuff. He has a range and a genuine poetic sensibility that Larkin lacks for me. Despite the latter's transcendent moments, he's ultimately the bourgeois curmudgeon he is often painted and suffers accordingly. I particularly recommend Hughes in sheep-farming mode.
posted by Abiezer at 10:14 AM on January 7, 2008


Good Omens is again basically spoof of The Omen and other assorted apocalyptic nonsense. It's clever, but not exactly world-shaking. And yes, it's great that he often mixes in some kimnd of swiftian satire with his spoof fantasy stories, but their still basically just that.
posted by Artw at 10:31 AM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


they had to have produced all of their most enduring and significant works after 1945. So no Graham Greene as Brighton Rock came out in 1938

So if Brighton Rock and The Power and the Glory had been shittier books, Greene would have made the list? Good lord, that's completely bonkers.
posted by mediareport at 10:35 AM on January 7, 2008


I'm surprised - pleased, but surprised - to see Orwell ranked so highly considering his work before and during WWII is stronger. Obviously his death in 1950 limited his post-war output, but 1984 doesn't compare to the essays, Down & Out, Homage, Wigan Pier, the As I Please columns, and Animal Farm. The inclusion feels more politically motivated, and the last line in the writeup rings hollow considering that the people and forces whom Orwell fought and warned against have leaned more from him than we have.

And Alan Moore does deserve to be on the list, consarn it!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:46 AM on January 7, 2008


fearfulsymmetry re: Pratchett and the same book over and over. Would you mind expanding on that, or providing a link to someone who did? I don't see it myself, and I'm curious as to what it is in his writing that you see as repetitive.

Curious also as to why you seem to consider a lack of chapters to be either noteworthy or a mark of bad writing. I'll admit its somewhat unusual, and it eleminates a chance to use those nifty British snarky summary headers [1], but I've not previously encountered anyone presenting it as evidence of bad writing.

[1] An art which I believe to have been perfected by Jerome K. Jerome in Three Men in a Boat.
posted by sotonohito at 10:49 AM on January 7, 2008


Yes, they should have included Pratchett and Alan Moore, but where is the love for Neil Gaiman? That is an injustice as well.

I am glad to see Iain Banks on the list. While it wasn't acknowledged in the notes, the man brought back the space opera to speculative fiction and did it with style, intelligence and heart. Not to mention the best names for spaceships the genre has ever seen.
posted by Ber at 10:58 AM on January 7, 2008


Good lord, Hilary Mantel—thanks, unless! How can they have left off Hilary Mantel and included so many lightweights?

whimwit: Excellent point about the Nigerians and other former colonials.

Alvy: Good point about Orwell. And if Orwell, why the fuck not Greene?

And yeah, Kelman.

On the other hand, the quidnunc kid is right about the undeniable pathos and tension of the list. I've seen other lists that could barely sustain interest past the first few. This one should be a major motion picture!
posted by languagehat at 10:59 AM on January 7, 2008


Iain Banks > Terry Pratchett
posted by Justinian at 11:01 AM on January 7, 2008


Ber - I've a suspicion that Banks isn't on that list for the books you and I would prefer him to be on that list for.
posted by Artw at 11:08 AM on January 7, 2008


I rather liked The Crow Road, The Bridge, and Walking on Glass.
posted by Justinian at 11:19 AM on January 7, 2008


He's done some great books under his non-M name, though I think the quality has dropped off a little, but It's stuff like Use Of Weapons or Inversions I love him for. THough it's okay something like The Bridge doesn;t really compare.

re: Pratchett and the same book over and over. Would you mind expanding on that, or providing a link to someone who did? I don't see it myself, and I'm curious as to what it is in his writing that you see as repetitive.

Eh? Pratchetts work is quite blatantly samey, being largely variants on "Quirky good natured underdog bumbles through life, gets involved in some scheme or other by some too-clever-for-their own good malefactor, triumph due to simple down-to-earth plan trumping over the top scheming, also help from unexpected quarters".

I think Pratchetts work is kind of like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in that it’s something that's quite good for what it is but has somehow accrued a base of fans who blow it's significance out of all proportion and overlook it's limitations. It's good, but it’s not that good.
posted by Artw at 11:26 AM on January 7, 2008


Maybe Ian Fleming made the list for writing Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

I can live with Fleming on the list, but his placement is way too high. Martin Amis, Roald Dahl, John Le Carré, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Ian McEwan are all listed below Fleming and are much better writers (and that's just the one's I've read).

And I can accept the exclusion of Greene based on their postwar rule

I can't. Graham Greene should be on the list, based on The Heart of the Matter (1948), The Third Man (1949), The End of the Affair (1951), The Quiet American (1955), and Our Man in Havana (1958).

Granny always told me never to read a book unless or until it was made into a film. That, she said, was the test of its greatness

Movies have been made of nearly all of Greene's post-World War II novels, several more than once. (One book inspired a Molly Ringwald movie.)
posted by kirkaracha at 11:34 AM on January 7, 2008


Quibble: The Third Man started as a movie.
posted by Artw at 11:38 AM on January 7, 2008


essentially what labnguagehat said. also, Under the Volcano came out in 1947, still Lowry is anywhere in the list, these guys are full of shit.
posted by matteo at 11:41 AM on January 7, 2008


is nowhere in the list
posted by matteo at 11:41 AM on January 7, 2008


The one I'm puzzled by is Phillipa Pearce. And I'm puzzled about why I'm puzzled, because Tom's Midnight Garden was one of my favorite books as a kid. I just can't believe that she's really one of the two best British kids' book authors of the post-war era. Maybe Rumor Godden?
posted by craichead at 11:57 AM on January 7, 2008


I really want to encourage everyone to check out Anthony Burgess. His novel (and the Kubrick movie) "A Clockwork Orange" keeps his name out there but there is much more to the man. He really took the vocation of "A Man of Letters" seriously. He wrote very witty and informative criticism: "But Do Blondes Prefer Gentlemen?" and "One Man's Chorus." He wrote a Trilogy of novels about Malaysia (called the Maylaysian Trilogy); he wrote esoteric "writerly" fiction in "M/F" and "Napoleon Symphony" (a novel based on Beethoven's 5th symphony) and half a dozen very approachable early novels. His heavy-hitter late novel, "Earthly Powers" is very good indeed. In all his work you find vivacity, experimentation, always engaging prose.

He died in the early 90s and since then two biographies about AB have come out. I read the one by Roger Lewis who basically portrays AB as a mop on a porn-arcade floor; I haven't read Andrew Biswell's yet - which I hear tell is more favorable. Cheers (my first mefi post!).
posted by Dex Quire at 12:13 PM on January 7, 2008


Okay, show of hands. Who here, locked in a room with a pencil and paper, could list 50 British authors since 1945 to begin with? Who here can name 50 authors? Who here has actually read 50 books?

I mean, 50 books! Come on...
posted by bicyclefish at 12:14 PM on January 7, 2008


ps. Welcome, Dex Quire, and congratulations on your first post. It's all downhill from here.
posted by bicyclefish at 12:15 PM on January 7, 2008


sotonohito,
Pratchett and the same book over and over
Well I was about half a dozen in and the last few it just seemed to be roughly the same jokes form the same characters (Oh look here's Death again saying something a bit meaningful in CAPITAL LETTERS, here's the librarian saying ook, here's the greedy wizards) and roughly the same overall plot devices (lets put a magic equivalent of the some modern technology into Diskworld and see what happens is a common one as is just lets to the Disc-world version of 'Vampires!' or 'Shakesphere!')

consider a lack of chapters to be either noteworthy

That was a reference to the infamous comments by critic Tom Paulin: 'A complete amateur ... doesn't even write in chapters ... hasn't a clue.'

And actually meeting the man also helped to turn me against him (I know I'm not the only one there too).
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:42 PM on January 7, 2008


...Or Irving Welsh.

No argument that Trainspotting wasn't a fine book, but are any of his others? The couple that I tried, sucked.

And why so much sci-fi and so little crime? No PD James? No Ian Rankin? No Ruth Rendell?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:49 PM on January 7, 2008


Porno is worth a read. It sounds like a total cash in (a sequel to trainspotting?) but actually turns out to be very good. And it turns out I'd missed those guys. I have to admit I've not really enjoyed anything else of his as much as those two.
posted by Artw at 12:55 PM on January 7, 2008


I have Dorothy Mitford at number seven.

Presumably she was the retarded sister that they kept locked in the attic?

Also: Artw, Porno is the only one I've really fancied since he let me down with the others. Though I'm tempted by the chefs book as well.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:57 PM on January 7, 2008


I've heard some not-so-great things about the Master Chefs one.

Also I wouldn't exactly say that something like Maribou Stork Nightmare was bad, it just isn't a Trainspotting.
posted by Artw at 1:00 PM on January 7, 2008


I really don't hear [Golding]'s name come up in academia or with critics, either. Is he bigger in the UK?

I suspect he's out of fashion right now, but The Spire and Pincher Martin seem to have staying power, as does the later sea trilogy. They're on Faber's list, which gives them a boost, too.

nthing those recommending more Burgess, fiction and non-.
posted by holgate at 1:42 PM on January 7, 2008


I'd avoid his 1985 though, if it's even still in print.
posted by Artw at 1:50 PM on January 7, 2008


Maybe Ian Fleming made the list for writing Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

One of the worst childrens books I ever read. And it was just 2 months ago. The best part is the Freudian tunnel scene. With global warming and CO2 emissions, the mythological car worship takes on a more sinister subtext.

bicyclefish: Who here has actually read 50 books?

*raises hand* - more to life than 5 minute songs and 90 minute movies (not that there is anything wrong with those things). More to life than books also *shrug*
posted by stbalbach at 1:51 PM on January 7, 2008


> >I have Dorothy Mitford at number seven.
>
> Presumably she was the retarded sister that they kept locked in the attic?

It's an idiosyncratic list, which is why I seldom share it. Bit I'll just tip my hand a bit more, I have Iris Le Carré at 23 and Aldous Macdonald Durrell way up at no. three.
posted by jfuller at 2:22 PM on January 7, 2008


I've heard some not-so-great things about the Master Chefs one.

Also I wouldn't exactly say that something like Maribou Stork Nightmare was bad, it just isn't a Trainspotting.


Maribou Stork Nightmares would be the book of his I admire most, after Trainspotting. I never want to read it again, but nonetheless....

Porno was good. Glue is also worth reading (it introduces many of the characters that turn up in Porno, including Juice Terry, one of Welsh's most memorable characters).

Master Chefs was just appalling. Absolutely dire.

Greene and Self should be there. Orwell and Tolkein and Fleming are too high. Rushdie and Martin Amis are too low.
posted by Infinite Jest at 2:43 PM on January 7, 2008


bicyclefish Me. I've no idea how many books I've read in my lifetime, but I know it was over fifty in the past year alone.

fearfulsymmetry and Artw To me it sounds like you are judging the totality of his work by the RIncewind novels, which IMO are among the worst he's ever written. But, obviously not everyone is a Pratchett fan, and I certainly don't experct them to be. Its a matter of taste, and while I'll argue about pretty much anything else, I do try to avoid arguing about taste.

fearfulsymmetry, I hadn't heard of Tom Paulin until you linked to him, so I didn't get the joke, thought you were serious for a moment there.
posted by sotonohito at 2:47 PM on January 7, 2008


Animal Farm was published two days after the end of World War II, so it would've snuck onto a postwar list, but 1945 isn't "after 1945," and they break their own rules by citing it on Orwell's page.

Quibble: The Third Man started as a movie.

Quibble fo-schnibble: "Greene wrote a novella of the same name in preparation for the screenplay."
posted by kirkaracha at 3:32 PM on January 7, 2008


It's an idiosyncratic list, which is why I seldom share it. Bit I'll just tip my hand a bit more, I have Iris Le Carré at 23 and Aldous Macdonald Durrell way up at no. three.

Poor Durrell. No one ever remembers Durrell. Durrell fans never remember Durrell. I sleep with a copy of The Alexandria Quartet under my pillow - a box set, and it's pointy - and I was sitting here reading the list going wasn't there some guy? in like Greece? who wrote some big long sexy beautiful something about something? with words like "eburnine"?
posted by dyoneo at 3:38 PM on January 7, 2008


I don't have the list in front of me but is the Scots novelist Alasdair Gray mentioned at all? A really fantastical writer - and a wildly creative graphic artist to boot. For nearly unclassifiable fantasy/sci-fi check out "The History Maker" or "Poor Things." For a more literary offering there is "Lanark" - wild, hallucinatory, strange, worth the effort though.

p.s. thanks bicyclefish...rolling along...
posted by Dex Quire at 4:31 PM on January 7, 2008


bicyclefish: Don't worry, I got it. Man, some people wouldn't recognize a joke if it bit them on the ear.

Poor Durrell. No one ever remembers Durrell. Durrell fans never remember Durrell.

Guilty as charged. Yeah, where's Durrell?
/just finished rereading the Alexandria Quartet a few months ago

I don't have the list in front of me but is the Scots novelist Alasdair Gray mentioned at all?

Yup, #29 (which pleased me).
posted by languagehat at 4:58 PM on January 7, 2008


Gray is number 29, and by "number 29" I mean "totally awesome." Lanark is better than just about anything else by just about anybody else on the list.
posted by dyoneo at 5:02 PM on January 7, 2008


The list makes slightly more sense now I've read the accompanying article, which explains that to be included, writers 'had to have produced all of their most enduring and significant works after 1945' (not just 'some', not just 'most', but 'all'). That ought to exclude Orwell (Down and Out in Paris and London, 1933), Tolkien (The Hobbit, 1937) and Anthony Powell (Afternoon Men, 1931), though it doesn't. But at least it explains the omission of T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, Dylan Thomas, David Jones, John Betjeman and William Empson.

Even so, this is a list which manages to find space for J.K. Rowling and Benjamin Zephaniah, while excluding Angus Wilson, V.S. Pritchett, Thom Gunn, R.S. Thomas, Basil Bunting, Michael Holroyd and Alan Hollinghurst (not to mention Sylvia Plath -- but I suppose she counts as American rather than British). In fact I'm not sure why I'm taking it seriously. Some of the writers I admire are on this list, some of them are not, but I shall go on reading them, and looking for others I enjoy, without giving a damn whether they are considered 'major' or 'minor' by the journalists who run the Times arts pages (and who appointed them the arbiters of literary taste, anyway?). And no, I am not going to 'join the debate'; why should I bother? Isn't this just a black-tie version of 'your favourite band sucks'?
posted by verstegan at 3:11 AM on January 8, 2008


This list is a farce. No Neil Gaiman? No Alan Moore? And what about Marv Wolfman? Peter David? R A Salvatore? Wiess? Hickman? Weiss and Hickman? Chris Claremont? George Lucas?

I spit on it.
posted by tannhauser at 3:18 AM on January 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


And why isn't Jenny Diski on the list? C'mon everybody, let's nominate her!

*runs*
posted by verstegan at 3:21 AM on January 8, 2008


Sorry, that was unnecessarily flippant in its scouring of my own geekiness and not even on topic - I know that most of those authors are not British, and as such disqualified anyway. Butbut - I think that some writers will just have to be content with small but fiercely devoted readerships, or even large and fiercely devoted readerships - like Terry Pratchett, who for all his argued virtues is probably never going to make it into the academy even far enough to get onto the longlist for something like this, because of his style, his subject matter and his... what's the word? Presentation? Branding? Likewise, Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman are tricky - they are both very good writers of comics, but is this a list for comic book writers, or a list by people who would even have heard of people known primarily as comic book writers? I haven't read Voice of the Fire, but Neil Gaiman's non-illustrated prose has left me largely not wildly impressed or particularly unhappy - it's just sort of there.

What is fascinating is how a writer like Rowling fits into that - why she gets "serious" covers for people who don't want to be seen with a purple dragon on the cover of the book they are reading on the train even if it is still obvious that they are reading J K Rowling, when Pratchett doesn't for example. It's almost as if the desire of adults to read J K Rowling sort of pulled her through a credibility hole; that there is a conspiracy not to look down on the thirtysomething reader of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as one might at somebody reading a Xanth novel, or even a Terry Pratchett novel.
posted by tannhauser at 3:27 AM on January 8, 2008


tannhauser,

"...pulled her through a crediblility hole..."

Nice...

Also, I'm intirgued by your list of a few earlier posts. i haven't heard of any of them and I thought I was well-read. A blow to my ego! Care to elaborate on any of them? I'm not totally lazy but give us a sentence on each and I'll follow up...just curious & thanks.
-DQ
posted by Dex Quire at 2:15 PM on January 8, 2008


They seem to have neglected playwrights entirely.

How can you leave the playwrights out if you let the poets in? Stoppard should be near the top of the list. And yes of course to Greene, Pratchett, and Gaiman (more than just a comic book writer). My favorite left off the list, and unmentioned here so far, is Michael Frayn. An excellent playwright, translator, screenwriter, and novelist, he makes up a good list all by himself, and his omission (he's not even mentioned on their long list) is ridiculous.

That said, I was surprised (and pleased) to see Iain Banks included. Never read any of his M. books, but I really like the half-dozen other ones I've read.
posted by LeLiLo at 10:39 PM on January 8, 2008


when Pratchett doesn't for example

non-Josh-Kirby Pratchett cover
posted by Leon at 2:27 AM on January 9, 2008


Michael Frayn's a good one, lelilo, definitely - possibly being known primarily as a playwright and translator counted against him, but he has a far firmer rep as a novelist than Stoppard.

Letting the poets in is a bit of a risk - why does Alice Oswald get in but not Stephen Spender (too early? His last word was published in 1994...), or of her contemporaries Don Paterson or Simon Armitage? Is Zephaniah there for his poetry or his children's fiction?

I suspect that fans of Gaiman and Pratchett are just not going to accept their exclusion from the list, perhaps justly (Pratchett as a prose stylist is about Rowling-level; is the bar lowered for her because she is at least nominally there as a children's writer?). While I would agree that Neil Gaiman is (more than just a comic book writer), I'd say that he is at least currently more than a just comic book writer in the way that Richard Adams was more than just the guy who wrote Watership Down - while his comics work was often outstanding in an admittedly uninspiring field, as a novelist his best work so far has been Coraline, which read like a competent Catherine Storr tribute. Unless we are specifically including writers of graphic novels, I wouldn't see him placing.

Dex: I think it would be wildly offtopic, I fear, since the writers mentioned are almost all American or Canadian; they were examples of the kind of cult novelists who tend not to get championed, because they are the wrong kind of cult - polyhedral dice and acid-resistant plastic bags cult. Having said which, between the non-British origins and the inescapable fact that most of them are terrible, it wasn't a very useful gambit. Not my finest hour. I could MeFi mail you some info, if I can work out how to.
posted by tannhauser at 2:32 AM on January 9, 2008


Leon: Ah, right. OK. I stand corrected. Is it me, or do the "adult" Pratchett designs and the "adult" Rowling cover designs look exactly the same?
posted by tannhauser at 2:35 AM on January 9, 2008


That ought to exclude ... Anthony Powell (Afternoon Men, 1931)....

Come again? The first volume of Dance to the Music of Time wasn't published until 1951.

The pre-war novels and the John Aubrey bio wouldn't have gotten him on the list. I'd say it was his post-1950 work that did. And the two post-Dance novels, plus all the memoirs, journals and bundled reviews that came out late just iced the cake.
posted by gwyon at 9:03 AM on January 9, 2008


tannhauser,

How does MeFi mail work?
posted by Dex Quire at 10:39 AM on January 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


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