The good people (well, person, if you exclude the cat) at Trouserpress have been reading The Guardian again, and note that it has recently published the results of a poll for “the best British, Irish or Commonwealth (absolutely bloody anywhere but America, essentially) novel from 1980 to 2005.” The winner was JM Coetzee’s Disgrace, which neither Trouserpress nor I (nor the cat) have yet read. Trouserpress has upped the ante (ooh, missus!) and announced his list of the best novels in any language since 1945. The winner there: Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude. Trouserpress invites readers to post their own fave lists, much like Nick Hornby did in High Fidelity (and anywhere else he happened to get published).
The Guardian article and Trouserpress’s challenge have made me think a bit though, about what I have read in the past 25 years, and what I haven’t read, and what I started to read but never quite finished (by the way, Orhan Pamuk has just won the Nobel Prize for Literature: if only I’d finshed reading Snow and Istanbul last winter… Now it’ll look as though I’m jumping on the bandwagon when I try reading them again on the train). I read fiction solely in English, can manage non-fiction in French, and can catch the odd newspaper headline and train station sign in Japanese. Not much to go on when giving a judgement on great world literature (although if you need to catch the 8:40 express to 京都, I’m your man, m’sieur).
Perhaps the most recent work whose style has stayed with most me over the years has been A Suitable Boy (1993), by Vikram Seth, a sprawling comic novel of India, although Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News (1994) and Michael Moorcock’s Mother London (1988) run a close second. White Teeth (2000) by Zadie Smith and High Fidelity (1998, see above) were fun, memorable reads, as was The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst (2004), a satire of the Thatcher years in Britain. To my shame, I have never read any Garcia Marquez. In fact, before coming to Japan, I vaguely shared my fellow Canadians’ distate for translated novels (which by the way, keeps English Canadians totally ignorant of excellent French-Canadian writers and vice-versa). Now, one of my favourite novels is The Makioka Sisters (Sasameyuki, 細雪 ) by Jun’ichirou Tanizaki. I’ll get to Haruki Murakami eventually, although other than his short stories, I’ve been studiously avoiding him for fifteen years. Perhaps I owe him money.
A revelation: I realize a lot my very favourite fiction was written not only before 1980 but before 1945 (Isherwood’s Berlin Stories of 1939, The Great Gatsby from 1925, and so on back to The Miller’s Tale) and at any rate, most of the reading which has shaped my view of the world has been non-fiction, which is outside the scope of the lists . Although I am familiar with most of the contemporary novelists mentioned, it’s depressing how few of them I’ve actually read. For all my literary posing, gleaned from the book review pages of many a paper and website, I think I must make the sad confession that I’m really a movie buff after all.
Um, I guess that’s my list. Says more about me than I’d planned. I guess I need a non-fiction list now. And a drink.