You know I prefer to steer clear of novels which get the hype treatment. These days, it’s highly likely a book needing to be advertised as “the best ever”, means a publishing house is in need of your cash. Nowadays, “best ever” has no relation whatsoever with quality.
This was proven yet again this morning, by the Independent website. An article on the Bath Literature Festival bleated that a panel of judges had pinpointed THE novel which “… transformed the literary landscape.” Someone cackled he had been bowled over by “… the boldness of its narrative, its scene-setting …”. You get the bla-bla gist.
The best ever novel written in English according to this panel?
Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall”.
A moment ago, I was nearly kicked out of a university library for laughing out loud and long. For the panel is of course not independent! Nor is this literature festival! The Bath Literature Festival is now called The Independent Bath Literature Festival.
Uhm – yes, there seems to be a link between this festival and the website the article was published on. Uhm – yes, it’s of course a sheer coincidence that a television adaptation of “Wolf Hall” is currently being broadcasted on BBC 2 television channel.
It is of course sheer coincidence, that one of the judges of the panel happens to blog and produce for the BBC. Another one just happens to be a literary agent. All the panel members write articles for newspapers. Even the artistic director of this festival does and she’s a comedian too. Are festival, paper, panel pulling our legs?
Might be: last week, I returned “Wolf Hall” unread for the third time to one of the libraries I’m a member of. I agree with reviewer Susan Bassnet: “… dreadfully badly written …” Each time I start on it, I develop this urge to start howling like a pack of wolfs. It’s not only badly written – it’s just too awful to waste time upon. There are far more readable and well-written books waiting for you and me to discover.
But with a newspaper sponsoring this festival, promoting it, as well as publishing about it, plus those not-that-independent judges taking just three hours to select the best ever novel written in English, I guess “Wolf Hall” must be a major something. Even if it’s far removed from great literature.
Here’s the list of the previous twenty winners. If you really depend on other people to decide what you like to read: I can recommend “Alias Grace” as an interesting read based on historical facts. If you’re looking for a novel which really made an impact upon the literary scene, take “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”. Both books are also not hefty. Put them on top of each other and they easily fit into “Wolf Hall”. As most books on the list below show: many authors don’t need to write hundreds of pages to create a good, original read.
– Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (Louis de Bernières)
– Alias Grace (Margaret Atwood)
– American Pastoral (Philip Roth)
– England, England (Julian Barnes)
– Disgrace (J M Coetzee)
– White Teeth (Zadie Smith)
– Atonement (Ian McEwan)
– Any Human Heart (William Boyd)
– The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Mark Haddon)
– Small Island (Andrea Levy)
– We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lionel Shriver)
– The Road (Cormac McCarthy)
– Half of a Yellow Sun (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)
– The Outcast (Sadie Jones)
– The Little Stranger (Sarah Waters)
– Wolf Hall (Hilary Mantel)
– A Visit From the Goon Squad (Jennifer Egan)
– State of Wonder (Ann Patchett)
– Life After Life (Kate Atkinson)
– The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt)