Thursday, 26 November 2009

The Best Books of the 2000s - Competition Time!

Competition time!

As the top five is so tantalisingly near you can almost smell the foxed pages and slanted boards, I thought a little competition might be in order.

Simply guess the top 5 books according to me and win a copy of each!

Post them in an ordered list in response to this post. You have until midnight (UK time) 30 November to formulate a response.

The judging criteria is that the novels must have been first published in English in the UK between 2000 and 2009. No author has more than one book in the top 5 and Ian McEwan is ineligible.

If there is a tie, the correct order will be taken into account. If things are still equal at that stage, a play off will be cobbled together, possibly to be televised on Sky Arts.

Here is a list of the books already selected. Don’t vote for them, they’re not in the top 5.

Good luck!

6. Night Watch – Sarah Waters (2006)
7. Remainder – Tom McCarthy (2006)
8. Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugendies (2002)
9. The Time of Our Singing – Richard Powers (2003)
10.Unless – Carol Shields (2002)

11. The Road – Cormac McCarthy (2006)
12. The Corrections – Jonathan Franzen (2001)
13. Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay – Michael Chabon (2000)
14. That They May Face the Rising Sun – John McGahern (2002)
15. Fingersmith – Sarah Waters (2002)
16. Gould’s Book of Fish – Richard Flanagan (2002)
17. The Ministry of Special Cases – Nathan Englander (2007)
18. The Book of Illusions – Paul Auster (2005)
19. My Revolutions – Hari Kunzu (2007)
20. Wash This Blood Clean from my Hands – Fred Vargas (2007)

21. The Confessions of Max Tivoli – Andrew Sean Greer (2004)
22. The Human Stain – Philip Roth (2000)
23. GB84 – David Peace (2004)
24. Dancer – Colum McCann (2003)
25. What is the What – Dave Eggers (2006)
26. The White Tiger – Aravind Adiga (2008)
27. The Crimson Petal and the White – Michel Faber (2002)
28. Gilead – Marilynne Robinson (2004)
29. A Fraction of the Whole – Steve Toltz (2008)
30. The Quick and the Dead – Joy Williams (2000)

31. Falling Man – Don Delillo (2007)
32. Lark & Termite – Jayne Anne Philips (2009)
33. History of Love – Nicole Krauss (2005)
34. Oxygen – Andrew Miller (2001)
35. It’s All Right Now – Charles Chadwick (2005)
36. Embers – Sandor Marai (2001)
37. The Last Samurai – Helen DeWitt (2000)
38. The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz (2007)
39. The Testament of Gideon Mack – James Robertson (2006)
40. The Bear Boy – Cynthia Ozick (2005)

41. Murder on the Leviathan – Boris Akunin (2005)
42. Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami (2005)
43. Netherland – Joseph O’Neill (2008)
44. The People’s Act of Love – James Meek (2005)
45. After the Fire, A Still Small Voice – Evie Wyld (2009)
46. The Horned Man – James Lasdun (2002)
47. Timoleon Vita Come Home – Dan Rhodes (2003)
48. The King is Dead – Jim Lewis (2003)
49. The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffeneger (2003)
50. Callisto – Torsten Krol (2007)


  1. Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
    The Sea, John Banville
    Legend Of A Suicide, David Vann
    Life Of Pi, Yann Martel
    Angel, Katie Price

  2. 5. The Fortress of Solitude, Jonathan Lethem (2003)
    4. Cold Water, Gwendoline Riley (2002)
    3. Legend of a Suicide, David Vann (2009)
    2. Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell (2004)
    1. Tree of Smoke, Denis Johnson (2007)

  3. Legend of a Suicide is ineligible as I have classified it as a story collection. Sorry.

  4. Ah, I wasn't paying attention and had forgotten it was novels only. In that case my top 5 suggestions (reordered now!) are:

    5. The Fortress of Solitude, Jonathan Lethem (2003)
    4. Cold Water, Gwendoline Riley (2002)
    3. Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell (2004)
    2. Tree of Smoke, Denis Johnson (2007)
    1. Austerlitz, W.G. Sebald (2001)

    I can't believe I didn't include Sebald in my first guess...

  5. Oh but hold on... you said earlier that there was one author with two titles in the top 50, and unless my eyes are deceiving me, we haven't had a duplicate yet. I'm guessing the doubler-upper will be Marilynne Robinson for Home, but I've had my guess so I have to stick with it.

  6. Sarah Waters has had two (numbers 6 and 15 respectively)

  7. Ok, here are my random guesses. The Matthew Kneale one is included because I think it was one of the best books of the decade and will be overlooked in most lists. I keep thinking I should say Blind Assassin but what the heck...


    1. The Master by Colm Toíbín
    2. Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel
    3. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
    4. English Passengers by Matthew Kneale
    5. Extremly Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

  8. Stuart -
    Great list. My top 5 (rather than my guess at yours) would be:
    1) Austerlitz
    2) The Line of Beauty
    3) Cloud Atlas
    4) Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
    5) White Teeth

    With an honourable mention for Snow by Pamuk.

  9. I can't believe Legend of a Suicide missed out on a technicality.

    I'm not sure I can guess your top 5, Stuart, but I'll eat my shoes if Austerlitz isn't number 1.

  10. The technicality of it not being a novel...

  11. I agree with Joe, and I will encourage him to eat his shoes if Austerlitz isn't number 1.

    All mine are wild guesses of course but I used some vague working out, such as Stuart's general love of Americana as detailed here, so I figured the only big contemporary US author I could think of who wasn't already on the list was Jonathan Lethem.

    He also praised, obliquely, Tree of Smoke here, and Gwendoline Riley as one of his non-US favourites here (he places her alongside Charles Chadwick, whose It's All Right Now makes his Top 50) - as to which of her books to pick, I just went for the one I'd heard of most.

    Then I figured there had to be some David Mitchell in the list somewhere, so again went for his biggie. Of course by that reckoning it could be Ishiguro or Martel or someone else, as others have suggested...

  12. All will be revealed... (I do like the fact you've thought it through. Very impressed.)

  13. Like John, I tried to go for books I think you'd pick, and not ones that I necessarily think should be Top 5.

    Ah, damn you second guessing...


  14. Austerlitz, Line of Beauty, Fortress of Solitude (all previously mentioned), Fragrant Harbour by John Lanchester, Rings of Saturn by WG Sebald. I don't thing 2 Sebalds is too much of a stretch, although that's partly because I can't think of any other novels, although Roth's Plot Against America has just done just that!

  15. 5. The Accidental - Ali Smith
    4. Our Horses in Egypt - Rosalind Belben
    3. Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro
    2. Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
    1. Austerlitz - Sebald

    Total puntage, cobbling what I think together with what other people here know about Stuart's reading tastes. Was going to go for 'Ghostwritten', which I loved with a freshness because it was so surprising, but then thought it was published in 99 - and additionally thought it might have been excluded under the terms of the Vann amendment. A great list, though, whatever's in the top 5.

  16. I don't want to police others' entries, but in your own interests, Neil, you might want to rethink The Rings of Saturn, which was published in English in 1998. Plus, Stuart said elsewhere that there was just one writer with two books in the Top 50, which turns out to be Sarah Waters.

    theoriginallang, interesting to see you mention Rosalind Belben - I've seen her get so much praise from reliable sources, but I must admit I struggled with Our Horses in Egypt. I wondered if I might fare better with Hound Music, which I understand is a prequel (or at least that Horses followed on from it).

    Oh and Stuart, if there's a tie, surely it should go down to who mentioned the right books first - after all, it looks as though everyone is going to put Austerlitz number one from now on! (And yes, I am joking: I don't even want to win as I already have all the books I've guessed, except Gwendoline Riley, who I don't really expect to be there...)

  17. Fair point, thanks John. I will go for a favourite of mine then: The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break by Steven Sherrill

  18. I'm going for:

    1. The Sea - John Banville
    2. The Lay of the Land - Richard Ford
    3. Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
    4. A Mercy - Toni Morrison
    5. 20666 - Roberto Bolano.

    They'd all be in my top 20 of the decade, even though I didn't really understand a lot of number 4 and haven't finished number 5 yet.

  19. John, I have to say that I struggled with Our Horses at the outset (to such a degree that, in normal circumstances, I would have put it down and moved on to something else) but there was something in the oblique beauty of the sentences, over and above any narrative arc, that pushed me to continue. It now haunts me in a way that few other books ever have. I haven't read Hound Music - she has become one of those authors (like James Salter) whose pleasures I don't want to rush through.

    On Austerlitz being at numero uno, I have a hazy recollection that Stuart might have said as much on twitter a few weeks back in response to another list...

  20. Oh good call oliver, I think The Lay of the Land is a definite contender: see here.

    theoriginallang, thanks for the tip re Belben. Will have to give it another go.

  21. Oh Bolano. I think I might have to take out Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (which was, admittedly, a personal favourite rather than any attempt to get inside Mr. Evers' head). 2066 was just awesome. But then some was The Savage Detectives and it's not even in the Top 50. So difficult... Also I have just read Chronic City and it is so truly wonderful.

  22. How about these?

    1. Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
    2. The Lay of the Land - Richard Ford
    3. Then We Came to the End - Joshua Ferris
    4. Motherless Brooklyn - Jonathan Lethem
    5. The Baroque Cycle - Neal Stephenson

    Bending the rules with the last one, perhaps, since it's a trilogy. What the hell.

    Congratulations on your original list. There are plenty there that I don't know and will now search out.