Wednesday, 18 November 2009

The 50 Novels of the 2000s - part one: 50 to 41

Everyone's doing the best of the decade, so as a bandwagon jumping exercise I thought I'd do the same. I suspect my list will not be that earth-shattering, but I hope you find some interesting titles that you might ordinarily not have bothered to read. Links will take you to I don't get paid on it, just thought it would make it easier to see why I liked the book so much. And remember, these are novels only. No short stories, no poetry and no bloody polemics. Dates refer to the year of original UK publication.

50. Callisto – Torsten Krol (2007)

A snortingly funny and clever book, the kind of thing that Vernon God Little would have loved to have been. Similar in many ways to Steve Toltz’s A Fraction of the Whole, this is a satire on contemporary culture which is wise and witty enough to work.

49. The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffeneger (2003)

I cried in the office at the end of this confusing yet winning tale of love across the space-time continuum. It’s the characters that shine through, flawed, occasionally unpleasant but always realistic, despite the conceit.

48. The King is Dead – Jim Lewis (2003)

The first forgotten novel of the 2000s on this list, The King is Dead is a powerful and beautifully written tale of love and fate, of families and their misfortunes. It is also a quiet masterpiece that brings Memphis liltingly to life. There is a moment of supreme power at the start of section 2 that I remember making me draw breath. It’s a scandal this book isn’t more well known.

47. Timoleon Vita Come Home – Dan Rhodes (2003)

Dan Rhodes first novel is a shaggy dog story with all kinds of unhappy endings. It’s also, as you’d imagine from Rhodes, strange and incredibly funny.

46. The Horned Man – James Lasdun (2002)

The Horned Man is a slim, taut volume suffused with dread and unease. A man is being framed – seemingly – for a series of brutal crimes. But what is the truth? And will we ever know it. Lasdun marries sentences you could fall into and swim around in for days with a tight plot and a series of increasingly flawed and surprising characters. Superb.

45. After the Fire, A Still Small Voice – Evie Wyld (2009)

One of only three novels to survive from 2009, Evie Wyld’s debut is quiet, atmospheric and utterly beguiling. The depth and clarity of both the characterisation, the settings and the social and political context – not to mention the generational sweep – of this novel marks it out as something quite, quite special. I suspect Wyld will be one of the key voices of the next decade.

44. The People’s Act of Love – James Meek (2005)

I read this freezing novel of pre-revolutionary Russia in a baking apartment in Kefalonia. It was like air conditioning all of its own. Violent, bloody and entertaining, but entirely serious and intelligent, this is the kind of book you shiver just thinking about.

43. Netherland – Joseph O’Neil (2008)

I expected to go crazy for this novel, considering the hype and the fact it was about cricket, but good though it was – and some of it is truly astonishing – it didn’t quite live up to its amazing reputation. Despite this, it’s still a powerful and subtle look at the nature of home and of ambition.

42. Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami (2005)

The least successful of all Murakami’s long novels, Kafka on the Shore is still streets ahead of most writers' output. While I loved it when I read it, it didn’t settle with me in the same way that, say, Sputnik Sweetheart or Hardboiled Wonderland did. But it's still a brilliant, edifying read.

41. Murder on the Leviathan – Boris Akunin (2005)

I’d just started an ill-fated tenure at Virgin books and was feeling unwell. The doctor recommended some rest, so I went into a bookshop and asked for something light for me to enjoy; a crime novel perhaps. A bookseller recommended Leviathan (as it was then known) and I devoured it in one sitting. Daft, clever, funny and meticulously plotted, with a bunch of characters not easily forgotten, Leviathan is the perfect introduction to Akunin’s unique world.


  1. Careful now - if you put 11 titles in your first part, you're going to end up with only 9 in your last part...

    Completely with you on Dan Rhodes and James Lasdun. And I have the Ozick and the Wyld at home, awaiting my attention. Have seen Callisto around and about, so must investigate that one too, and thanks for the reminder (well, not really a reminder as I'd never heard of it before) re Jim Lewis. Is that the same chap who went briefly big via Richard & Judy for The Highest Tide?

  2. John - good point, maths was never my strong suit. Have changed accordingly.

    Oh and Highest Tide was Jim Lynch.

  3. Nice list (so far!). I know what you mean about Netherland, I was expecting to love it, and it was... okay. The People's Act of Love rocks.

  4. This is an interesting list with some great titles, but The Time Traveller's Wife put me to sleep for about a month.

  5. Interesting list. I agree wholeheartedly about Netherland. I believed the hype and then the book fell a little flat - characterisation more than setting, I think. The Horned Man was outstanding, provocative and so beautifully crafted. I think if this were a list of fictions, and I was compiling it, 'It's Beginning to Hurt' would have made the top ten. Looking forward to the rest...

  6. I felt the same was about "Netherland." I felt like maybe I had missed something that the rest of the world "got." So happy to know that I'm not alone.