BBC’s Greatest Novels of 21st century (so far)

A few days ago BBC Culture published a list of 12 books that its critics had together voted as the greatest novels of 21st century so far. This caused a lot of discussion and, due to popular demand, the site later on published also the rest of the books that made the top 20. The list features titles from 2000 to 2013 but, funnily enough, none of the titles coincide with the BBC Big Reads (2003) list that was voted by the public.

I enjoy reading “Best of…” lists because I think it’s a great tool of giving recommendations, but in addition, it also tells a lot about the person(s) who make the lists. My first reaction to the reading the list was shame that I hadn’t read any of the books mentioned. I have read Zadie Smith (who along with Adichie has two titles on the list!) and Jeffrey Eugenides before, but the rest are all new to me authors that I’ve only heard praised. I must admit that I feel a bit hesitant about reading Bolano’s 2666 because I’ve heard that besides being a massive book, it is also very complex. But maybe in the future… Many of the listed titles, such as The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Middlesex, were already on my mental to-read list, so I think I’ll add also the rest to my TBR 254 list, making it TBR 274!

The BBC 12 Greatest Novels of 21st Century So Far:

1. Junot Díaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007)
2. Edward P Jones, The Known World (2003)
3. Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall (2009)
4. Marilynne Robinson, Gilead (2004)
5. Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections (2001)
6. Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000)
7. Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010)
8. Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2012)
9. Ian McEwan, Atonement (2001)
10. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun (2006)
11. Zadie Smith, White Teeth (2000)
12. Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex (2002)

The runners-up were:

13. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah (2013)
14. WG Sebald, Austerlitz (2001)
15. Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend (2011)
16. Alan Hollinghurst, The Line of Beauty (2004)
17. Cormac McCarthy, The Road (2006)
18. Zadie Smith, NW (2012)
19. Roberto Bolaño, 2666 (2004)
20. Shirley Hazzard, The Great Fire (2003)

If you’ve read any of the books listed here, please let me know what you thought of them and which ones you’d suggest to start with. Cheers!


13 thoughts on “BBC’s Greatest Novels of 21st century (so far)

  1. I loved both Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. I highly recomment both (though The Road is disturbing and may crush you).

    Thanks for posting this list. Many new titles to consider.

    • Ever since finishing The Virgin Suicides, I’ve been meaning to pick up Middlesex. It’s going to happen one day. The Road I’ve also heard mentioned in passing, but didn’t really know what is was about.

  2. I’ve read ‘The Brief Life of Oscar Wao’ and highly recommend it. It’s a great introduction to US Latino writers, also try ‘Let it Rain Coffee’ by Angie Cruz.

  3. I’ve read 11 from the list, and probably prefer the runner up list to the actual. I have 2666 to read this year since I’m steering towards translated fiction at the moment and loved Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend and the next two books in the tetralogy (the 4th due out this year), an original voice out of Naples that has got people reading translated fiction.

    Cormac McCarthy is one of my all time favourite writers, even if his subjects are bleak, I started with All the Pretty Horses and was hooked, but haven’t as yet read The Road.

    After listening to Chimanada Ngozi Adichie speak about her debut novel and the one she was then writing (Half a Yellow Sun) I’ve read every novel she has written and Americanah is the most accomplished, I’ll read anything she writes, she is an excellent contemporary writer and thinker.

    It’s an interesting list of well knowns and little knowns but doesn’t feature my Top Reads from the last three years, The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, The Drowning of Arthur Braxton by Caroline Smailes and Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement. And looking further back than that, one of my all time favourites Louis de Bernieres Birds Without Wings.

    • Wow, 11 is a lot!
      My Brilliant Friend sounds very interesting, so I think it might be among the ones that I pick up sooner rather than later. Adichie is one of the authors that I’ve heard only amazing things about, and I have been eyeing Americanah every time I visit a bookshop.
      Thank you also for the recommendations – The Snow Child is one that I’ll definitely be reading!

    • I’ve seen Wolf Hall in bookshops a lot but before this list, I’d never looked up what the book was about. Hilary Mantel’s books seem so daunting – maybe it’s the cover designs. I already have Atonement sitting on my shelves, so I hope it’ll be as good as you say 🙂

  4. I love lists like these! I’ve read six from the top list and five from the runners up. Funnily enough,I’m currently reading ‘My Brilliant Friend’ and have just finished re-reading ‘Austerlitz’. I’m surprised ‘Austerlitz’ didn’t make the top list actually, it’s extraordinary, if a bit of a challenge. Out of the books I’ve read, the ones that have stayed with me are the Shirley Hazzard, ‘The Line of Beauty’, and ‘The Road’, and ‘Austerlitz’. How ‘White Teeth’ got in the list I don’t know – I thought ‘On Beauty’ was far more accomplished. Also, I begrudge ‘Wolf Hall’ it’s place, as I think Will Self’s ‘Umbrella’ should have won the Booker prize instead, but in the end, that’s just my opinion. What do I know? 🙂

    • I read On Beauty last year and didn’t really connect with it. I believe part of the reason was that I wasn’t aware that the book was a re-working of E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End and thus lost a lot of the references. However, I’m still intrigued by Zadie Smith’s writing and hope to pick up White Teeth some time during the summer. As readers we all have our favourites, so lists like these are also great conversation starters – and often you end up getting more recommendations! I’ll definitely look up Umbrella since you consider it better of the two 😉

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