And the Winner is…Nonfiction and the Usual Suspects

The value of fact in fiction….:

by Sheela Reddy

“Perhaps it was 9/11 or an idea whose time had come, but suddenly the writer had liberated the story from the novel. Storytelling, and compelling storytelling at that, no longer needed the camouflage of a novel. The autobiographical no longer needed to be disguised as fictional. The fig leaf of fiction had dropped off facts at last. Instead of going on to write another novel, Mishra started work on a life of Buddha and his relevance, An End to Suffering, and topped it with another work of non-fiction, Temptations of the West.”

“Exactly how blurred the division between fiction and non-fiction has become is best summed up in the words of Booker Man Prize chairperson Hermione Lee last week. What the judges were looking for, Lee said, was books with “storytelling and historical truthfulness”. Is it time for the Booker to include non-fiction in the prize?”

Best English Language Non-American Novel of the Past Twenty-Five Years? by Robert McCrum and the Guardian

First place

Disgrace (1999)
JM Coetzee

Coetzee became the first writer to win the Booker Prize for a second time with this exploration of post- apartheid South Africa, which centres on Professor David Lurie, in self-imposed exile at his daughter’s remote farm after an ill-advised affair with a student.

Second place

Money (1984)
Martin Amis

Super-charged, anarchic and full of narrative acrobatics, Money burst on to the Eighties literary scene leaving a trail of imitators and devotees in its wake, not least because of its formidable, if frequently repulsive narrator, ad director John Self .

Joint third place

Earthly Powers (1980)
Anthony Burgess

Homosexual writer Keith Toomey is asked to write the memoirs of the late Pope Gregory XVII – a commission that takes him on a whirlwind recap of the major events of the 20th century.

Atonement (2001)
Ian McEwan

Opening in 1935 , Atonement focuses on Briony Tallis , at first as a 13-year-old implicated in the conviction of a family friend for rape and, latterly, an elderly novelist on the brink of losing her memory.

The Blue Flower (1995)
Penelope Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald’s final novel is frequently cited as her masterpiece. It recreates the life of the 18th-century German poet and philosopher Novalis , focusing on his romance with a 12-year-old girl .

The Unconsoled (1995)
Kazuo Ishiguro

Ishiguro’s intricate, dream-like fourth novel marked a radical departure from the more conventional narratives of his earlier work, evoking the great European masters of film as much as fiction.

Midnight’s Children (1981)
Salman Rushdie

Rushdie’s second novel not only won the Booker prize but was also awarded the ‘Booker of Bookers’ in 1993. It unites powerful subject matter – the partition of India – with a dazzling, playful style.

Joint eighth place

The Remains of the Day (1989)
Kazuo Ishiguro

Stevens , a butler at Darlington Hall, takes a trip to the West Country . His memories – particularly of the late Lord Darlington , revealed as a Nazi sympathiser – throw into sharp relief the novel’s themes of collusion, betrayal and repression.

Amongst Women (1990)
John McGahern

A powerful meditation on 20th-century Irish history, particularly focusing on the Troubles, this novel was a runner-up for the Booker prize of 1990, and a national bestseller, confirming its author’s reputation as Ireland’s leading novelist.

That They May Face the Rising Sun (2001)
John McGahern

A study of a rural community in Ireland, the changing seasons and the gradual creep of modernity. A genre-bending fiction that incorporates memoir, history, folklore and a therapeutic reprise of the author’s own career.

Other nominations

Hawksmoor (1985) Peter Ackroyd

The Old Devils (1986) Kingsley Amis

Behind the Scenes at the Museum (1995) Kate Atkinson

The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) Margaret Atwood

An Awfully Big Adventure (1989) Beryl Bainbridge

The Wasp Factory (1984) Iain Banks

The Untouchable (1997) John Banville

The Regeneration Trilogy (1991-95) Pat Barker

Flaubert’s Parrot (1984) Julian Barnes

A Long, Long Way (2005) Sebastian Barry

Ill Seen Ill Said (1981) Samuel Beckett

Possession: A Romance (1990) AS Byatt

True History of the Kelly Gang (2000) Peter Carey

A Perfect Spy (1986) John le Carre

Nights at the Circus (1984), Wise Children (1991) Angela Carter

Waiting for the Barbarians (1980), Age of Iron (1990), Masters of Petersburg (1994) JM Coetzee

The Barrytown Trilogy (1987-91) Roddy Doyle

Gwendolen (1989) Buchi Emecheta

Birdsong (1993) Sebastian Faulks

The Beginning of Spring (1988) Penelope Fitzgerald

To the Ends of the Earth: A Sea Trilogy (1980-89) William Golding

Unlikely Stories, Mostly (1983), 1982, Janine (1984) Alasdair Gray

Transit of Venus (1981) Shirley Hazzard

Ridley Walker (1980) Russell Hoban

The Line of Beauty (2004) Alan Hollinghurst

Never Let Me Go (2005) Kazuo Ishiguro

A Disaffection (1989), How Late It Was, How Late (1994) James Kelman

The Buddha of Suburbia (1990) Hanif Kureishi

English Passengers (2004) Matthew Kneale

The Life of Pi (2002) Yann Martel

As Meat Loves Salt (2001) Maria McCann

The Comfort of Strangers (1981), Enduring Love (1997) Ian McEwan

No Great Mischief (1999) Alistair MacLeod

Fugitive Pieces (1996) Anne Michaels

The Restraint of Beasts (1998) Magnus Mills

A Fine Balance (1995) Rohinton Mistry

Mother London (1988) Michael Moorcock

The Enigma of Arrival (1987) VS Naipaul

After You’d Gone (2000) Maggie O’Farrell

His Dark Materials Trilogy (1995-2000) Philip Pullman

I Was Dora Suarez (1990) Derek Raymond

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (2005) JK Rowling

The God of Small Things (1997) Arundhati Roy

A Suitable Boy (1993) Vikram Seth

Hotel World (2001) Ali Smith

A Far Cry From Kensington (1988) Muriel Spark

The White Hotel (1981) DM Thomas

Restoration (1989) Sacred Country (1992) Rose Tremain

Omeros (1990) Derek Walcott

The Passion (1987) Jeanette Winterson

Our panel

Tim Adams; Monica Ali; Hephzibah Anderson; Michael Arditti; Kate Atkinson; David Baddiel; Joan Bakewell; JG Ballard; Lynn Barber; Nicola Barker; Julian Barnes; Sebastian Barry; Ronan Bennett; Nicholas Blincoe; Will Boyd; Melvyn Bragg; Sylvia Brownrigg; John Burnside; AS Byatt; John Carey; Peter Carey; Justin Cartwright; Susannah Clapp; Jonathan Coe; Cressida Connolly; Rachel Cooke; Jason Cowley; Alain de Botton; Margaret Drabble; Sarah Dunant; Douglas Dunn; Geoff Dyer; Will Eaves; David Eldridge; Helen Fielding; Amanda Foreman; Philip French; Brian Friel; Fi Glover; Bonnie Greer; Kate Grenville; Niall Griffiths; Kirsty Gunn; Christopher Hampton; David Hare; Joanne Harris; Robert Harris; Philip Hensher; Peter Ho Davies; Philip Hoare; Anthony Holden; Christopher Hope; Nick Hornby; Kathryn Hughes; MJ Hyland; Ian Jack; Jackie Kay; Kate Kellaway; Frank Kermode; Marian Keyes; Hari Kunzru; Hanif Kureishi; Hermione Lee; Doris Lessing; Jonathan Lethem; Andrea Levy; Marina Lewycka; Toby Litt; David Lodge; Adam Mars Jones; Hisham Matar; Frank McCourt; Ian McEwan; Patrick McGrath; Sarah Emily Miano; Andrew Miller; Rebecca Miller; Deborah Moggach; Rick Moody; Jan Morris; J ohn Mortimer; Kate Mosse; Andrew Motion; Jenni Murray; Patrick Neate; Edna O’Brien; Maggie O’Farrell; Andrew O’Hagan; Helen Oyeyemi; Jay Parini; Adam Phillips; Caryl Phillips; DBC Pierre; Philip Pullman; Craig Raine; Dan Rhodes; Keith Ridgway; Jane Rogers; Salman Rushdie; Jonathan Safran Foer; Simon Schama; Anita Shreve; Lionel Shriver; Iain Sinclair; Ali Smith; Zadie Smith; Hilary Spurling; Adam Thirlwell; Rupert Thomson; Colin Thubron; Colm Toibin; Joanna Trollope; Jenny Uglow; Salley Vickers; Erica Wagner; Marina Warner; Sarah Waters; Fay Weldon; Edmund White; Nigel Williams

For thoughts on the New York Times’ take on “the best” of American Fiction, see here.

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