The Guardian has published a list of what a group of 81 international critics believe are the 100 best British novels of all time. I had first thought the list was of the best books written in English; but the immediate and obvious lack of any Irish, American, or Canadian authors quickly disabused me of that fantasy.
As one does in these exercises, I counted how many of the books I had actually read: thirty-one it turns out, but only two from the top ten (“Lighthouse” and “Frankenstein“). Of course, I have seen all the main stories in different formats (movies, TV, etc) and so are familiar with the plots.
I was also curious and happy to see that a majority of the top ten were written by women, as were ten of the top twenty titles. No idea what that says about British literature, but it can’t be bad.
However, I find myself unhappy, distraught even, that the finest comic novel ever written by a Brit — “Puckoon” by Spike Milligan — failed to make the list.
What is the point of lists like this, subjective as they always will be? At worst, it will provide a nerdy kid with the tools for a summer reading project. At best, it will remind many more of us that there is a depth of experience and grandeur and wonder available simply by opening a book.