07 August, 2015

The Best 21st-Century Novels

It's only in recent years that I've started reading books published in the last decade. With centuries of amazing writing behind us, it always seemed I had too many other things to read first. I realised, however, that to write modern fiction, you do need to read it too! And I've read some brilliant books published within the last few years. For example, I've just finished reading We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, which was short-listed for the Booker last year and was a fabulous read.

So, I was interested to stumble upon this article on the BBC website listing the best novels of the 21st-century... so far. Only 14 years in to the century I hope we haven't peaked! Several dozen book critics were polled as to what they thought the best books published since 1st January 2000 were. 156 books were mentioned and a Top 12 drawn up.

You can get a better feel for each book from the article, but here they are in list form:

12. Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides
11. White Teeth - Zadie Smith
10. Half of a Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
9. Atonement - Ian McEwan
8. Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk  - Ben Fountain
7. A Visit from the Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan
6. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay - Michael Chabon
5. The Corrections - Jonathan Franzen
4. Gilead - Marilynne Robinson
3. Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantel
2. The Known World - Edward P. Jones
1. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz

I have to confess I've only read two of these - White Teeth and Gilead. I have seen the film version of Atonement and I have read a different book by Jeffrey Eugenides, but I've also not even heard of some of these titles. Have you read any of them? Should I? I'd be particularly interested to hear if you've read the number one book - not only nominated the most times, but mentioned as the critics' number one choice the most times as well.

What do you think the best books of the 21st-century have been so far? Off the top of my head, some recent books I've enjoyed a lot have included One Day  (David Nicholls), Room (Emma Donoghue), Perfect (Rachel Joyce) and We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lionel Shriver).What have I been missing out on?


  1. Ashamed to say I haven't read any of them! Will wait and see what peoples recommendations are :)

    1. Gilead is a really beautiful, quiet sort of book. I found it a little too quiet for my taste, but it's certainly enjoyable. I read it because it's one of my friend's favourite books.

  2. I've heard of most of those, but "The Known World" is new to me. I have the Jennifer Egan and Jonathan Franzen novels sitting unread on my shelf, and I'm planning to get the Michael Chabon one at some point as it sounds like my kind of book.

    I'm surprised there's no David Mitchell or Margaret Atwood on the list, as they've both produced some impressive novels in the last 15 years. But then as I haven't actually read any of the top 12 maybe I should get through a few of them before I start complaining about omissions!

    Then again, the "best" novel is hardly a universally understood concept - what exactly does it mean? The most enjoyable? The most 'worthy'? The best-selling?

    1. I keep a reading diary and always have this trouble giving a mark out of ten. I decided to do it based only on how enjoyable a book is as I felt I wasn't qualified to judge how "good" it was. (Although, of course, a well-written book is often more enjoyable anyway.) I thought Cloud Atlas or one of Atwood's might make it too. Margaret Atwood is such an amazing writer.


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