BBC poll names best novels of 21st century so far

BBC Culture – the BBC’s international arts section (inaccessible from the UK because it’s not paid for by the license fee) – has revealed the results of its poll of US literary critics on the greatest novels of the 21st century to date.

The top spot was claimed (both on the master list and on the lists of ‘most critics’, according to the BBC) by Junot Díaz’s debut (and to date only) novel, 2007’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. The book also won its author – whose only output prior to its publication was one collection of short stories – the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, followed in 2012 by a MacArthur Genius grant. Díaz is still working on his follow-up, reputedly a work of science-fiction named Monstro, a potential excerpt from which was published in the New York Times in 2012.

Only two authors featured more than once in the top 20: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Half of a Yellow Sun, Americanah) and Zadie Smith (White Teeth, NW). Both authors were also responsible for the most recent titles to feature in the list, with Americanah published in 2013 and NW in 2012.

Interestingly, but perhaps predictably given the American angle, only two Booker winners from the past 15 years made the top 20: Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty.

The BBC poll of American critics’ top 20 novels of the 21st century runs as follows:

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)
13. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Americanah (2013)
14. W. G. 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)

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