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Atonement, The Goldfinch and Wolf Hall among the best 20 novels of the past 20 years


Atonement and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin count among the best novels of the past 20 years, according to a new shortlist voted for by a panel of literary experts. 

The selection was drawn up to mark the 20th anniversary of the Bath Literature Festival, with judges including its artistic director Viv Groskop, the critic and author Stephanie Merritt, BBC Radio 4 producer Dixi Stewart, the commentator John Walsh and literary agent Andrew Gordon of David Higham Associates.

Books were voted for on a year-by-year basis, from 1995 to 2014. The panel looked at every novel shortlisted for a prize in the past 20 years, along with reader favourites that have been overlooked by literary awards.

This included Any Human Heart by William Boyd, which failed to be nominated for any literary prize when it came out in 2002, despite being a bestseller that was later adapted into a hit Channel 4 TV series. 

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel; the best novel of all time?

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel; the best novel of the past 20 years?

Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, which won the Booker prize, was singled out by the panel as being the best book of the past 20 years overall. The first of Mantel's celebrated Thomas Cromwell trilogy has just been adapted into a BBC TV show, with an all-star cast including Mark Rylance, Claire Foy and Damian Lewis. 

The judges said they wanted to "celebrate books readers have loved and to pinpoint the novels that, with hindsight, transformed the literary landscape."

"Wolf Hall has done that with bells on," they concluded. 

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie made the shortlist for Half of a Yellow Sun

Donna Tartt, Zadie Smith and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie were among other authors honoured in the shortlist.

Nigerian author Adichie won the 2007 Orange Prize for Fiction for Half of a Yellow Sun, her compelling tale of the changing dynamic of a prosperous family and their loved ones caught up in the Biafran War of the late 1960s. 

Smith was just 24 when her seminal debut novel White Teeth was published in 2000, to a chorus of literary acclaim. She secured the rights for it for a rumoured fee of £250,000 based on the first 80 pages alone - a fairy-tale deal in the cut-throat world of publishing. 

Meanwhile, Tartt's book The Goldfinch, based around a teenage boy whose life unravels in the aftermath of a terrorist attack, won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

The Goldfinch painting that inspired Donna Tartt's bestseller

The Goldfinch painting that inspired Donna Tartt's bestseller

Other books we love that made the round-up of best 20 books include We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver and The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters.

The Outcast by Sadie Jones, a brilliantly claustraphobic tale of life in 1950s England, was voted the best book of 2007, while Jennifer Egan's much-applauded work A Visit From the Goon Squad, came in as best book of 2011.

Needless to say, there was plenty of squabbling among the panel when it came to whittling down the list of contenders. The exclusion of authors Martin Amis and Jonathan Franzen from the shortlist caused particular rankling. 

Judge John Walsh said that for three tense hours, they "argued, rhapsodised, quoted, bitched, mocked each other’s choices, complained about the suspicious number of men, or women, among the chosen ones, and poured scorn on several settled reputations".

Come see their final shortlist, below: 

Lionel Shriver's We Need To Talk About Kevin made the shortlist

Lionel Shriver's We Need To Talk About Kevin counts among the best 20 novels

Bath Literature Festival’s top 20 novels of the last 20 years

1995: Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres

1996: Alias Grace, Margaret Atwood

1997: American Pastoral, Philip Roth

1998: England, England, Julian Barnes

1999: Disgrace, JM Coetzee

2000: White Teeth, Zadie Smith

2001: Atonement, Ian McEwan

2002: Any Human Heart, William Boyd

2003: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Mark Haddon

2004: Small Island, Andrea Levy

2005: We Need to Talk about Kevin, Lionel Shriver

2006: The Road, Cormac McCarthy

2007: Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

2008: The Outcast, Sadie Jones

2009: The Little Stranger, Sarah Waters

2010: Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel

2011: A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan

2012: State of Wonder, Ann Patchett

2013: Life After Life, Kate Atkinson

2014: The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt

What do you think? Do you agree with this shortlist? Are there any brilliant novels of the past 20 years that it has left out? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below

Photos: Rex Features



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