Predicting Classics


Predicting Classics

(Site manager's note: Waterstone's Books U.K. recently sponsored a "Test of Time" survey, asking prominent writers to predict which 20th century novels will be judged "classics" in the 21st. Three novels by Martin Amis--Money, London Fields, and Time's Arrow--were nominated. Excerpts from the London Times article on the survey follow).

January 18, 1999, Monday

SECTION: Home news

Choice of best modern novels starts title fight

By Dalya Alberge, arts correspondent

    PREDICTIONS on what fiction from this century will survive into the new millennium as classic literature have deeply divided writers, publishers and critics.

    J.G. Ballard, the novelist, chooses Brave New World, Roy Hattersley, former deputy leader of the Labour Party, opts for Sons and Lovers and Chris Woodhead, the Chief Inspector of Schools, nominates The Jungle Book.

    They are among 47 people who took part in the survey "Test of Time," organised by Waterstone's, the bookshop chain. Most of them, feeling that classics from previous centuries are likely to remain classics, prefer to forecast the future for more recent novels.Only Julie Burchill chose one of her own works, Ambition, as the "best novel about the Eighties ever written."

She dismissed Orwell's Animal Farm as "simplistic tosh" and Lawrence's Sons and Lovers as "perspiring pervert gets it wrong again".

Writers who appear in a number of lists include Virginia Woolf, Salman Rushdie and Joyce for Ulysses. The literary future of those from the earlier half of the century, including F. Scott Fitzgerald and D.H. Lawrence, seems assured in the 21st century.

But postwar writers divide opinions or cause surprise: Martin Amis receives more mentions - with London Fields, Money and Time's Arrow - than his father Kingsley for Lucky Jim. Ballard, whose novels include Empire of the Sun and Crash, said: "It's surprisingly difficult to predict which contemporary novels, if any, will be the classics of the future."

He excludes the American writers Thomas Pynchon, Philip Roth and Norman Mailer as "overblown and self-immersed" and Britain's Angus Wilson and Kingsley Amis as "deeply parochial": "All these writers are more famous than their books, a sure sign of the second-rate."

Richard Beswick, editorial director of Abacus, said: "One person's essential classic is inevitably another's unreadable instrument of torture."

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