Good readsBest novels of the last 25 years 1980-2005

Early in 2006, the Book Review's editor, Sam Tanenhaus, sent out a short letter to a couple of hundred prominent writers, critics, editors and other literary sages, asking them to please identify "the single best work of American fiction published in the last 25 years." The New York Times published the results: What Is the Best Work of American Fiction of the Last 25 Years?

The Observer (October 8 2006) has done the same for the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth by asking 150 literary luminaries to vote for the best British, Irish or Commonwealth novel from 1980 to 2005: What's the best novel in the past 25 years?

Best American Fiction of the last 25 years


Runners up

The following books also received multiple votes

A Confederacy of Dunces John Kennedy Toole (1980)
A fat New Orleans misanthrope who constantly rebukes society, Ignatius Reilly, gets a job at his mother's urging but ends up leading a workers' revolt.
Housekeeping Marilynne Robinson (1980)
Housekeeping is the story of Ruth and her younger sister, Lucille, who grow up haphazardly, first under the care of their competent grandmother, then of two comically bumbling great-aunts, and finally of Sylvie, their eccentric and remote aunt.
Winter's Tale Mark Helprin (1983)
White Noise Don DeLillo (1985)
The Counterlife Philip Roth (1986)
Libra Don DeLillo (1988)
Where I'm Calling From Raymond Carver (1988)
The Things They Carried Tim O'Brien (1990)
Mating Norman Rush (1991)
Jesus' Son Denis Johnson (1992)
Operation Shylock Philip Roth (1993)
Independence Day Richard Ford (1995)
After the disintegration of his family, the ruin of his career and an affair with a much younger woman, Frank Bascombe decides that the surest route to a 'normal' American life is to become an estate agent in Haddam, New Jersey. Frank blunders through the suburban citadels of the Eastern Seaboard and avoids engaging in life until the sudden, cataclysmic events of a Fourth-of-July weekend with is son jolt him back.
Sabbath's Theater Philip Roth (1995)
Border Trilogy Cormac McCarthy (1999)
Cities of the Plain (1998)
The Crossing (1994)
All the Pretty Horses (1992)
This is the story of two men, enfolded in a narrative replete with with landforms, horses and most of all the men and the women they love and mourn, men and their persistence, memories and dreams.
The Plot against AmericaThe Human Stain Philip Roth (2000)
It is 1998, the year in which America is whipped into a frenzy of prurience by the impeachment of a president. It is also the last year of professor Coleman Silk's life, whose own tragic exposure is played out against the background of the Clinton revelations.
The Known World Edward P. Jones (2003)
When a plantation proprietor and former slave - now possessing slaves of his own - dies, his household falls apart in the wake of a slave rebellion and corrupt underpaid patrollers who enable free black people to be sold into slavery
The Plot Against America Philip Roth (2004)

Best British, Irish and Commonwealth Novels 1980 - 2005

Disgrace1st Disgrace J M Coetzee (1999)
2nd Money Martin Amis (1984)
3rd = Earthly Powers Anthony Burgess (1980)
3rd = Atonement Ian McEwan (2001)
A story that begins with three young people in the garden of a country house on the hottest day of 1935, and ends with three profoundly changed lives. A depiction of love and war, class, childhood and England, that explores shame and forgiveness, atonement and the possibility of absolution.
5th The Blue Flower Penelope Fitzgerald (1995)
6th The Unconsoled Kazuo Ishiguro (1995)
7th Midnight's Children Salman Rushdie (1981)
8th = The Remains of the Day Kazuo Ishiguro (1989)
8th = Amongst Women John McGahern (1990)
8th = That They May Face the Rising Sun John McGahern (2001)
Drama unfolds during a year in the lives of a group of characters who have come home to Ireland in search of a different life from that in London. By the close, we feel we have been introduced to a microcosm of Everywhere.

Other nominations

Hawksmoor Peter Ackroyd (1985)
The Old Devils Kingsley Amis (1986)
Malcolm, Peter and Charlie and their Soave-sodden wives have one main ambition left in life: to drink Wales dry. But their routine is both shaken and stirred when they are joined by professional Welshman Alun Weaver (CBE) and his wife, Rhiannon.
Behind the Scenes at the Museum Kate Atkinson (1995)
The Handmaid's Tale Margaret Atwood (1985)
The Republic of Gilead offers Offred only one function: to breed. If she deviates she will, like all dissenters, be hanged or sent out to die slowly of radiation sickness. But even a repressive state cannot obliterate desire - neither Offred's nor that of the two men on which her future hangs.
An Awfully Big Adventure Beryl Bainbridge (1989)
The Wasp Factory Iain Banks (1984)
The Untouchable John Banville (1997)
The Regeneration Trilogy Pat Barker (1991-95)
Including all three novels in one volume, Regeneration, The Eye in the Door and The Ghost Road. The trilogy explores with gritty realism the whole dirty, glorious and horrifying business of war.
Flaubert's Parrot Julian Barnes (1984)
A Long, Long Way Sebastian Barry (2005)
In 1914, Willie Dunne, barely eighteen years old, leaves behind Dublin, his family and the girl he plans to marry in order to enlist in the Allied forces and face the Germans on the Western Front. Once there he encounters violence on a scale he could not have imagined and sustains his spirit with only the words on the pages from home and the camaraderie of the mud-covered Irish boys who fight and die by his side. Dimly aware of the political tensions that have grown in Ireland in his absence, Willie returns on leave to find a world split and ravaged by forces closer to home. Despite the comfort he finds with his family, he knows that he must rejoin his regiment and fight until the end.
Ill Seen Ill Said Samuel Beckett (1981)
Possession: A Romance AS Byatt (1990)
A young academic couple's attempt to trace the relationship between two turbulent, romantic, and superstitious Victorian poets reveals uncanny parallels with their own lives and culminates in the exhumation of a poet's corpse.
True History of the Kelly Gang Peter Carey (2000)
Told in the form of a journal justifying himself to the daughter he would never meet, this is the story of the Australian outlaw Ned Kelly and of Australia herself. This song of Australia sings its protest in a voice at once crude and delicate, menacing and heart-wrenching. The author gives us Ned Kelly as orphan, as Oedipus, as horse thief, farmer, bushranger, reformer, bank-robber, police-killer and as his country's Robin Hood.
A Perfect Spy John le Carre (1986)
Nights at the Circus (1984), Wise Children (1991) Angela Carter
Waiting for the Barbarians (1980), Age of Iron (1990), Master of Petersburg (1994) JM Coetzee
The Barrytown Trilogy Roddy Doyle (1987-91)
Gwendolen Buchi Emecheta (1989)
Birdsong Sebastian Faulks (1993)
The Beginning of Spring Penelope Fitzgerald (1988)
To the Ends of the Earth: A Sea Trilogy (Rites of Passage, Close Quarters, Fire Down Below) William Golding (1980-89)
Unlikely Stories, Mostly (1983), 1982, Janine (1984) Alasdair Gray
Transit of Venus Shirley Hazzard (1981)
Riddley Walker Russell Hoban (1980)
The Line of Beauty Alan Hollinghurst (2004)
Starting at the moment "The Swimming-Pool Library" ended, "The Line of Beauty" traces the further history of a decade of change and tragedy. In the summer of 1983, 20-year-old Nick Guest moves into an attic room in the Notting Hill home of the Feddens as the Thatcher boom-years unfold.
Never Let Me Go Kazuo Ishiguro (2005)
A reunion with two childhood friends draws Kath and her companions on a nostalgic odyssey into their lives at Hallsham, an isolated private school in the English countryside, and a confrontation with the truth about their childhoods.
A Disaffection (1989), How Late It Was, How Late (1994) James Kelman
The Buddha of Suburbia Hanif Kureishi (1990)
English Passengers Matthew Kneale (2004)
The Life of Pi Yann Martel (2002)
Pi lives in India, and his father owns the city's zoo, until he decides to emigrate with his family. On the way tragedy strikes and the ship is sunk. Pi finds himself in a life boat with a hyena, a zebra, a tiger and an orangutan. He manages to keep his wits as the food chain establishes itself.
As Meat Loves Salt Maria McCann (2001)
Jacob is an educated manservant in a loyalist household. He is fearful of being identified as the murderer of a local boy, and is forced to flee on the day of his wedding feast, dragging his new wife with him. He proceeds to wreak havoc on the lives of others, but mostly on his own fortunes.
The Comfort of Strangers Ian McEwan (1981)
Enduring Love Ian McEwan (1997)
On a windy spring day in the Chilterns, the calm, organized life of science writer Joe Rose is shattered when he witnesses a tragic accident: a hot-air balloon with a boy trapped in its basket is being tossed by the wind, and in the attempt to save the child, a man is killed. A stranger named Jed Parry joins Rose in helping to bring the balloon to safety. But unknown to Rose, something passes between Parry and himself on that day--something that gives birth to an obsession in Parry so powerful that it will test the limits of Rose's beloved rationalism, threaten the love of his wife, Clarissa, and drive him to the brink of murder and madness.
No Great Mischief Alistair MacLeod (1999)
After being orphaned, Alexander MacDonald comes to Cape Breton Island yearning for family connections and finds himself working in the mines with his wild older brother and caring for another brother, who is dying.
Fugitive Pieces Anne Michaels (1996)
The Restraint of Beasts Magnus Mills (1998)
A Fine Balance Rohinton Mistry (1995)
Mother London Michael Moorcock (1988)
The Enigma of Arrival VS Naipaul (1987)
After You'd Gone Maggie O'Farrell (2000)
His Dark Materials Trilogy Philip Pullman (1995-2000)
The Golden Compass
Accompanied by her daemon, Lyra Belacqua sets out to prevent her best friend other kidnapped children from becoming the subjects of gruesome experiments the far North.
The Subtle Knife
As the boundaries between worlds begin to dissolve, Lyra and her daemon help Will Parry in his search for his father and for a powerful, magical knife.
The Amber Spyglass
Lyra and Will, the ordinary children who were left in such extraordinary danger at the end of Book Two, find themselves facing even greater perils. Old friends come to their aid and they make new allies.
I Was Dora Suarez Derek Raymond (1990)
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince JK Rowling (2005)
The God of Small Things Arundhati Roy (1997)
In 1969 in Kerala, India, Rahel and her twin brother, Estha, struggle to forge a childhood for themselves amid the destruction of their family life, as they discover that the entire world can be transformed in a single moment.
A Suitable Boy Vikram Seth (1993)
The tale of Lata's and her mother's attempts to find a suitable boy, through love or through maternal appraisal. Set in post-independence India and involving the lives of four families, it is also an explanation of a whole continent faced with its first great General Election.
Hotel World Ali Smith (2001)
This story brings alive five characters, one of whom is dead, during one night in a hotel. The author traces their intersecting lives, examining the themes of time, chance, money and death.
A Far Cry From Kensington Muriel Spark (1988)
The White Hotel DM Thomas (1981)
Restoration (1989) and Sacred Country (1992) Rose Tremain
Omeros Derek Walcott (1990)
The Passion Jeanette Winterson (1987)
Birdsong A Perfect Spy The True History of the Kelly Gang The Line of Beauty Never Let me go The Life of Pi Enduring Love The God of Small Things No great mischief Harry Potter and the Half blood prince Hotel World A Suitable Boy