"Enthusiasm is the driving force of this book. Its purpose is to celebrate the writers we have loved best, and to proselytize on behalf of their novels," Toibin and Callil write in the introduction.
Toibin and Callil delineate three types of novels written since 1950 -- "massively ambitious and complex" works such as William Gaddis' The Recognitions (1955) and Angela Carter's Wise Children (1991) that "take their bearings" from the early twentieth century Modernist giants James Joyce and Virginia Woolf and leave characters, dialogue, and plot "open to question;" traditional style novels, such as Anita Brookner's Friends and Family (1985) and Patrick Hamilton's The West Pier (1951), that follow a "system in which things are slowly revealed and objects in the landscape are described in some detail;" and a modernist/traditional combination, the most common style in the later twentieth century, that takes in lessons from Joyce and Woolf about language, form, voice, and tone without abandoning completely traditional narrative methods.
|An essential modern text?
|Colm Toibin (photo by Kim Haughton)
|"Massively ambitious and complex" in
the style of Joyce and Woolf
Other big names Toibin and Callil shut out are Truman Capote, Joyce Carol Oates, Kurt Vonnegut, Wallace Stegner, Ken Kesey, Herman Wouk, Ray Bradbury, William Kennedy, James Jones, Irwin Shaw, and Barry Unsworth.
|"A masterpiece of horror
and black humor."
In two cases Toibin and Callil found it impossible to stick to their rule of including only one book by a particular author. "V.S. Naipaul and Saul Bellow have two entries, not because we consider them greater than any of the other novelists we have chosen, but because one of us considered A Bend in the River and Herzog to be the masterworks of Naipaul and Bellow, while the other disliked Herzog but argued passionately for Bellow's The Adventures of Augie March and could not feel A Bend in the River to be the equal of A House for Mr. Biswas," Toibin and Callil explain in the introduction.
(photo by Monica Curtin)
The Modern Library's original 1999 edition actually included only one hundred ninety-four, not two-hundred, titles. The second edition, published in 2011, fills the six empty slots. One is taken by William Maxwell's So Long, See You Tomorrow (1980), a title Toibin and Callil feel they unjustly overlooked when putting together the original list. The five other additions were suggested by readers of the 1999 edition. "Our readers, all over the world, sent us thousands of entries," Toibin and Callil write. The four most popular reader suggestions -- Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks, Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier, The Magus by John Fowles, and A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth -- were added to the new edition. Also added was the most popular reader suggestion that is not a book by a British or American writer -- The Children's Bach (1984) by Australian novelist Helen Garner.
|The finest post-1950 author's
best post-1950 novel?
For a list of all the selected titles click here.