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Best 20 novels of the last 20 years

Critics nominate the best 20 novels of the last 20 years


On the 20th anniversary of the Bath Literary Festival, critics gathered to define this list.

Any list that sets out to pick the best films, books, albums, or the such, is in some way doomed to imprecision. This is due to the fact that, at least in the arts, it is practically impossible to consider the variables necessary to boast a criticism-proof selection. Beyond awards and prizes and specialized opinions or mass preferences, there are no sufficient criteria to determine, absolutely and exclusively, which are ‘the best.’ And if there were it would simply be personal taste: the best book is the one you enjoy the most.

But this insufficiency or relative subjectivity does not mean that this kind of exercise lacks value. In fact, many of them are references that are not only interesting but also useful for widening our panorama in a certain genre. For example, the 100 best films in history according to Kurosawa, the 10 best according to Fellini, or Nabokov’s favorite books are valuable references for somebody who wants to know with which film or book they should continue their enjoyable journey as a moviegoer or reader.

To celebrate its 20th anniversary, Bath Literature Festival launched a campaign called #Best20Books that gathered together a diverse panel of experts (editors, critics and literary prize judges) that, after consulting the best books proposed by the festival’s public, defined a list of the 20 best novels published over the last two decades. The festival, held in the city in southwest England, has seen the participation of writers such as Doris Lessing, Margaret Atwood, Kazuo Ishiguro, Hilary Mantel and Howard Jacobson.


1995: Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres

1996: Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

1997: American Pastoral by Philip Roth

1998: England, England by Julian Barnes

1999: Disgrace by JM Coetzee

2000: White Teeth by Zadie Smith

2001: Atonement by Ian McEwan

2002: Any Human Heart by William Boyd

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

2004: Small Island by Andrea Levy

2005: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

2006: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

2007: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

2008: The Outcast by Sadie Jones

2009: The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

2010: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

2011: A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

2012: State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

2013: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

2014: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

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