The British 20 Under 40

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Great Britain is making its own lists. And Great Britain is still publishing novels.

If you believe the rumors, the raging historical narratives are printed by hand, folded into folios, carried from London’s dust into the countryside in the talons of birds that never made it across the Atlantic, placed on a round table in the middle of Sherwood Forest, then torn open by the teeth of hunting dogs. Wine might be spilt, a little blood drawn, but nobody’s popping champagne.

Or else they are on the Telegraph‘s new list. Meant to rival the New Yorker‘s, the Telegraph‘s list, compiled by Lorna Bradbury, asks a question that couldn’t possibly have an answer: Are these Britain’s best 20 novelists under 40?

The list pulses with a certain historical je ne sais quoi: Rana Dasgupta’s smart meanderings; Zadie Smith’s electrified panoramas; Benjamin Markovits‘ trilogy of novels about Byron and crew; the cinematic, time-traveling Scarlett Thomas. On the whole–and the Telegraph‘s list is unique because it does seem to form a whole–the writers speak to a fluidity of time, historical time, as opposed to the New Yorker‘s list, which is scattered with writers whose themes are largely of personal time, so to speak. Both are signs of a new era where, for the first time, we need less time to ourselves.


Rumpus contributing editor Ari Messer was a frequent contributor to the San Francisco Bay Guardian from 2006-2010. Here is his web life. More from this author →