Ninety-Nine Novels: The Best in English since 1939 by Anthony Burgess
I’ve about 2000 words in notes about why I hate this book so much, but in the interest of brevity and clarity I’m gonna burn them down to four points.
After describing a man as “probably the best of the Caribbean novelists,” and before describing an Achebe novel as “probably the best book to come out of West Africa,” he declares, “I do not like the division of the novel in English into national entities.”
Again, from the voice of a white man: “This book sums up much of what modern India is about.” Similiary, Dorris Lessing can tell you more about what it’s like to be a woman than anyone else. How an Englishman knows what it’s like to be in modern India or have a vagina I’m rather perplexed about.
Lolita “is a vastly inferior book” compared to Nabokov’s early Russian novels; “Lolita was a bestseller because of its theme…which lubricious readers gloated over while missing the beauty and intricacy of the writing.” That may be the reason people bought the book, but if that were the only reason, they certainly didn’t finish it. Who the fuck is Burgess writing too if the not the masses who were seduced by the promise of ultraviolence?
At least two dozen of these ninety-nine are described as having “a bit of Kafka,” or some variation on that phrase. Burgess finds anything slightly out of the ordinary, completely bizarre, science fictional, or possibly but not necessary symbolic to be inspired by the divine spectre of Kafka. Let the poor dead man rest.
But what’s most disturbing, and this happens in more than fifty percent of the entries, is the way Burgess in the last few sentences completely undoes his praise, makes a laundry list of failures on the part of the author. These may be the ninety-nine best novels in English since 1939, but if we’re to take Burgess at his word, not much very good has been written since then. Unless Aldous Huxley was at his pen.