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Saturday, 5 January 2008

Great Brits?

Not content with a mere "best of 2007" list, the London Times (or at least its literary staff) has named what it considers "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945"--better yet, ranked them in order of "greatness". "What better way to start the year than with an argument?" they ask.

Philip Larkin tops a list in which poets are otherwise rather sparse; Orwell, Golding, Hughes, and Lessing round out the top five; Michael Moorcock brings up the rear; someone called Salman "Rusdie" finds himself at number 13. But the reason we note this squib here at Antilles, dear readers, is the presence on the list of two of "ours"--V.S. Naipaul at no. 7 and Derek Walcott at no. 31. Naipaul--who has lived in Britain for fifty years, been tapped on the shoulder by the Queen, etc.--no one can argue with, but Walcott seems a little out-of-place here. He is not a British citizen and has never lived in Britain; the Times explicitly excludes Seamus Heaney from the list on the grounds of nationality, so why do they lay claim to a St. Lucian?

(Also, there is something seriously wrong with any list that ranks J.K. Rowling above Bruce Chatwin.)

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