Losing the plot: Why BBC’s ‘Novels That Shaped Our World’ gets it wrong
List is in thrall to fantasy, is not representative of the full range of what fiction offers, and will please no one
So many lists of “the 100 novels everybody should read” have been compiled over the years that they could fill a volume fatter than Anna Karenina. Nevertheless the BBC has, somewhat unimaginatively, produced another one – the 100 Novels That Shaped Our World – to kick off the “year-long celebration of literature” that will dominate its arts programming across TV and radio in 2020.
Last time the corporation attempted such an exercise was The Big Read survey in 2003, when the 100 top novels were voted for by the public. The public can be capricious, however – the admirable children’s author Jacqueline Wilson was over-represented by having four books in the top 100, Jeffrey Archer was over-represented by appearing at all – and this time we’re being told what’s good for us.
The Novels That Shaped Our World have been chosen by a panel made up of what you might call the great and the good (including Mariella Frostrup and Stig Abell, editor of the TLS), according to taste. These books, we are told, shaped their worlds, which is a fundamentally flawed concept...