Posted on 25th November 2010

Posted by Fiction Uncovered

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A generation of undervalued authors

My generation – those who graduated from university in the early 1980s, when Thatcherism was at its height – contains so many unacknowledged novelists it’s hard to pick only one. I think the last recession had a lot to do with it, but apart from Jeanette Winterson and Sebastian Faulks few if any of us aged 45-55 have become even moderately well-known.

Those younger than us, such as Sarah Waters, Maggie O’Farrell, Zadie Smith, Philip Hensher and Monica Ali, rose to prominence earlier and faster, fanned by national prosperity; but my generation has had a long struggle to be seen at all. We have worked in the shadow of the Amis-McEwan-Barnes-Rushdie generation, and the recession of the 1980s, and by the time we published, usually in our mid-thirties, a second wave of younger talent had risen up and overtaken us.

There are however degrees of obscurity, and many of the worst omissions are, predictably, women. Liz Jensen, one of the most original, visionary and disturbing novelists we have, only got noticed when Anthony Minghella optioned her Ninth Life of Louis Drax. Pat Ferguson won every prize a young novelist can get, but as a casualty of Andre Deutsch, has since been unable to find a mainstream publisher despite her dark, dazzling novels being highly readable and twice long-listed for the Orange Prize.

Clare Chambers, whose gentle romances probe much more deeply into moral issues concerning faith, trust and love than at first appears, and Julie Myerson, whose bleak excursions into domestic dysfunction also deserve a mention. It may be that, like Andrea Levy, we are all late bloomers – or it may be that we will never catch up and catch on.

Amanda Craig is the author of six novels, including A Vicious Circle and most recently, Hearts and Minds (Abacus). Her website contains reviews, interviews and a regular blog.



Roisin McAuley

29th November 2010 at 16:39

Absolutely agree. In particular I think Patricia Ferguson is a terrific writer. I’ve been a big admirer for years and have warmly recommended her. It’s time she got the recognition she deserves. Peripheral Vision is one of my favourite books.


Richard LeComte

29th November 2010 at 17:53

In the States, the situation is completely different. Some of the most talked-about U.S. writers — David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen, Michael Chabon, Amy Bloom, Jonathan Lethem, Suzanne Berne, Bret Easton Ellis, and many more — are in that age range. In fact, many of them had the kind of early success that younger UK. writers had and probably inspired their celebrity. I’d appreciate it if you would post an expanded list of British writers within this category for further stateside reading.


rashma n. kalsie

30th November 2010 at 04:55

You are right about your part of the world I think.But I can tell what happened right here in India, where Arundhati set benchmark in the nineties. Those who wanted to at best match those standards, dithered at their desks. So they toiled hard and deferred their masterpieces for a while. And to their pleasant surprise there was a surge of ‘couldn’t care less’, younger authors who just had to tell their story. So this generation born in the seventies was gagged by the ambitiuos, young and mediocre writers. We are in times when the young want to hear only the young talk. Where does that leave a not genius, but good narrative from a not so young author–in editor’s trashbox,I guess.


Adam Aitken

1st December 2010 at 11:59

While I might be accused of a biased response because I too can be included in the generation that graduated in 1982 in Australia, which was a bad recession year, I feel that our generation were caught between paradigm shifts in literary criticism and fashion. At Sydney University we were weaning ourselves off New Criticism and Leavis, and trying to learn about post-structuralism. We were also survivors of a backlash against the the leftist reforms of the 70s, and were fighting against the upsurge of Reaganist and Thatcherite conservatism and the contraction of a fairly generous public education system.

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