Wednesday, November 09, 2005

John Fowles

John Fowles' death at 79 was reported yesterday, more copiously across the pond than in his native land.

He was the only English writer on my informal list of the world's most-readable living authors:

Milan Kundera (Czech Republic/France)
Gabriel García Márquez (Colombia)
Mario Vargas Llosa (Peru)
Ryszard Kapuściński (Poland)
José Saramago (Portugal)
Haruki Murakami (Japan)
Patrick Süsskind (Germany)
Paul Auster (USA)
Javier Marías (Spain)

Judging from certain other literary lists compiled of late, many would have stretched to find a place for either AS Byatt or Ian McEwan. But I've never read Byatt's Possession and my suspicion is that she is a key member of the literary establishment that Fowles so admirably secluded himself from. As for McEwan, all I have to go by is Atonement, and that over-rated pot-boiler alone wouldn't earn him consideration. Don't get me started on Salman Rushdie.

Kapuściński, a journalist and essayist, is the odd man out, but his literary genius has been recognised at home and abroad.

Atonement is certainly a good read, but in that respect was surely outclassed by Fowles' great trio The Collector, The Magus and The French Lieutenant's Woman, some of the most rivetting and widely-appealing English novels of the last century, yet also stylistically interesting. Auster is perhaps not such a great prose artist, but his novels have the same sense of stylistic fun and storytelling verve that works by Haruki Murakami and (the early) Vargas Llosa have, and certainly the late lamented John Fowles had.

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