I remember following a discussion on the internet some time last year about the greatest works of fiction. There were no real surprises in the discussion until I realized that all the novels that were mentioned were written during the 20th century. It seemed as though a dozen years had passed since the millennium without producing any work worthy of attention.
How does this compare against the last century? Looking at some of my favourites, one hundred years ago, Joseph Conrad was doing some of his strongest work. Jack London, Thomas Mann, Arthur Conan Doyle and even Leo Tolstoy were publishing. In 1913, Sons and Lovers and Swann's Way both appeared. I suppose the next dozen or so years of that century are better remembered today, but this is not a bad collection of novels. It struck me that we ought to have something written by now, in this century, that warrants a mention in a discussion of great novels; something that will be remembered a hundred years hence.
Trouble was, I couldn't think of anything I'd put forward as a candidate. A lot of my favourites from the 20th century were still publishing worthy novels, such as Thomas Pynchon and Margaret Atwood. Some, like Don DeLillo, were running out of steam. Others, like David Foster Wallace, were running on empty. I wanted to find someone new, to me at least, or if possible, several new authors. I started reading, almost exclusively, new novels by authors unknown to me. Some fifty or sixty novels later, I'm almost ready to report.