The Good Fiction Guide
Edited by Jane Rogers
Oxford University Press pound;19.99
TES Direct pound;17.99, 020 8324 5119
This book is a browser's delight. Look up one author and you'll be sidetracked into many others. The "snapshot of fiction in English at the beginning of the 21st century", compiled by novelist Jane Rogers with contributions from 60 writers, critics and translators, is arranged in two parts.
A series of brief essays by writers with specialist knowledge (such as Lesley Glaister on short stories, Valentine Cunningham on social issues, Robert McCrum on adventure) is followed by reference material on more than 1,000 authors, including many whose work is translated into English.
Reader-to-reader recommendation is the book's guiding principle, and distinguishes it from more objective reference works such as Margaret Drabble's Oxford Guide to English Literature and the Bloomsbury guides. As only fiction is covered, there's room for discussion of genres such as glamour, Western and spy novels alongside literary heavyweights past and present.
The selection ranges from best-selling authors such as Jeffrey Archer, Catherine Cookson and Helen Fielding to Thackeray, Austen and Joyce, and has an international, multicultural flavour: Toni Cade Bambara, Fred D'Aguiar, Ngugi Wa Thiong'o, Janette Turner Hospital and Jaroslav Hasek are among those included.
Entries are more than just booklists, with each title given at least a brief comment, and the approach is helpful to the newcomer: "Begin with..."; "typical of her work is..."; "don't let that put you off...".
This friendly guide offers a wealth of information and opinion. With its contemporary emphasis, the breadth of its embrace and its focus on reader enjoyment, it accompanies but does not compete with the literary reference books already available.
A longer version of this review appears in this week's Friday magazine