Ali Smith, Hilary Mantel and Zadie Smith have been named among the best British or Irish novelists working today, by a group of 200 critics, authors and academics polled by the Times Literary Supplement (TLS).
The TLS's ranking of the "New Elizabethans" featured four women in the top five, with Kazuo Ishiguro in fourth place and Women's Prize winner Eimear McBride in fifth, below the two Smiths and Mantel.
Ali Smith topped the list. Critic Alex Clark wrote of her projected state-of-the-nation quartet, which began with Man Booker-shortlisted Autumn (Hamish Hamilton): “It’s not simply that Smith has chosen to write against the clock, it’s that she is simultaneously mapping her abiding concerns – surveillance, power, art and illusion – on to both natural and human-made cycles of change and renewal." The next book in Smith's quartet, Winter (Hamish Hamilton) is currently shortlisted for The British Book Awards' Fiction Book of the Year.
The poll was carried out "in the spirit of mischief", according to the TLS, with the aim to avoid "tendency to fall back on a group of authors who came to prominence a few decades ago".
TLS editor Stig Abell said the hope was that the results would spark debate, "at the very least" .
Those polled were asked to nominate 10 writers whose recent books were “among their most impressive”, and whose future work is “the most eagerly anticipated”.
Colm Toibin, Nicola Barker, Alan Hollinghurst and Anne Enright filled out the rest of the top 10, with Sebastian Barry and Jon McGregor tied for 10th place.
In the wider top 20, Kevin Barry, Deborah Levy, Tom McCarthy and Kamila Shamsie all featured. Sally Rooney and Claire-Louise Bennett, who have both written only one book each (Conversations with Friends and short story collection Pond respectively) also hit the top 20.