I can’t even remotely pretend the ten authors in this list are the “greatest” in any commonly-accepted sense. They’re not all favourites, but they’re certainly the authors whose writing I admire the most. Still, it’s a list. Everyone likes lists.
In no particular order…
- Lawrence Durrell – I love the way he uses the English language. At a sentence level, I think he writes the best prose of any writer I’ve ever read. The Alexandria Quartet is required reading.
- Anthony Burgess – because fiction should be clever – although, to be honest, Burgess was occasionally too clever for his own good. Once described as a great writer who never wrote a great novel… except Earthly Powers is a great novel.
- John Fowles – the sheer readability of his prose disguises the depth and insight of his fiction. The French Lieutenant’s Woman is one of the great works of post-war British literature.
- DH Lawrence – I came late to Lawrence, but I immediately fell in love with his prose – the level of detail, the insight, the poetry…
- John Crowley – the Ægypt Sequence remains one of the best works of American literature from the second half of the twentieth century. Often it seems the height of hubris to claim Crowley as a genre writer.
- M John Harrison – the finest British prose stylist who self-identifies as a genre fiction writer. Light is a touchstone work of science fiction.
- Paul Park – the finest American prose stylist who self-identifies as a genre fiction writer. His books are less challenging than M John Harrison’s, but they also make more original use of genre tropes.
- Gwyneth Jones – her prose is an order of magnitude better than is typical for science fiction; and her science fiction is an order of magnitude more sophisticated than is typical for the genre.
- WG Sebald – because he’s such a resolutely interesting writer in the way he frames and presents narratives.
- Kim Stanley Robinson – the most thoughtful science fiction writer of his generation, and extremely readable with it. The Mars trilogy is a touchstone work of science fiction.
Honourable mentions: Mary Gentle, Paul Scott, Joseph Conrad, Frank Herbert, Margaret Atwood, Kazuo Ishiguro.
Also: my Ten Greatest Film Directors post.