My generation – those who graduated from university in the early 1980s, when Thatcherism was at its height – contains so many unacknowledged novelists it’s hard to pick only one. I think the last recession had a lot to do with it, but apart from Jeanette Winterson and Sebastian Faulks few if any of us aged 45-55 have become even moderately well-known.
Those younger than us, such as Sarah Waters, Maggie O’Farrell, Zadie Smith, Philip Hensher and Monica Ali, rose to prominence earlier and faster, fanned by national prosperity; but my generation has had a long struggle to be seen at all. We have worked in the shadow of the Amis-McEwan-Barnes-Rushdie generation, and the recession of the 1980s, and by the time we published, usually in our mid-thirties, a second wave of younger talent had risen up and overtaken us.
There are however degrees of obscurity, and many of the worst omissions are, predictably, women. Liz Jensen, one of the most original, visionary and disturbing novelists we have, only got noticed when Anthony Minghella optioned her Ninth Life of Louis Drax. Pat Ferguson won every prize a young novelist can get, but as a casualty of Andre Deutsch, has since been unable to find a mainstream publisher despite her dark, dazzling novels being highly readable and twice long-listed for the Orange Prize.
Clare Chambers, whose gentle romances probe much more deeply into moral issues concerning faith, trust and love than at first appears, and Julie Myerson, whose bleak excursions into domestic dysfunction also deserve a mention. It may be that, like Andrea Levy, we are all late bloomers – or it may be that we will never catch up and catch on.