England is stupendously lucky in having three male novelists at the peak of the art form: William Boyd, Sebastian Faulks and Ian McEwan.
William Boyd’s first novels – A Good Man in Africa etc – were fun but hardly great art. But with books like Armadillo and Any Human Heart he absolutely moved into the top league. Sebastian Faulks was there pretty much from the start with Birdsong (the recent television adaptation of which was well done, and would have been even better if they had not left out the most moving bits, and in particular the ending) and also Ian McEwan, although in his case it seems to me that his later books, and in particular Saturday and On Chesil Beach, are the most wonderful of all.
It is odd how this pans out. There is a curious echo of Elizabeth I’s reign, which saw a fantastic peak of perfection in lute music from Dowland, Cutting, Rossiter et al. I have been listening to that stuff with increasing admiration ever since I bought Julian Bream’s excellent collection of it on vinyl back in about 1970.
But back to the novel: what about the women? That is a bit harder, because there has not yet emerged any female novelist of the class of the Iris Murdoch. Rose Tremain, obviously, is Premier League. But as for the others? Lots of good ones. But rather harder to identify the stand-outs.