Adrian Mole And The Weapons Of Mass Destruction (2004) by Sue Townsend
By the turn of the 21st century, Sue Townsend’s anti-hero diarist Adrian Mole was long past puberty – yet clearly hadn’t outgrown his gauche phase. The sixth instalment of the much-loved Mole diaries depicts thirtysomething Adrian still aspiring to literary fame and luxury living (in the East Midlands), and pining over his childhood sweetheart Pandora (now a New Labour MP). Adrian sinks into debt, and disillusionment with shiny Blairite Britain, while Iraq is invaded (and his teenage son Glenn deployed with the army), and Saddam’s WMDs remain unfound. Townsend’s hilariously sharp satire came with genuine empathy – and it captured an era when “British values” unravelled.
Twilight (2005) by Stephanie Meyers
Gothic fiction never strictly went out of fashion, but Twilight really coursed through the veins of Noughties pop culture, thanks to its blend of smalltown high school romance and monster lore. Meanwhile, a Twilight fanfiction site would feature an explicitly adult-orientated spin-off, entitled Master of the Universe by “Snowqueen’s Icedragon” – aka British writer EL James, who would eventually rework and self-publish this as 2011’s Fifty Shades Of Grey…
The YA book’s best-selling status soared further after 2008’s first movie adaptation, starring Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson as human girl Bella meets 104-year-old vampire boy Edward; Twilight spawned a prolific series of books and films, and Stephanie Meyer is reportedly planning to write further instalments.
Life Of Pi (2001) by Yann Martel
There was no way of simply summing up this global bestseller from Canadian author Yann Martel. Life Of Pi was a florid tall tale with unexpectedly grisly twists; a multi-faith meditation on the human condition; and the account of 16-year-old shipwreck survivor Pi Patel, cast adrift at sea with zoo creatures including an orangutan, a hyena, and a Bengal tiger. Such intricacies ensured that the book was unlike anything else of its time, and inspired adaptations for screen (a 2012 movie directed by Ang Lee) and stage. The Observer remarked that “Martel has large amounts of intellectual fun with outrageous fable… Mostly, it dramatizes and articulates the possibilities of storytelling, which for this writer is a kind of extremist high-wire act”.
The White Tiger (2008) by Aravind Adiga
Globalisation, class struggle, progress and corruption were the very timely themes of Aravind Adiga’s Booker-winning debut novel The White Tiger. Its narrator, Balram Halwai, presented himself as a quintessential – and murderously driven – self-made man, ascending from “The Darkness” of his impoverished low-caste background, into “The Light” of a wealthy modern nation. The book’s dark humour and unflattering depictions of modern Indian society drew controversy as well as praise, particularly given Adiga’s own privileged international upbringing, but the author insisted that money was merely an amoral force in this drama. “I’m not opposed to the economic boom going on right now,” he told The Times of India. “My role as a novelist is only to dramatize certain conflicts taking place because of the generation of so much wealth.”
The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo (2005/ English translation 2008) by Steig Larsson
The Scandi crime thiller was served in hyper-stylised fashion in the first instalment of Stieg Larsson’s international best-selling Millennium Trilogy – released (and adapted for film) posthumously, as the Swedish author died of a heart attack in 2004. Its plot had investigative journalist Mikael Blomqvist teaming up with twentysomething techno-punk hacker Lisbeth Salander (the very “girl” of the title, whose look and fierce attitude felt very on trend in the early Noughties) to crack a cold case; its themes were undeniably brutal (the book’s original title had been Men Who Hate Women), yet its delivery was slick. The Guardian stated that: “This is a striking novel, full of passion, an evocative sense of place and subtle insights into venal, corrupt minds”. By 2010, Larsson would become the first author to sell 1million ebooks online.
The Corrections (2001) by Jonathan Franzen
It was possible that Jonathan Franzen’s American satire, featuring mom and pop, and three respectively wayward grown kids, particularly struck a chord given its release in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. It’s undeniable that Franzen’s narrative, its relatable absurdity and pert details, warranted praise; The NYT praised the book’s “Wordplay worthy of Nabokov… Tiny, revelatory gestures… magically precise images… Knowing one-liners”. Unfortunately, Franzen also cast himself as a kind of high-handed Noughties literary bro, who baulked at The Corrections being included alongside “schmaltzy” titles in Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club. Oprah coolly disinvited Franzen – but the pair reached an entente cordiale in 2010, when she reprised, and he more graciously accepted, her invitation.