The climate of the jungle in Rousseau’s painting is worlds apart from the biting Baltic cold of Obreht’s debut novel. Still, there’s something about The Tiger’s Wife that evokes Rousseau’s tiger. Both animals have a magical quality surrounding them, invoking a sense of childlike awe, perhaps like the kind Obreht’s protagonist experiences when her grandfather takes her to the zoo to see the tigers as a five-year-old. The tiger’s athleticism is fascinating. As Obreht writes, “The tiger had no destination, only the constant tug of self-preservation in the pit of his stomach, some vague, inborn sense of what he was looking for, which carried him onward.” This tiger’s pounce, in Rousseau’s painting, seems propelled by a similarly inward force, one that the viewer can’t see but is drawn to imagine stirring beneath his fur.
The British novel has influenced the form around the world for centuries, so we felt it was important to get a global perspective. The critics we polled live and work all over the world, from the United States and continental Europe to Australia, Africa, Asia, India and the Middle East. Some of the critics we invited to participate are regular book reviewers or editors at newspapers, magazines or literary blogs – Lev Grossman (Time), Mary Ann Gwinn (Seattle Times), Ainehi Edoro (Brittle Paper), Mark Medley (Toronto Globe and Mail), Fintan O’Toole (The Irish Times), Stephen Romei and Geordie Williamson (The Australian), Sam Sacks (The Wall Street Journal) and Claiborne Smith (Kirkus Reviews). Others are literary scholars, including Terry Castle, Morris Dickstein, Michael Gorra, Carsten Jensen, Amitava Kumar, Rohan Maitzen, Geoffrey O’Brien, Nilanjana Roy and Benjamin Taylor. Each who participated submitted a list of 10 British novels, with their pick for the greatest novel receiving 10 points. The points were added up to produce the final list.