This is a terrible old chestnut of ‘best novels’ lists, but with good reason. Nobody has ever managed to cram so much political despair into such a relatively short space, and despite the need to create and describe the daily life of Airstrip One, Orwell never forgets that he has a story to tell. Like many of us, I read Nineteen Eighty-Four in my teens – I think it’s a great ‘gateway novel’ for any kid with literary leanings – and it coloured my ideas about art, politics and human nature for a long time to come. God only knows what Orwell would have made of social and political life in 2012 – it’s become a modern cliche to say that his ideas of thoughtcrime and doublethink are truer then ever. I really like Orwell’s social-realist novels too, and if the rules were different there would be room on this list for Keep the Aspidistra Flying or Coming Up for Air. And of course as a teenager I loved Nineteen Eighty-Four even more because David Bowie tried to make a musical out of it, and it turned into my favourite album of all time, Diamond Dogs.