It is the season… for best of lists. I’m starting this in mid-December, and yet with ten days of holiday to go before the end of the year there remains the potential for books to be added. I read three books after I wrote 2016’s list, and Half of a Yellow Sun should be added to that list, because it is truly wonderful and rich. As ever, it’s not just stuff that was published this year, it’s just the stuff that I’ve read and enjoyed.
The book of the year
The Power – Naomi Alderman. Perhaps an obvious choice given the prizes, but this book is truly phenomenal. I love the way it takes and tracks a premise, looking at how a situation evolves in the spheres of politics, religion, media and crime, without sacrificing character, relationship and story to the idea. And what an idea. A guy I lent my copy to said he’d enjoyed reading it, that it had, ‘an interesting premise.’ I don’t know a woman who has read this book who hasn’t felt a deep affinity with it. A few of my friends called an emergency book club dinner because we needed to unload emotions and thoughts about it. The thing, I think, that I love most about it is the pain of watching people take decisions or do things that they may not want to because the alternative, potentially more ‘moral’ course has consequences beyond bearing. As we hit the end of 2017 in the midst of #MeToo The Power remains essential reading – and men should think long and hard about why women love it so much.
The ones I really loved
The Name of the Wind / A Wise Man’s Fear – Patrick Rothfuss. I don’t read a huge amount of high fantasy, but I do love it when I fall into a world. I picked this up when it was anounced that Lin-Manuel Miranda was working on the screen adaptation of this series and a friend of mine recommended them. They’re great for travel.
Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi. It was launched in a blaze and then has weirdly seemed to fade from public view, inexplicably overlooked on lists all over the place. I loved the way the story moved from generation to generation to provide a snapshot of how slavery has affected people over time, and the writing generally
Artist of the Floating World – Kazuo Ishiguro. The one I picked up after Ishiguro (deservedly) won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and the one that finally made me realise just how much I enjoy his work, both in style and theme.
The Last Days of New Paris – China Meiville. Gloriously weird surrealism from the master of the gloriously weird. Slim, but not slight.
Stories of Your Life and Others – Ted Chiang. The most marvellous collection of richly intelligent, thought provoking short stories. It contains the short that became Arrival, and that’s not even the best of them. The ones that got to me were Hell is the Absence of God and Tower of Babylon, a beautiful variation on the Babel story.
Home Fire – Kamila Shamsie. ’Twas the year for re-writings of ancient Greek myths, and this , an updating of Antigone, was absolutely the pick of the bunch. It was a great variation on the themes of the myth and an eye-opening picture of radicalisation and jihad.
Legacy of Spies– John Le Carré. He’s still got it, and I went straight to my parents bookshelf and ran off with their copy of The Spy who Came in from the Cold to refresh myself. I love the way that it gives a different angle of on the classic story – and for once, the ‘narrating of history’ works as a means of storytelling.
Go Went Gone – Jenny Erpenbeck. I’ve read all of Erpenbeck’s books this year and she’s a new fave. This is the most recent and it’s really wonderful. It’s about the immigration crisis in Germany and it’s layered with a narrative voiced by a man who grew up in East Germany and experienced reunification, adding intruguing depth to its discussion of borders, place and the idea of home.
Some great non-fiction
Gone – Min Kym. The story of a relationship between a violinist and her violin, and the effects of the theft of that violin on the violinist. It’s fascinating and provides a great insight into musicians, their art and its craft.
The Liturgy of the Ordinary – Tish Harrison Warren. A book that is both deeply reflective about the things that matter and deeply helpful about how you can make changes in your life in response – and trust me, very few do both well.
A Big Fat Pfffft
My Absolute Darling – Gabriel Tallent. The raves for this were everywhere this autum. I got it from the library and read it in an afternoon. Once I got going, I kept going because I knew if I put it down I’d never pick it up again. It’s overwrought and overhyped, and should be sent away to do some growing up.