my favourite books of 2018
It is 30 December and I am on what I presume is my last book of this year and first of next year (as it is 500+ pages, and I’m not yet 100 pages in) , so I think it’s safe to make the call on my favourite books of the past year. As ever, it’s books I have read, not that were published during the year. I’ve read 62 books this year, of which 29 were by women (30, you want to count the Emily Wilson translation of The Odyssey). These are the highlights, listed in no particular order:
- Little Fires Everywhere - Celeste Ng. I’ve read both of Ng’s books this year (in the first two weeks of the year, in fact) and you should read both. They’re beautifully written, fascinating stories about people you can’t help but care about, even when they’re terrible, and they’re just a little bit heartbreaking, but I liked Little Fires… just that little bit more (and perhaps because I came to it first)- and I ended up finishing it on Sloane Square station before going to meet a friend, because I wasn’t going to be any good to anyone until I was done.
- The Noise of Time - Julian Barnes. Sometimes Barnes is just a little bit too English Literary Fiction for me, and sometimes he’s just right - and this novel about Shostakovich trying to live with the Soviet system was just right for me. It’s a little funny and a little sad, and a lot musical. It pairs nicely with Sara Krasikov’s The Patriots, which I also enjoyed this year - a novel about a young American woman who emigrates to Russia in the 1920s and finds she can’t go back.
- Grief is the Thing with Feathers - Max Porter. Yes, I was very late to this party, but I really loved this book’s depiction of how grief affects a family. It’s just as long as it needs to be, and it is beautiful.
- Asymmetry - Lisa Halliday. A book with two dramatically different halves probably shouldn’t work as well as this one does. That said, I will confess, it was the first part, with its account of the affair, that really worked for me. It’s not just that it is a topic that is pertinent, it’s that it presents a fascinating balance in the relationship.
- The Odyssey - Homer, trans Emily Wilson. Guys, this translation of The Odyssey is everything good that has been said about it and then some more good things. The blank verse works beautifully and the translation choices bring out new things in a story that I’ve read a number of times - and you should really read the introduction on the translation as well.
- America is not the Heart - Elaine Castillo. This was a brilliant story about both immigration and trauma - but it also made me want to know more about the Philippino history that lies in its background, and it was great to have read it before going to the Philippines this year.
- The 7th Function of Language - Laurent Binet. Helloooo, book that was basically written for me. This is basically a murder mystery with politics, language and semiotics, and beautiful beautiful in-jokes about people like Louis Althusser and Umberto Eco, and it made me very very happy.
- Lincoln in the Bardo - George Saunders. A weird and wonderful book that isn’t afraid of death.
- The Last Samurai - Helen de Witt. An incredibly enjoyable book about some ridiculously terrible people. By the end of it, I was talking about Ludo as though he were a problematic teenager of my aquaintance.
- Tales of the Metric System - Imraan Coovadia. This book drops in on South Africa’s history from the 60s to the football world cup through a series of interconnecting stories. I read this at the beginning of the year, and while I didn’t unreservedly love it like I did some of this list, it has really stayed with me.
- Calypso - David Sedaris. Definitely one of his best collections for a little while: Sedaris on aging, mortality and Trump is bitterly funny.
- Rising Ground: A Search for the Spirit of Place - Philip Marsden. A really fascinating exploration of Cornish places and culture.