OK, it’s a couple of weeks early but I read so many good books this year that I’d be surprised if I read anything to better these choices in the next fourteen days! I’ve gone with a top ten just to pin it down, and these are presented in the order I read them in, from January to December. This year I’ve found that my favourite books have mainly been new publications, with one exception. There are several award winners in there as well, but I have gone strictly with those books that had a great story and characters who I wanted to spend time with.
Golden Hill – Francis Spufford
I picked this up after multiple recommendations and was not disappointed. Winner of both the Costa First Novel and the Desmond Elliott Prize, Spufford’s debut novel was a masterful recreation of eighteenth century New York. Mr Smith is a mysterious young Englishman with a potential fortune at his disposal. Fledgling New York society doesn’t know whether to embrace him or lock him up. The sense of place is incredible and the plot twists in directions you won’t possibly guess.
The Bone Readers – Jacob Ross
This, the first novel in Ross’s Camaho Quartet, won the inaugural Jhalak Prize earlier this year. Set on the small Caribbean island of Camaho, this is literary crime at its best. Michael ‘Digger’ Digson is recruited into the local police force’s plain clothes squad and sent to London to train in forensics. When Digger returns to Camaho he finds himself enmeshed in a complex mystery, helped along the way by fellow recruit Miss K. Stanislaus. This was an intriguing novel and I can’t wait for the next book in the series.
Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders
I worried that this book would not live up to the hype. So you can imagine how happy I was that George Saunders more than delivered with this masterpiece, winning the Man Booker in the process. Weaving factual accounts with this fictional story about the death of Abraham Lincoln’s son, playing with form and possibly the most characters I’ve come across in one piece of work, this novel is a thing of wonder.
The Power – Naomi Alderman
Winner of this year’s Baileys Prize, The Power was the book that started the most conversations for me this year. When women suddenly develop the power to conduct electricity, there is a worldwide revolution. Women become the dominant gender as uprisings and revolts overturn the old patriarchal society. At first it looks as though the world will emerge as a brand new utopia, but events take a dark turn… This was a fascinating read, though I did have issues with the latter sections of the novel. The most thought-provoking book of the year for me.
The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas
Angie Thomas’s debut is incredible and deserves its equally amazing sales. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this novel had me gripped from the first chapter. Thomas presents a realistic portrayal of a young black girl, Starr, dealing with the fatal shooting of her unarmed friend at the hands of the police. The story is so well plotted, and never tips over into becoming one sided. We see Starr’s uncle, himself a cop, struggle to reconcile the job he loves with the fear he sees from his niece. This is not a ‘them against us’ story, but one that seeks reasons and answers to a situation that is unfortunately familiar.
The Dark Circle – Linda Grant
I read this when it was shortlisted for the Baileys Prize this year. I loved Grant’s portrayal of twins Lenny and Miriam, sent away to a new NHS sanatorium in Kent after contracting TB in the 1950s. Witty and moving, Grant brings the past to the reader. Such a good book though I lost interest a little once the action moved from the sanatorium towards the end.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman
The book so many have been raving about and I loved it too. Eleanor Oliphant follows the same routine each week, her work colleagues providing pretty much the only human interaction she can’t avoid. One simple act of kindness propels her into having to change her routine and nothing will ever be the same again. This is a witty, moving portrayal of loneliness and mental health. I fell in love with Eleanor and I defy anyone to not become invested in her.
Home Fire – Kamila Shamsie
This was longlisted for the Man Booker and should have been shortlisted (IMHO!). This retelling of Antigone was the best storytelling I read this year. I expected to struggle but instead, Shamsie had me from the very first page. The last page or so were a touch melodramatic, but I rooted for each of the characters, as flawed as they all were. To make a reader understand how a young marginalised man could plausibly be recruited by ISIS is masterful to say the least. To make you root for him after that is another level. Loved this book.
The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage – Philip Pullman
It would have taken a lot to put me off this book – I even splashed out on the limited edition in my excitement. I don’t think it was just nostalgia that led me to enjoy La Belle Sauvage so much, though there it was a huge thrill to revisit familiar characters. Adventure and the battle between good and bad – what’s not to like?
Another Country – James Baldwin
Many of the novels I’ve rated this year have been steeped in place, this one perhaps more than any other. This is 1950s Bohemian New York. Jazz, sex, drugs, friendship. You can hear the music and smell the cigarette smoke as you turn the pages. Baldwin delves into the hidden thoughts of his characters so deeply that you feel voyeuristic reading them. A classic.