With just a few weeks left of 2021 I’m taking a look at my favourite books of the year.
As with previous yearly round-ups, I’m breaking my end of year list down into three posts: best from the 746, best newly published books (or new to me), and best books by Irish authors.
Which is really just a cheeky way of having a Top 15 Books of the Year, rather than a Top 10!
I had a great reading year, with a successful Reading Ireland Month, a completed 20 Books of Summer a second record-breaking Novellas in November challenge and my Brian Moore at 100 Readalong event, which finishes with the final book next week.
Despite being back at work full-time for over half of the year, my reading was really consistent. I had set a target of 100 books on Goodreads and have, up to today, read 130, which I am really pleased with. This is the second year running that I have read over 100 books so I’ll set that as my target again for the coming year.
Today I am starting with the books I’ve enjoyed most from the original 746. I have finally made it into the 300s in my challenge and hope to hit the half way point early in the New Year!
In my review of Rules of Civility I called it a ‘joy to read’ and I honestly think that this was the book I most enjoyed reading in 2021. I was swept up in the tale of Katey Kontent, the bookish daughter of a Russian immigrant determined to make a life for herself in the publishing industry in Manhattan and her relationship with the wealthy and handsome Tinker Grey. Filled with elegant writing, a stunning sense of time and place and an irresistible heroine, this novel was both a love-letter to New York and a gorgeous piece of story-telling.
I included Like Life in my 20 Books of Summer reading challenge at the last minute but am so glad I did. Moore is an absolute master of the short story and this collection is one of the best I have read in a long time. These 12 perceptive and poignant stories could ask themselves, feature characters who find themselves adrift struggling with disappointment, displacement and the lack of stability in their lives. Moore writes with a wry tenderness and a subtle humour, her prose bursting with heart and hope.
I hadn’t read any Jeanette Winterson in over 20 years but really enjoyed thisshort, hypnotic and vibrant novel set against the backdrop of Napoleon’s tumultuous campaigns in Europe and Russia in the early 1800s. The Passion interweaves the stories and destinies of two remarkable characters. Henri, is a simple French soldier and Villanelle the flame-haired, cross-dressing, web-footed daughter of a Venetian boatman, who makes her living as a croupier and pickpocket. The nature of passion itself – sexual, spiritual, and familial – is woven with both splendour and subtlety throughout and Winterson deftly fuses the surreal with the worldly to create a brilliantly vivid tale that is undoubtedly an instant classic.
I really loved this smart and playful novel by Helen Oyeyemi even when I wasn’t 100% sure what was going on! A novel about writing, creativity and inspiration, Mr Fox retells various myths (mainly Bluebeard, Fitcher’s Bird and Reynard the Fox) through the love triangle of writer St John Fox, his third wife Daphne and his imaginary muse Mary, who comes to life. I found the energetic imagination on display here a delight. Oyeyemi eschews a linear approach for atmosphere and style and has created a wondrous fairy tale all her own.
I had a tough time choosing between two Ira Levin novels for a place in my Top Five. I was enthralled by The Boys from Brazil, but ultimately chose A Kiss before Dying on the basis that it is one of the most expertly structured books I have ever read. A Kiss before Dying is a bravura thriller, full of magnificently taut writing, a palpable sense of suspense and a structure and plotting that enhance and heighten the power of the novel as a whole. Levin is an absolute master of genre, always exploiting the commercial aspects of his novels, but never short-changing his readers. He taps into that primal fear that we can never fully know who someone else is and few writers depicts the banality of evil better.
Special Mention: Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
I read Blood Meridian at the start of 2021 and have yet to manage to write a review of it. It is possibly the most beautiful novel I have ever read and simultaneously the most horrific. Blood Meridian is a terrifying subversion of the conventions of the Western, an epic tale of violence and horror that is to be endured as much as it is to be relished. McCarthy can move from gorgeous descriptions of desert flora, fauna and rock formations into bloodthirsty and shocking violence in a matter of sentences and yet he writes with such skill and beauty that I highlighted too many passages to count. This is a completely unique and unforgettable book, hellish, yet stunning.
Check back tomorrow when I’ll be writing about my favourite books of the year by Irish writers and on Friday I’ll decide on my Top Five new (or new to me) books of 2021.
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!