Today sees the final installment of my books of the year – this time it is the books that were either just published this year or are new to me and not in the 746.
Again, I tried to keep it to 5 and again I failed….
Sea of Tranquillity by Emily St John Mandel
I read Sea of Tranquillity way back in January and loved this exploration of time travel, pandemics and moon colonies. Emily St John Mandel has a really light touch with her speculative fiction, always focusing on the human aspect as much as the futuristic detail. Beginning in 1912 and spanning to the 25th century, Mandel weaves connections between her timelines and characters with consummate ease and manages the theme of pandemic in a way that doesn’t feel contrived. I was lucky to hear Emily St John Mandel speak about the novel at the Edinburgh Book Festival through their online offering where she gave great insights into her writing process.
The Anomaly by Hervé Le Tellier, translated by Adriana Hunter
I am a bit of a sucker for books with a slightly ridiculous and incredible premise and they don’t get more incredible than The Anomaly.
Air France flight AF006 from Paris to New York emerges from the turbulence of an unexpected storm to the bafflement of air traffic control, and is redirected to a secret military base. Why? Because it’s exactly the same flight as one that already landed at JFK after emerging from a storm three months ago. Not just the same flight number but the same plane, with the same people on it. Everyone on board the plane is now duplicated. Le Tellier spends the first 100 pages introducing his characters before delving into their response to now effectively having a clone. As governments, scientists and theorists gather to try to work out what has happened, Le Tellier playfully raises questions about reality, morality, religion and the sense of self, without ever sacrificing entertainment.
Notes on an Execution by Danya Kukafka
Ansel Packer is on Death Row, sentenced for the murder of three girls many years previously and his story is told from the point of view of three women whose lives he has affected – his mother, Lavender, who abandoned him as a child; his sister-in-law Hazel and Saffy, who knew Ansel as a child and was the detective responsible for his arrest.
Working from the starting point that our fascination with serial killers steals not only female lives but also female narratives, Kukafka sets out to reinstate the narratives of both the victims and their families. As the clock ticks down on Ansel Packer’s last day, his narrative is told in the second person, but is balanced by the poignant tales of the women touched by his banal evil. This is a masterful slow burn of a novel, which is perfectly structured, beautifully written and devastatingly emotional.
The Weekend by Charlotte Wood
Three women in their 70s gather to clear out the beach house of their deceased friend Sylvie. As they spend a weekend going through her things, old secrets will be uncovered and old jealousies revisited as the women are required to face a changing future together.
What I loved about this book was how Wood’s characters, despite their advancing age, were still in the messy and optimistic process of living – all still hoping to create, to move on to new challenges and to continue to be the women they have always been despite the aging process catching up with them. I thought it was a joyous read.
The Trees by Percival Everett
I read four of the six books on the Booker Prize shortlist (not the winner though!) and for my money, this was the book that should have won. A satisfying mix of satire, comedy and horror, Everett takes the subject of historical lynchings and makes it both highly funny and terrifyingly pertinent. Featuring some of the most fantastic character names I’ve read in years, The Trees bristles with wit, insight and verve and is as playful as it is deadly serious.
Trust by Hernan Diaz
I found Trust to be a really engaging and intelligent novel about how stories are told and narratives are controlled.
Set in New York in the 1920s, it tells the story of a billionaire financier and his philanthropic wife four different texts – a fictional account of their life, the draft of a biography, a writer’s account of creating that biography and finally, the diary of the financier’s wife. Each text adds depth to the story of this couple, shedding more and more pretence as it goes along until it arrives at the primary source and the true nature of their relationship is revealed. It is a stunning achievement, with vast historical sweep, striking sense of place and beautiful characterisation. For a book that goes into the minutiae of Wall Street trading, it never lags, and Diaz lays bare the myriad ways that myths are created, particularly when it comes to men throughout history. No one part of this novel tells the whole story, but each works together to create a thrilling and affecting read.
SPECIAL MENTION: Limberlost by Robbie Arnott
Ever year it is guaranteed that as soon as I create a list of my favourite books of the year, I begin to read something which surpasses everything that has gone before.
The reason Limberlost is not in my main list is because I am only halfway through, but even if I stopped now, it would still be one of my favourite reading experiences of the year. A thoughtful coming-of-age tale, Arnott eschews his usual magic realism for a lyrical and luminous prose and an economy of writing which is breathtaking. In a week where I have a lot to do, all I have wanted to do is read Limberlost.
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!