I tried to resist it, but first I saw Cleo doing it, then Emma at Book Around the Corner, then Lisa Hall at ANZ Litlovers blog. Yes, I am weak-willed and have the mentality of a herd of sheep, but I enjoyed reading theirs so much that, in spite of my guilt at spending far too much time on it, I couldn’t think of a nicer way to spend an afternoon (and escape writing Christmas cards this weekend). I did this last year too, and it’s one of the funnest ways to spend this time of year. Then, Emma made the fatal remark: ‘Bet you could fill in more than one for each category!’ So here is how I spent a whole day…
Knausgård: Some Rain Must Fall – self-absorbed, egotistic and utterly recognisable: the narrator/novelist at the start of his career
Jaume Cabré: Confessions – a mammoth of imagination and introspection, slippery characters and narrations overlapping
Eizabeth Taylor: Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont – perfect poise and wry, self-effacing humour: all that I love about the English style
Jean Rhys: Smile Please – the darker side to English poise and elegance, with the tinge of obsessions, depression and ‘alienness’.
Patricia Highsmith: The Two Faces of January – 2014 movie starring Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and Oscar Isaac
Maylis Kerangal: Reparer les vivants (just came out this November 2016) – a stylistic breathless tour de force, never thought it could be made into a film, but here is the French trailer
Published This Year
Katharina Hall (ed.): Crime Fiction in German – an encylopaedic reference book which will answer all of your questions about crime in the German language
Fever at Dawn – charming, quirky, loving, a feel-good book for a messed-up world, and now I want to see the film too:
Number in Its Title
Initially thought I had no books in this category, but then I found two:
David Peace: 1974 – which could also have fitted into the first book by a favourite author category, despite its unrelenting grimness
Olivier Norek: Code 93 – the most notorious département of France, with the highest crime rates, in an entertaining and realistic debut by a former policeman
Written by Someone Under 30
A bit of a depressing category, this one, making me wonder what on earth I have done with my life! Maybe the free square should be ‘Oldest Debut Author’ category.
Lisa Owens: Not Working – I think Lisa was just about under 30 when the book was published, so certainly younger when she wrote it. The narrator sounds like she is in her early 20s.
Tatiana Salem Levy: The House in Smyrna – published in 2008 in Brazil, when the author was 29, but only translated into English in 2015
I will interpret this very widely, as I don’t have anything else to offer: books that contain some human characters and some ‘supernatural’ presence
Patrick Ness: A Monster Calls – incidentally, there’s a film of this coming out too – not sure if I can bear to see it, as the book made me weep buckets!
Elizabeth Knox: Wake – something like a zombie apocalypse for grown-ups, a strange book, difficult to label
You can tell the kind of reader I am when I tell you I had real trouble finding any funny books whatsoever in my 163+ books of the year. In fact, the second one is a crime novel with a humorous style, but a very grim subject matter. So not all that funny, then…
David Sedaris: Me Talk Pretty One Day – the joys and challenges of cultural misunderstandings between the French and the Americans
Wolf Haas: Komm, süßer Tod – a paramedic and ex-cop with a world-weary, typically Viennese view of the world, investigates some odd deaths in the ambulance service
I think more than half of my reading has been by women authors this year – I have felt the need to surround myself with their themes and words. Here are two books which haven’t been talked about as much as I would have liked or expected.
Jenny Erpenbeck: Gehen Ging Gegangen – the ‘refugee problem’ in Germany gets a name and a face in this thoughtful, non-sentimental book
Elizabeth Brundage: All Things Cease to Appear – rural noir meets Gothic horror meets crime fiction, yet transcends all of these in a remarkable yet quiet novel of great depth
Anthony Horowitz: Magpie Murders – vivacious remix of Golden Age crime elements, without descending into pastiche, as well as a satire of the publishing world
Frédéric Dard: Bird in a Cage – the ‘impossible situation’ mystery, with lashings of film noir atmosphere, a stylish French stunner
Eleanor Wasserberg: Foxlowe – disquieting fictional look at growing up in a cult
Isabel Huggan: Belonging – warm and loving like a mother’s hug, but also a thought-provoking meditation on what home means
Sarah Hall & Peter Hobbs (eds): Sex and Death anthology – the two constant preoccupations of humankind and a rich variety of stories for all tastes
Anthony Anaxagorou: The Blink that Killed the Eye – poetic yet never overwrought, grimly realistic, it’s the darker side of life in London as a millenial
Free Square – Book that didn’t work for me at all
L.S. Hilton: Maestra – 50 Shades of Grey meets online shopping catalogue and serial killer tropes; messy, gratuitous and clearly chasing bandwaggons.
Sarah Moss: Signs for Lost Children – Truro and Japan and never the twain shall meet – or will they? A new author discovery for me this year, one that I want to read much more of.
Raphael Montes: Perfect Days – set in Brazil, we travel the country but also inside the mind of a delusional young man, which makes for an uncomfortable, yet often also funny and exciting experience
Åsne Seierstad: One of Us – close factual examination of Anders Breivik and the staggering massacre of young people in Norway, frightening reconstruction of events
Olivia Laing: Lonely City – a very interesting mix of memoir and research, art and literary criticism, to explore the idea of loneliness in big cities
Tiphanie Yanique: Wife – debut poetry collection, but I am completely won over and will read anything that this talented Caribbean poet and fiction writer puts in front of me.
Stav Sherez: The Devil’s Playground – while waiting for his latest novel to come out, I went back to his debut novel (not part of the Carrigan and Miller series), originally published in 20014 and set in Amsterdam
Heard About Online
This is a bit of a false category, as I seem to find out about most books nowadays via personal recommendations on Twitter. However, both of the authors below I got to ‘meet’ via Twitter, before they had even published the books described/
Amanda Jennings: In Her Wake – a genre-busting, mysterious, ethereally beautiful tale, with strong female characters, set in Cornwall
Isabel Costello: Paris Mon Amour – set in Paris, a book defying age and sex conventions, without being prurient or irrelevant (unlike Maestra)
Ha! I realised I had no idea if any of the books I’d read this year were bestsellers (from what number of copies sold can you consider them to be that?), but I assume Fred Vargas always sells a ton in both French and English, while Andrew McMillan’s debut collection of poetry has won many awards and done so well for poetry standards.
Andrew McMillan: Physical – see Naomi Frisby’s excellent review here
Fred Vargas: A Climate of Fear
It’s the style that I loved in both of these, the simplicity, lack of artifice, just letting the words speak for themselves. The fact that they were both rooted in reality was almost the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Hans Fallada: Alone in Berlin
Antoine Leiris: You Will Not Have My Hate
Bottom of the TBR list
I bought both of these books around 3-4 years ago, in an elan of wanting to read more East European literature, but then forgot about them. One sat on the shelf, the other on my e-reader. I wanted to like them so badly, but when I did get around to them, they were each rather disappointing.
Marius Daniel Popescu: La Symphonie du Loup
Grażyna Plebanek: Illegal Liaisons
Romain Gary: La promesse de l’aube – pressed into my hands as a parting gift by Emma herself, I have finally fallen in love with this author and bought more of his books. At some point I want to write a proper in-depth study of his work but I need to read more.
Elena Ferrante: Neapolitan series – so many people recommended this one to me, but I was wary of the hype, although I’d liked other books by this author. I did enjoy it, although it did not quite blow my socks off.
Liz Jensen: The Uninvited – chilling, filling your heart with gradual dread, magnificent handling of suspense and atmosphere, a book that will make you look at your children in a different way
Michelle Paver: Thin Air – another atmospheric ride – everything is hinted at, nothing is quite seen
10+ Years Old
Wilkie Collins: The Moonstone – it doesn’t get older than this, one of the world’s first proper detective novels
Mircea Eliade: Diary of a Short-Sighted Adolescent – it may reflect growing up in Romania in the 1920s, but teenagers have always been a world to themselves
Dolores Redondo: The Legacy of the Bones – 2nd in the unusual, slightly supernaturally tinged series set in the damp, foggy, superstitious region of Baztan in Spain
Margot Kinberg: B-Very Flat – 2nd in the Joel Williams series, set in a small-town university campus in the US, cosy yet not twee, civilised crime fiction
Elif Shafak: Black Milk – the most imaginative way of speaking about post-partum depression and the challenge of being an intellectual, a woman and a mother in this century
Melissa Harrison: Rain (Four Walks in English Weather) – a bit of a ramble through landscapes, nature observations, literature and what not else – a book to dip in and out, very enjoyable. If Inuits can have so many words for snow, you can imagine there are more than four kinds of English rain…
So, dear friends, far be it from me to lead you into temptation, but what would your reading bingo list of the year be?