After sharing with you my favourite books in translation, my favourite untranslated books, and the best of both translated and English-language crime fiction, including my Top 5 on Crime Fiction Lover, what is left? Well, all the other favourites, of course, which don’t fit into any of these categories. They fall mainly into the fiction category, with a couple of non-fiction mixed into it. (I will discuss the poetry separately, as I tend not to list the poetry books on Goodreads).
Now, what do you notice about this list? That’s right: it’s all women writers. I believe I’ve read roughly equal amounts of male and female authors, but it’s the women who have really appealed to me in this year of finally living on my own.
Rachel Cusk: Outline
Hard to categorise, I see this as a book of ideas, where essay and stories blend, where the narrator becomes a camera recording other people’s thoughts and reactions. A very Anglo-Saxon way of dealing with grief and separation, slightly detached, masking the heartbreak with cold detachment.
Katie Kitamura: A Separation
In many ways, the mirror image of Outline, but with more abandon. Once again, Greece is the backdrop, almost an excuse for a story about break-up and grief and self-recrimination – to a much more self-excoriating extent than with Cusk. A clear story arc, but also a novel of ideas, of reflection, but inwardly rather than outwardly focused.
Helen Garner: This House of Grief
Perhaps it’s not surprising that stories about separations loomed large in my reading this year, but this true crime account of a man who was suspected of killing his children took me to places where I barely dare to tread. Garner has a talent for unpicking not only the personal tragedy but also the judicial system and the way in which a jury’s mind can be made up.
Fiona Melrose: Midwinter
The farming heritage in me thrilled at this story of hard graft and taciturn farmer families.
Jane Gardam: The Stories
Controlled, ironic, melancholy
Alison Lurie: Real People
Writers’ retreats and big egos are an endless source of satire.
Elizabeth von Arnim: The Enchanted April
Delightful escapism, with a real love of beautiful location and a sharp eye for human foibles.
Winifred Watson: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
Just as charming, warm-hearted but keeping the eyes wide open and critical.
Shirley Jackson: We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Quite simply one of the most quietly menacing, tightly written and brooding books ever!
Helen Dunmore: Birdcage Walk
Perhaps it didn’t quite live up to my expectations, but I still found it a beautiful read about an uncomfortable marriage and a bid for freedom.
Kathleen Jamie: Sightlines
Non-fiction of the highest intellectual and poetic order.
Liz Jensen: The Rapture
Eco-thriller with rich prose and unusual characters which deserves to be better known (full review coming soon).
Reading Plans for 2018
It looks like I will be reading quite a bit of translated fiction in 2018 – 12 titles are guaranteed, since I joined the Asymptote Book Club. I can’t wait to start getting involved in the discussions and all the special features (interviews with translators and authors, book selections, reviews, pictures and so on). Don’t forget you can join anytime during the year, for either 3 months or 12 months.
I will be continuing with my #EU27Project and spend more time planning to cover all of the countries rather than handling it haphazardly as I have done in the past year. After all, I want to show those Brexit negotiators what it means to be well prepared…
I also want to take part in the by now classic reading events such as January in Japan, Women in Translation Month and German Literature Month, although I make no promise about how many titles I can cover: at least one, hopefully more. Of course, I will continue reading and reviewing crime fiction: it’s a habit I cannot kick (nor do I want to).
Finally, I want to read and review more poetry and take part more frequently in the dVerse Poets Pub or other prompts, both to limber up my writing muscles and also to see what others are writing – always inspiring! Speaking of dVerse Poets, I am delighted to announce the arrival of an anthology of poetry from over 100 dVerse contributors all over the world. Entitled Chiaroscuro: Darkness and Light, this surprisingly chunky volume is a testament to our friendship across borders and shared love for the well-chosen word.