Best of the Year Books (New Discoveries and Open Category)

Many of the authors I discovered this year are not really new authors at all, simply new to me. You all have been raving about some of them for years!

Of course, I can’t bear to part with any of them…

New discoveries:

Olga Grushin: Dream Life of Sukhanov – freedom and the artist, censorship and compromise, all in a satirical and surrealist tale of midlife crisis

Cora Sandel: Alberta Alone, transl. Elizabeth Rokkan – so daring and modern, very relatable and touching

Fernanda Torres: The End, transl. Alison Entrekin – my favourite combination of humour, satire and sadness – what the Germans call ‘zartbitter’ (tender bitter)

Kent Haruf: Plainsong – all those bloggers who recommended him: you were right! I’m not normally a fan of small-town America, but there is something deliciously plaintive but also muscular and lean about his style, reminded me of Sam Shephard’s Cruising Paradise

Livia Braniste: Interior zero – the Romanian millenial Bridget Jones is by turns funny, cynical and much more subtle than her British counterpart

David Vann: Aquarium – hard-done-by children and their stories always grip me, and this one is beautifully written and heartbreaking

Gerhard Jäger: All die Nacht über uns – this clever blend of personal and social history is just my cup of tea it will probably go straight onto my best of the decade list.

Open category:

Anything goes here really – writers I’m already familiar with, poetry (which I read a lot but very seldom review), things that defy all categorisation etc.

Julia Franck: Die Mittagsfrau – started slowly and then just grew and grew on me

Ilya Kaminsky: Deaf Republic – political narrative poetry at its most lyrical, metaphorical and troubling

Shirley Jackson: Raising Demons – sweetness wrapped in bitter chocolate – or should that be bitterness wrapped in milk chocolate?

Isaac Babel: Odessa Stories, transl. Boris Dralyuk – virtuoso storytelling, comedy and tragedy in equal measure

Writers I’ve Discovered – Quais du Polar Part 2

One of the best aspects of literary festivals is that you get the chance to see and hear new authors you might otherwise never have discovered. Their personality (and in some cases, let’s admit it, their looks, yes, I’m thinking of Camilla Läckberg or Jo Nesbø) wins you over and entices you to try out their books. Combine it with the opportunity to buy their books on the spot in paperback (rather than the expensive hardback you often get at British literary festivals) and spend quite a bit of time chatting with them at the signing (and having your picture taken)… you have the recipe for a perfect day. Here are some of the new (to me) authors I have encountered this year.

A delightful Liad Shoham poses.
A delightful Liad Shoham poses.

For a long time we were told that crime fiction is not a viable genre in Israel: there are too many current tensions and conflicts in that area for people to want to read about them in their fiction as well. Initially, the only way to publish crime fiction was under an ‘American-sounding’ name, featuring cops and robbers very far removed from the readers’ own reality. In the last two decades, however, it has gone mainstream in Israeli culture and has given a voice to subgroups that often go unheard. That is just what Liad Shoham, a hugely popular crime writer and self-confessed legal geek, has set out to do: in his latest novel he discusses African immigrants from Eritrea and Northern Sudan, a hidden side of Tel Aviv that most of its inhabitants are completely unaware of.  He  is beginning to be translated into English. For a funny anecdote about the inspiration behind one of his recent novels, see this personal essay here.

Emmanuel Grand’s debut novel is about Ukrainian and Romanian immigrant communities in France: a life on the edge, people smuggling and other nefarious practices. Can this be handled sensitively, without descending into clichés and sensationalism? A topic I am particularly sensitive to, having suffered prejudice about my origins virtually all my life. We’ll have to wait and see.

Jeremie Guez, on his 4th novel at just 26.
Jeremie Guez, on his 4th novel at just 26.

Jérémie Guez is another author who deserves to be translated into English. The dark portrayal of the desperate youths of the Parisian banlieue in his first three novels have now given way to the post-war history of Indochina in his latest novel ‘Le dernier tigre rouge’. For a French review of this latest novel, see here.

Ace Atkins may be a bestselling author in his native United States, but I’ll be honest: I’d never heard of him before seeing him on the music panel. Living as he does in the Southern United States (Mississippi), professing a love for blues, jazz and gospel (the perfect backdrop for crime fiction and noir) and talking so wisely about the rhythm and music of language in a novel, I just have to find out more about him and read his work. He also talked about how listening to classical jazz for the Boston PI series he is writing for the Robert B. Parker estate helps him to access a different part of his brain and has led to a very different writing style.

Ace Atkins (centre) and Paul Colize (right) prepare to be interviewed by Vincent Raymond.
Ace Atkins (centre) and Paul Colize (right) prepare to be interviewed by Vincent Raymond.

Paul Colize is a prize-winning Belgian crime fiction writer, part of a new Belgian wave which is conquering the French-speaking world at least (together with Barbara Abel and Nadine Monfils). I’ve long thought that some of the best so-called French things come out of Belgium (Tintin, Spirou, Goscinny of Asterix fame, Jacques Brel and Stromae, for example), and when I heard Colize was also a pianist and that he wanted to be a Beatle at the age of 9, I just had to find out more. His novel Back Up is a romp through the musical world of the 1960s as well as a thrilling crime story. For an interview (in French) about his latest novel ‘Un long moment de silence’, see here.