I like to look back on the year’s reading and highlight the books I loved for one reason or another. I’ve given up restricting myself to a number and won’t presume to say they’re “the best” but they have great characters or sense of location or ripper storylines or beautiful writing and a couple have them all. These are the books from my year’s reading that I will recommend repeatedly.
Books in which I met memorable people
Belinda Bauer’s RUBBERNECKER is the story of Patrick Fort, a young man with Aspergers Syndrome and a slightly alarming, though understandable, fixation with death and Sam Galen, a coma patient. The characterisations are exquisite and the plot full of surprises. Bauer back to her very best form.
Hannah Kent‘s BURIAL RITES introduces us to Agnes Magnusdottir, the last person to be executed in Iceland. It is imaginative, evocative and genuinely haunting. Yet another reminder of how lucky I am to be a woman now versus…well…any other time in history.
Mari Strachan’s THE EARTH HUMS IN B FLAT is 12 year-old Gwenni Morgan’s version of the events surrounding the disappearance of a local man from the village in which she lives in 1950’s Wales. It is a child’s view of truth that is full of laughter and sadness in equal measure and is just about perfect.
Antti Tuomainen’s THE HEALER is ostensibly a crime story set in a near, dystopian, Finnish future. But for me it’s really about Tapani Lehtinen’s love for his wife who has gone missing and his determination to hold on to some shred of humanity in the face of social collapse. A poet’s view of the world.
Books that made me feel better for reading them
Kate Atkinson’s STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG is a treasure of witty observation, outrageously intricate plot and memorable characters. There’s even a cute dog with a ridiculous but adorable name.
Sulari Gentill’s GENTLEMEN FORMERLY DRESSED is the fifth book in the most delightful series I follow. It offers authentic details of life in the 1930’s, a romping story, fantastic dialogue, a tantalizing dose of unresolved sexual tension and mildly absurd humour. What more could you wish for?
Books that made me go hmmmmmmm
Michael Duffy’s DRIVE BY depicts the social changes that have impacted Sydney over the past couple of decades in a confronting but realistic way. There are imperfections in the novel but its main theme is one we should be collectively discussing and, of course, are not.
Gene Kerrigan’s THE RAGE is a tale of modern Ireland and people who live in the giant grey chasm that exists between black and white, right and wrong. One of those books that makes you ponder the real meaning of concepts like truth and justice.
Liza Marklund’s LIFETIME continues its author’s decade-long treatise on the shambles that mainstream media is becoming but adds as its main theme an exploration of the life sentence and what the term really means. Or should mean.
Leif G.W. Persson’s ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER LIFE explores the idea that people and societies both can be virtually unrecognisable to themselves if viewed at different points on a time scale. An ambitious novel that is, from a plotting perspective one of the most satisfying novels I’ve read in a very long time.
Books that spirited me away
Wiley Cash’s A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME took me to a small Appalachian town in North Carolina where three people join to tell a tale of family, religion and secrets. It is almost excruciatingly slow at some points but only because you are desperate to find out what is happening elsewhere and its sense of place is cloyingly atmospheric.
Garry Disher‘s BITTER WASH ROAD didn’t actually spirit me far at all as it was the only book I read all year set in my home state. But its depiction of small town Australia in which a little bit of power has corrupted absolutely is pitch-perfect
Adrian McKinty‘s I HEAR THE SIRENS IN THE STREET is not exactly a travelogue but it does transport the reader to 1980’s Northern Ireland. Everything from the social backdrop to the musical soundtrack that accompanies the main character through his days anchors this novel to its time and place. And though its subject matter is as dark as it gets it manages to be bloody funny too.
Angela Savage‘s THE DYING BEACH took me to the holiday resort town of Krabi in Thailand where the beauty of the location and people managed to shine through the dead bodies and corruption. The exotic setting is matched by terrifically drawn characters including good guys you can’t help but like and a story that is thought-provoking and an edge-of-your-seat ride at the same time. Extra points for depicting investigators who are not emotional cripples.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
For the record, and having not given such things any thought when making my list, of these 14 novels
- 6 are by Australian authors (well we’ve adopted Adrian, it’s what we do here when talented foreigners come to stay)
- 7 are by female authors
- 3 are translated into English from another language
- 3 are in audio format
- 9 were released in 2013 and the remaining 5 were released within the last 5 years.
Honestly most of what I read these days is very good so selecting the year-end list is difficult and completely devoid of scientific rigour. There are another couple of dozen titles that could easily appear here so do check out the rest of my 2013 reviews for some more great reads (except for my new worst book ever read, I don’t recommend that one though I am quite proud of the review)
As always my thanks and warm wishes to all the authors, editors, translators, audio book narrators, understanding partners and myriad of others who helped ensure such a treasure trove of delight crossed my path during the reading year.