This year we've seen a bumper crop of books, music and film and we've put together a series of our favourites, voted for and selected by Readings' staff.
Here, we share our top ten picks for best fiction from the past year.
Continental writing is a lot more fluid about its genres than our English language tradition. So this book had literary pedants up in arms for not being a novel, and had historians bristling about its playful attitude to ‘facts’. For the rest of us, we just delighted at this gripping tale of the Heydrich assassination during World War II that affirmed just what literature can be for.
Chris Dite recommends The Twelve by Justin Cronin
This sequel to The Passage sadistically takes us through the end of the world all over again. Forgotten bit players reveal themselves to be so much more, very promising new characters die suddenly, and humanity displays its best and worst traits in its last days. You’d be forgiven for thinking a 40-million-strong vampire plague led by demonic death-row inmates just wanted the complete annihilation of mankind. But they have something much worse in mind.
Annie Condon recommends Like a House on Fire by Cate Kennedy
Cate Kennedy’s stories examine the intentions and actions of so-called ‘ordinary’ people. But there is nothing ordinary about these 15 compelling and lyrical tales. The collection makes the reader flinch, gasp, laugh and sigh. Kennedy peels back her characters’ lives and reveals the imperfections and potent dangers below the surface. This is contemporary Australian writing at its best.
Brilliantly written by Zadie Smith, the renowned author of White Teeth, as well as the Orange Prize-winning On Beauty, NW is a highlight of this year’s literary fiction. Set in her place of birth in north-west London and its surrounds, this novel offers a rare and profound insight into the psyche of modern Britain.
Adam Gordon is an American poet adrift on a fellowship in Madrid. Neurotic, graceless, possibly talented and wonderfully ill-at-ease, he falls in with the city’s art-lit crowd, drinking and fumbling his way through their social rhythms. Lerner expertly captures all the doubt, pretension and temporary beauty of what it’s like to be, and want to be, an artist in the present day. One of the most intelligent and comically observant books I’ve read all year.
The first 30 pages are some of the most breathtakingly gripping and disturbing reading I’ve ever encountered. From there, May We Be Forgiven becomes a bizarre, moving and very funny story of a family rebuilding itself in the aftermath of a crisis. A literary triumph and a word-of-mouth sensation. Fans of Jonathan Franzen will enjoy.
Drusilla Modjeska’s first novel is set in Papua New Guinea, during the time just before independence, and then many years later in the present day. It captures the spirit of optimism and passion felt by a group of young expats and aspiring academics and thinkers as the country prepares for political change. The contradictions between PNG’s colonial past and new future are reflected in the relationship between Rika, a young Dutch photographer, and her lover, Aaron, the first Papuan to teach at university.
Music, friendship, politics, race, history, nostalgia ... Chabon weaves an intricate thematic web around Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe, co-proprietors of the vintage vinyl store Brokeland Records, and the cast that surrounds them. This is notably fascinating fiction and I am as enthralled as ever, by Chabon’s affection for his characters and place, his humour, and the emotional and intellectual resonance of his work.
This is a stunning collection of short stories – of migrants and family, of love and the infidelity hinted at in the title. They are all bound by Junot Díaz’s consistently powerful prose. Many are narrated by Yunior, the young Dominican we first met in Drown, and his raw voice is perfectly formed to carry the huge emotional weight that his experiences demand.
On the way home from school, two boys are picked up by their estranged mother and hauled along the back roads of Australia and through a landscape that is familiar yet suffused with menace. The spot-on young narrator’s voice and evocative depictions of familial relationships ensure that Ash’s take on the road novel makes for an utterly convincing read. This terrific debut novel from an exciting new writer swamped me with nostalgia.
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