The best fiction books of 2016

Every year our staff vote for their favourite books, albums, films and TV shows of the past twelve months. Here are our top ten fiction books of the year, voted for by Readings’ staff, and displayed in no particular order.

(You can find all our best picks for books, CDs & DVDs of 2016 here.)

The Mothers by Brit Bennett

Set within a black community in Southern California, this extraordinary debut novel follows three characters – Nadia, Aubrey and Luke – from their late teens through to their late twenties. Bennett is the next big thing in American literature, and her book is raw, honest and quietly heartbreaking. My book of the year.

Nina Kenwood

The Girls by Emma Cline

Inspired by the Charles Manson murders of the 1960s, The Girls is told from the perspective of 14-year-old, disenfranchised Evie Boyd. This coming-of-age novel is brilliantly written, honest and terrifying. Evie is drawn to a hippy commune where the sex is casual and cruel and thwarted musical ambitions have chilling consequences. Compelling.

Gabrielle Williams

Hot Milk by Deborah Levy

Deborah Levy’s rich, sensual novel is a wonderful, immersive book. Levy’s effortlessly cool prose has a synaesthetic sting of salt and bare skin. Not only a story of individuation and sexual awakening for young protagonist Sofia, but a singular take on the tangled complexity of the mother–daughter relationship.

Anaya Latter

The Last Painting of Sara De Vos by Dominic Smith

What a cracker of a read! One painting in 17th century Holland becomes two in 1950s Manhattan and in 2000 the two will converge in Sydney – which is the real one? Brilliantly told, seamlessly moving between eras and countries, this is compelling fiction that evokes places and characters that stay with you long after you have finished.

Alexa Dretzke

The Good People by Hannah Kent

Hannah Kent’s second novel The Good People vividly recreates the distant, unknown Ireland of 1825. It is a world of poverty, superstition and women trying to live their lives. As she did so masterfully in Burial Rites, Kent has created a visceral world of real, understandable people in a past rarely considered.

Marie Matteson

Skylarking by Kate Mildenhall

The young friendship of Skylarking’s Kate and Harriet hums vibrantly throughout the novel. It is so charming to watch the two girls grow up wild and free in the Victorian coastal wilderness of the 1880s. However, the first page reveals a dark secret, the eventual exposure of which will surely break your heart.

Tom Hoskins

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

It’s 1922 and Count Alexander Rostov is hauled before the Emergency Committee of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs on a charge of writing a counter-revolutionary poem. His life is spared, but he is sentenced to house arrest at The Hotel Metropol just across from the Kremlin. The Count begins a new life making do, as a gentleman does, with what is to hand.

Mark Rubbo

LaRose by Louise Erdrich

North Dakota, 1999: whilst hunting deer, a man accidentally shoots and kills the five-year-old son of his friend and neighbour. This single event sets off a powerful, heart-wrenching tale. Louise Erdrich brilliantly weaves Native American culture through her exploration of loss, grief, atonement, revenge, justice, love and forgiveness. A masterful writer; an unforgettable read!

Araxi Mardirian

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Elizabeth Strout excels again in this tightly written novel about a woman recounting her impoverished and difficult childhood. Hospitalised with an infection, the narrator is surprised when her mother turns up to her New York hospital bed. Longlisted for the Booker, this novel is a meditation on both trauma and the process of writing.

Annie Condon

The North Water by Ian McGuire

Shamed surgeon Patrick Sumner is forced to take a job on a whaling ship and share a space with Henry Drax, one of the most deplorable characters written into existence. A novel of survival, this is the most gripping and deliciously visceral book that I have had the pleasure of reading in 2016.

Jason Austin

… and one special honourable mention!

Music and Freedom by Zoë Morrison

As the winner of the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction, we deemed Zoë Morrison’s stunning debut novel, Music and Freedom, as ineligible to be included in the Readings top 10 fiction. Here’s why we think you should read it.

Cover image for The Good People

The Good People

Hannah Kent

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